A deep green floor greets you as soon as you enter. The floor of the virtual exhibit is covered in leaves, while the windows mimic the sky. A gentle synth plays in the background, with the sound of birds, crickets, and various creatures woven into the mix. Art pieces decorate the walls — a selection of photographs, illustrations, and videos.
“Since the pandemic began, we have been stripped of the opportunity to venture outdoors and experience the verdant forests and wildlife that are in the Philippines,” explained Gab Mejia, who works as a conservation photographer. Together with other young Filipino artists, Mejia developed Kagubatan, a virtual forest gallery exhibit and educational webinar series, in order to bring that wildlife to the people.
Pre-production for the exhibit began in the last week of August. They envisioned three different types of forests — wetland forests, agroforests, and montane forests — all linked together by a single river running through. Since the exhibit is meant to both earn funds and shed light on the issues surrounding the Ipo Watershed, they included webinars to educate guests. Together, they created the Kagubatan ecosystem, which combines a gallery, virtual reality experience, and shop.
Mejia, who is responsible for the conceptualization and jumpstarting the early beginnings of the exhibit, wanted to highlight two things: the beautiful, lush Philippine forests, and how dangerously close we are to losing them. “After witnessing the profound effects of deforestation within our backyard, from our water supply to the livelihoods of communities such as the Dumagat tribe, and how this issue affects us all in Metro Manila — we needed to do something about this in any way we can through our own talents and potentials,” said Mejia.
The project brought together young Filipino artists to create a virtual exhibit aimed at raising funds for the reforestation of the Ipo Watershed, which 11 million Filipinos depend on for clean water. “Everyone needs clean water to live, and after experiencing the 2019 water crisis in Metro Manila, due to the continuing dry spell conditions, we want to prevent such harrowing events from happening that affects everyone, most especially the underserved communities in the metro,” explained Mejia. Apart from the Ipo Watershed, they are also raising funds for Bantay Gubat to support the rangers who help protect our forests.
“The visual stories I've painted are also reminders that we lose much more when we lose our forests,” explained Issa Barte, one of nine artists part of the exhibit. A visual artist who also founded the youth organization, For the Future, who raised ₱15 million for typhoon victims last year, she is a witness to how photos, stories, and art can make big changes. “We lose our traditions, values, and relationships with the wild world. So these are my paintings to be able to remember.”
“It really transcends beyond the anthropocentric ego when we are “eco” and connected to everything, by creating something bigger than ourselves with a cause,” says Chesleigh Nofiel, a painter and naturalist who also goes by the moniker, Alagá at Sining. “Sana ay makapagbigay ng inspirasyon at dumami pa ‘yung mga ganitong uri ng eksibit sa pag-angat ng boses ng kalikasan at mga komyunidad na pumoprotekta dito, especially conservation movements on the ground where it is most needed is vital.”
Mejia shared that they have plans of transitioning it into a more immersive space early next year. “The physical exhibit would be in a physical space, which we hope would be more an experiential experience that would tap into our different senses, than just the visual,” he said. “We want to make people experience the sounds, scents, and tangibility of the forest for those who may not have the opportunity to do so.”
For now, Kagubatan will be available to view, and the pieces available for purchase, until the end of the year.
Learn more about the exhibition by visiting kagubatan.ph.