Artschoolnow Salon: ‘We can salon anywhere with anything’

Artschoolnow Salon: ‘We can salon anywhere with anything’
Tanya Villanueva gets inked by Kat Reyes. —PHOTOS BY ARTSCHOOLNOW SALON

Tanya Villanueva chose March 8 for the pop-up event of her initiative, Artschoolnow Salon, at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman only because she and her associates would all be available on that day. It happened to be International Women’s Day.

On the way to UP in her car, we easily settled into a conversation that delved into our respective art practice vis-à-vis our individual efforts to overcome the constant stress, anger, frustration, and anxieties of day-to-day living.

Our discussion momentarily stopped when we arrived at the perimeters of the UP Oval and parked at the area designated as the “Lagoon.”  There was no water or puddle where we were to remind us of the natural pond that existed sometime back. Whatever canal there was in the 1950s seemed to have dried up. 

I helped Tanya unload her paraphernalia—an inflatable plastic sink (available online and often used by the bedridden elderly needing a shampoo, she said), a portable water pump, a basket of brushes and towels, a gallon of water, and assorted mats and fabrics for covering the ground. Also included among her equipment were a brown paper bag containing fresh pan de sal and homemade sandwich spread, for sharing with everyone. (An interesting tidbit, I thought, considering that International Women’s Day also marks that day in 1917 when Russian women marched to protest the increasing costs of bread.)

Kat Reyes, a jeweler, turned up, waving to Tanya from a distance. She was there to administer small tattoos as part of the salon’s program.

The artists are prepped for action.

Within minutes, Artschoolnow Salon was effortlessly arranged on a grassy elevation, with the picnic-inspired setup appearing like a colorful oasis. Kat planted herself on one spot to do her tattoos of native floral designs, and Tanya, a few feet away, prepared her stuff for the gugo hair bath. 

Catalina Africa, the salon’s other guest artist, soon arrived with her partner and their daughter. Catalina’s activity involved the production of what she called “malunggay spirit potion healing technology”; she chose to occupy the space behind a nearby tree to provide her potion-makers some privacy as they went through the ritual. 

All the women had to do now was wait for people to arrive. My role—to keep me busy—was to photograph everything using Tanya’s camera.

Since the lockdown 

Artschoolnow Salon malunggay potion
Guest tries Catalina Africa’s “malunggay” spirit potion.

I’ve known Tanya for many years as a painter (as we were all mostly trained to be at the UP College of Fine Arts). As we retrieved her gear from her car, I asked her if she was still painting. She is on hiatus, she said, and this salon—a space not of the brick-and-mortar kind—allows her to keep to a practice that fosters and generates other aspects of creativity.

The Artschoolnow Salon is an endeavor that Tanya has been trying to sustain since the height of the Covid-19 lockdown.  She and her mother used the nurturing aspect of cutting and coloring each other’s hair and applying nail acrylics as a way to de-stress from the heaviness of the pandemic. The way she described it now, it is “a dream-building initiative that centers on care and service as a means of actively participating in the reparative approach to artmaking.” 

I got to know of Tanya’s project when she posted photographs online of her artist-in-residency at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany, in 2022.  In Stuttgart, she “opened” her performative, participatory, and experimental space where she gave haircuts and did hair color to other artists and practitioners.  

“Beauty is a basic right” and “We can salon anywhere with anything” are just two of Tanya’s motivations and rallying cries.

It’s a performative platform that comes in various iterations and ideations, such as “a shop, a creative space, a laboratory.” Whatever one likes to call it, it’s an initiative designed to encourage experimentation; errors and failures are acceptable. And, as Tanya volunteered, the salon is essentially a queer space; therefore, the objectives are malleable and flexible. 

To date, she doesn’t operate it within the ambit of a money-reliant, value-making production. The goals are built on gradually. The salon is slow-baked, without the need to hurry or harangue a (confining) brand and category into being.

The Artschoolnow Salon is a collaborative endeavor. Although it started with Tanya, it also worked with the help of other cultural and art workers. Her previous pop-up events—the first local one was held in Sampaguita Projects, an artist-run space, in June 2023—were all designed differently. She seeks artists and collaborators who, she says, “want to try out beauty and rejuvenation as a medium and as service for other creatives and small communities.”  

Her past collaborators included her daughter, Olive, who engaged in Portrait Parallel Play, and Aye Valdez, who conducted a skills-oriented cat-eyeliner workshop. For the haircuts Tanya provides, she studied the craft in a workshop.

Hair bath 

Artschoolnow Salon
Catalina Africa’s child takes her turn at a hair bath.

Notice of the iteration at the UP Lagoon from morning ‘til noon was on social media for a few days. Tanya sounded the call mostly to friends, and friends of friends, to partake of the free services (or pay what you can). I was among those who took heed, so I could observe the proceedings. 

Within the hour of our arrival, people trickled in—mostly women of various ages (some students, some professionals), and a male artist who came for his first tattoo. They all knew what they wanted, and patiently waited for their turn. Some immediately went for a tattoo; others were set for the potion-making. In an almost unexpected way, I went for the 20-minute hair bath.  

I lay on a mat on the ground, straying from my comfort zone (I do not relish early-morning forays, nor do I thrive in outdoor environments). But I was highly curious as to how interpersonal relationships play out in these settings.  I found it interesting that strangers could comport themselves well in unusual settings with other strangers and immediately get to talking about the personal. I politely asked others what they do and, fascinatingly, was given an overview of their life.  

During my time in her “stall,” Tanya handed me sunglasses to shield my eyes from the sun’s glare. She brimmed with the comforting words and moves of her inner bartender/caregiver/masseuse as she worked on my hair. I told her that my life’s burdens had been manifesting in my hair ever since the beginning of the pandemic lockdown. What used to be thick is now thinning, and what used to be dark is now distinctly (and, in my view, unacceptably) graying. 

As she told me the benefits of the gugo bark (including where I can find it, and how it’s supposed to work—information she learned from her father during her childhood), Tanya and I might as well have been talking about the deliberateness and patience of healing, and the need to take breaks from the rigidities of an art practice and everyday life.

A few more women came, indicating that they had seen Tanya’s Instagram post. They had carved out moments between work and/or classes, stretching their limited time for personal “care work” before returning to their routine.

I left an hour after my hair bath. Even as I was walking away, I saw more “customers” making their way to the salon.

Making time, creating space

Artschoolnow Salon
Tanya Villanueva administers her “gugo” bark shampoo.

Tanya and I got to chatting a few days later, as we have been wont to do, our conversations centering on such topics as art institutions, mental health, and the travails of the Philippine art landscape.  In this round, I asked if she had a particular audience in mind for her pop-ups.  She said she has always been open to anyone as she finds comfort in art-making that fosters connections with other creative people. 

For her, creating a sustainable art practice is to engage in collaborative activities. There was a time when she envisioned having an actual physical space—an area among the food stalls at Philcoa in Quezon City—so she could serve students, mothers, trike drivers, and commuters. But that aspiration has since been re-imagined as she saw her nomadic pop-ups as a better fit for her. And given that time management is about juggling everything from art practice, paying jobs, daily living, to political advocacies, Tanya has now interpreted it to include purposely making time to see and experience the liminal spaces that she also wishes to build.

Tanya asked about my hair.  I told her that I felt the gugo hair bath had also softened my emotional dis-ease.  

Now if only I can develop a truly relaxed inner life. Or I might as well be a regular in her salon. (The word is that there’s another pop-up event at UP Fine Arts on March 23, at student-friendly rates.)

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