Talaandig Tribe Soil Painting by Salima Waway of Bukidnon

by Mary Lou Cunanan

Artist Salima uses her canvas to tell the story of the Talaandig people in 2019 at the Mindanao Art Fair and Exhibit in Davao City | Photo courtesy of Manman Dejeto via MindaNews

Mindanao Travelogue Series Part V

Salima Waway is a world-renowned artist specializing in soil painting, and we visited her home/exhibit, based in Lantapan Bukidnon.

One of the things we first noticed in Mindanao is the soil’s rich colors, visible from the roadside and mountains. Indeed, Mindanao’s soil, artists, and creativity are overwhelmingly abundant. I feel incredibly proud to have witnessed these exquisite and breathtaking internationally awarded artworks of Salima Waway, a native artist from Talaandig Tribe in Bukidnon, who uses Mindanao’s deep colors of the earth in replacement for paints.

She created the first gallery in her town right inside her home to inspire future artists to continue passing this delicate artistry.

Intricate paintings can cost up to $100,000 per piece, and a lot of the buyers based outside of the Philippines | Photo by Mary Lou Cunanan
Salima hopes to inspire and train future soil painters to continue the legacy of this very unique and very Filipino style of painting | Photo by Mary Lou Cunanan
Soils used in paintings are from the grounds of Bukidnon | Photo by Mary Lou Cunanan

It is very noticeable how Mindanao people appreciate art and culture as a part of their daily lives, which you’ll see on the vibrant clothes they are wearing, the style of their garments, and designs of tools used daily. It is not difficult to be inspired by beauty when your environment reflects that visibly. One of the things Salima mentioned is that she dreams of her designs, and she translates them to their paintings. A painting can take months or even years to finish, and you can immediately see the details and sophistication of the designs. A painting can cost a small fortune, and people have already bought most paintings. I understand very little about visual arts, but I know I am looking at priceless art pieces. You can just feel that Salima will continue to be a great artist as her designs and technique evolve; some say she will ascend as National Artist, which I have no doubt she will be.

Sleeping Beauty | Photo by Mary Lou Cunanan
The Philippine Eagle is the country’s national bird and, without a doubt, the most beautiful and majestic eagle globally. Philippine Eagles are native to Davao and considered an endangered species. | Photo by Mary Lou Cunanan

The Dreamweavers reminded me and how they also use dreams to create their designs. Many spiritual people I know use dreams to connect to their higher selves to understand a message from the divine or God. People here are highly spiritual, and the connection to everything around them is strong. They know how an invisible thread connects all things. They willingly participate in this revered choreography, which to outsiders feel mesmerizingly familiar but out of reach when one stays in the city.

Paintings take between 6 months to 3 years to finish | Photo by Mary Lou Cunanan

There is also a strong desire to preserve and protect their own culture. Intuitively, people know that what they have is of great value. Instead of assimilating to foreign influences, which Filipinos are very good at, they tell you instead to assimilate to theirs. You will feel the immense pride and self-ownership they have here, which I am extremely jealous of because I have yet to discover Filipino identity.

Daydreaming of having my own Salima Waway painting someday | Photo by Mary Lou Cunanan

The history of Ferdinand Magellan setting foot in Philippine territory reminded me, and Lapu Lapu met Magellan and his men with fierce protectiveness.

There is so much to love about Mindanao. I am helplessly and vulnerably surrendering myself to its beauty and strength.


Mary Lou Cunanan is a regular Lifestyle columnist of the Philippine Daily Mirror. She is a writer, world traveler, and a Filipina who is very proud of her identity, whose life mission is always searching for covering stories of amazing Filipinos, events, organizations, and businesses globally to celebrate and champion what makes Filipinos amazing wherever they may be.

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