Albay artist’s paper portraits help schools adapt to new normal


(Note: Pilipino Star Ngayon’s Bituin Ng Pag-Asa series celebrates viral stories of hope and inspiration this 2020.)

Albay artist Sheila Brobio drew praise online for her “art for a cause” that helped schools and students cope with the challenges of learning in the new normal.

A founding member of the Papercutters Guild of the Philippines (PGP), Sheila has had exhibited her art pieces in Metro Manila, nearby provinces and private studios. But as the country shifted to blended learning amid a pandemic, she decided to offer her paper-carved portraits not for money but bond papers to be donated to public schools in her home province.

Dubbed “Paper Portrait in Exchange for Bond Paper,” she started her project late August until October, during which she poured in her time and talent to create “personalized” artworks in exchange for four reams of bond papers to be used for the learning modules.   

“Nanay din kasi ako. And meron akong senior high so nakita ko yung challenge sa mga modules nila. Na hirap sila, yung mga teacher. Base sa mga estudyante at sa anak ko na naririnig ko na namomoblema sila sa pag-print ng modules. Dun ako nagstart,” Sheila, who is also one of the country’s pioneering leaf artists, told The STAR’s

“Yung behind nun talaga is yung challenge ng modules kasi wala pang budget yung schools and hirap na hirap sila sa bond paper. So yun yung naisip kong i-share sa community,” she added.

Another motivation was she also wanted to introduce the art of paper-cutting to more people. She is the only artist known to be doing portraits out of paper. 

Credit: The Paper Initiative Facebook page

“Gusto ko makilala siya ng tao kasi dito sa Philippines. Ako pa lang yung gumagawa ng portrait made of paper. Although meron kaming group sa Philippines na nag-start nine years ago, mga papercutters, pero ako pa lang sa group namin yung gumagawa ng portrait out of paper. So gusto ko siya i-introduce and at the same time, makatulong din.”

Sheila first posted about her paper initiative on Facebook, simply asking friends who wished to have a paper portrait made of themselves or a loved one. Before she knew it, she garnered attention from netizens, news media and from groups, including the local chapter of the United Architects of the Philippines, that didn’t want a portrait from her, but just wanted to support her cause.

“I collected around 120 na reams of bond paper and then in exchange, konti lang yung nagpagawa… For the bond paper exchange, (I made) around 20 (na portraits),” she said.  

The over a hundred reams benefited a total of eight schools in the first district of Albay. The IP group Agta Tabangnon was another beneficiary of the paper initiative.

Sheila discovered the paper art back in 2011 after helping out her child’s kirigami and origami projects. 

“Hanggang nag-search ako ng nag-search sa internet, dun ko nakita yung papercutting. Nagsimula ako dun sa paglaro sa papel. Tapos nagtuloy-tuloy na siya.”

She also found it fun and easy to learn. “Madali siyang matutunan. Kasi nung time na yun naghahanap ako ng pagkakaabalahan, hobby. So nakita ko na madali siya gawin and nung nag-search ako sa history ng papercutting, parang napaka-interesting ng history (niya) from way back in China. And then sa ibang bansa, sa Mexico, sa India, ang daming papercutting. So doon na-spark ang interest ko. And kokonti lang siya dito sa Philippines.”  

Her papercutting passion would eventually give her the opportunity to help other people in need.

Photo credit: Sheila Brobio Facebook account

She recalled the reaction of schoolteachers and students when they began distributing the reams of bond papers in October. “Sobrang saya nila. Actually, naiiyak yung mga teachers kasi sinasabi nila, ‘Oh my God, sa isang linggo kailangan namin ng ganito kadami.’ So parang na-realize ko, kumbaga sa pera, pang barya lang yung tinutulong ko kasi sobrang laki ng demand for the bond paper.

“Sobrang thankful sila kasi may mga private individuals na tumutulong. Kasi nung time na yun, nung nagsisimula pa (ang blended learning), wala pang budget for bond paper yung mga public schools.”

As for any personal benefit, Sheila acknowledged that the initiative has been good for the mental health.

“Personally, nakakatulong yan sa mental health kasi art yan eh. So, you have something to do, especially now na pandemic. Most of the people are getting depressed because of the pandemic so I think ang takeaway dito is it’s a big help for your mental health. And for people to realize that you can do something. Kahit maliit na bagay, you can do something to help,” she shared.

When Bicol was struck by successive typhoons Ulysses and Rolly last November, the initiative “bartered” paper portraits for relief goods, among others, for residents in heavily affected areas. Sheila and donors were able to reach a total of 82 families “who didn’t get any aid from the government or private groups” and gave them roofing sheets and food packs.

Sheila reflected: “(The story really is) about humans helping other human beings. Kahit pandemya man yan, bagyo or whatever, as long as people help each other. Kasi you cannot do that on your own eh. Parang eto yung kwento na nagtutulungan yung mga tao, yung community against all these things, kasi sobrang challenging yung taon na ‘to.”

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