International Women's Day

Raising Hope: Artists and Designers Driving Change through Creative Brilliance

Art by Anna Bautista

Vogue Philippines celebrates International Women’s Day through “Raising Hope,” in a call for nominations of inspiring women. These visionary women challenge perceptions and redefine boundaries of artistic expression.

Celebrating women in art is not only about recognizing individual talent, but also about acknowledging the systemic barriers they have faced throughout history and continue to overcome today. By amplifying the voices and achievements of the following inspiring women artists, we challenge traditional narratives, promote diversity and inclusion, and inspire future generations to pursue their artistic passions without limitations.

Atty. Karen Santiago – Malaki, Nominated by Richard Arellano 

Nominator Richard Arellano says that Atty. Karen Santiago-Malaki’s work as the Festival Director of Nabunturan Independent Film Exhibition stemmed from the idea of “putting Nabunturan on the map.”

Atty. Santiago-Malaki’s contribution as Festival Director of the NIFE is instrumental in promoting arts and culture, fostering community engagement, and driving infrastructure development in Nabunturan. Through this, she has not only elevated the local arts scene, but has also put Nabunturan on the regional cinema map, making it a destination for filmmakers and enthusiasts alike.

Under Atty. Santiago-Malaki’s leadership, the Nabunturan Independent Film Exhibition has become the longest-running open-air film festival in Mindanao, showcasing regional cinema and bringing the Municipality of Nabunturan to the forefront of the regional cinema scene. Nabunturan has also since become the host of 9th Cinema Rehiyon, the only municipality to host as of writing, and the only town in Davao de Oro to have a Cinematheque built from scratch. This infrastructure serves as a hub for film screenings, workshops, and other cultural activities, further enhancing the accessibility and appreciation of cinema in the municipality.

Noreen Claire Efondo, Nominated by Julia Alexis Marie Bagacay 

Courtesy of Noreen Claire Efondo

Noreen Claire Efondo’s classes go beyond mere choreography; they become transformative journeys of self-discovery, according to nominator Julia Alexis Marie Bagacay. Through the language of dance, Efondo teaches acceptance and self-discovery, encouraging participants to embrace their true selves and discover their worth and potential.

As founder of dance company Chairlesque, Efondo has created a vibrant community beyond the studio. Bagacay shares that Efondo provides more than just dance instruction; she also creates a sanctuary of empowerment and resilience. By orchestrating symphonies of self-love and acceptance, she guides participants to shed internal scars and doubts, fostering a profound sense of liberation and belonging.

“She is not just a mentor or a friend; she is a superwoman—an embodiment of grace, strength, and boundless compassion.” Bagacay says. “I celebrate her as a guiding light in our lives—a reminder that, even in our darkest moments, there is always hope.” 

Shirin Bhandari, Nominated by Gerry Baguio 

Courtesy of Shirin Bhandari

Filmmaker Shirin Bhandari is an inspiration to others including her partner, nominator Gerry Baguio. As a writer, documentary filmmaker, and photographer, Shirin has helped many people in the Philippines by documenting various stories, including those of the Marawi Siege and fishermen in the West Philippine Sea. Her brave work sheds light on important issues and gives a voice to marginalized communities.

Through her writings, documentaries, and photographs, Shirin advocates for positive change in society. Whether it’s through her work with NGOs, UN agencies, or her personal projects, she aims to improve the lives of others by addressing issues related to housing, education, and food security. Her fearlessness in pursuing risky assignments and her dedication to making a difference inspire others to be more creative and proactive in their own endeavors.

Kahit buwis buhay na trabaho, matapang si Shirin, sugod lang ng sugod kahit walang kapalit na puri. (Despite the risks involved in her work, Shirin remains brave and compassionate, tirelessly pursuing her projects without seeking praise or recognition.”) Baguio says. “Paguwi niya, very caring at maalahanin siya at napagluluto pa kami ng papa niya at ang aso naming si Max, kahit pagod na siya wala ka maririnig, she’s very humble. (When she comes home, she continues to take care of her loved ones and still finds time to cook for them and her pet. Even when she’s tired, she doesn’t complain and remains very humble.”) 

Nica Cosio, Nominated by Philline Daguro

Courtesy of Nica Cosio

In the pages of her creative journal, Nica Cosio captures her life in visual assemblages of stickers, photos, and anik-anik (keepsakes). What began as a practice for herself became a practice shared with others, helping people find gratitude and meaning in their lives. “She holds workshops like creative journaling which has changed my life, and for me, is a clear reflection of how she can hold space and celebrate life as a gift–taking remnants of the daily or any time space from the heart, no complications needed to prove that she is an artist of life,” says Philline Daguro, who nominated Cosio.

As a mother of three daughters, Cosio’s creative journaling practice began as a way to document their moments together. “My mother-in-law told me before that she would write down funny words that her kids would say. And my kids say and do these funny things, so I wanted to be able to record that,” Cosio says. Although Cosio is not well-versed in the written word, she expresses her thoughts visually, a result of her life-long passion for art. To her, visual art is as easy as “eating or breathing” and is a means to “release emotions” and “process thoughts.”

Beyond Cosio’s journaling workshops, Daguro is touched by her passion and dedication as a mother. “Modern society needs to be reminded of women who can lead lives with love, femininity, magic, and pink prowess. Modern society deserves to remember that motherhood is not easy, but when a woman makes it look easy, we must celebrate her in acknowledgment that it is not an easy feat for anybody in this modern life. And it is the greatest honor of this world to take care of life,” Daguro says.

“Her impact is in her kids and every woman, every person she and her family have touched. Her love has reached many mothers within our community that has provided a safe space of feeling understood as both a mother and a woman,” she continues. “It’s her way of life, and that is the greatest act to give the world–being ‘Love’ daily.”

M1ss Jade So, Nominated by James Carl Calizo

Photo by Kim Santos, styled by MJ Benitez, hair by Patty Inojales, makeup by Apple Fara-on

For most women, the mere act of existing is already a challenge in itself. Nobody knows this more than M1ss Jade So, a transwoman drag queen popularly known for competing on Drag Race Philippines season 2. When asked how she copes with the reality of being a transwoman, So jokes that it must be because she’s an Aquarius. “I think it’s the rebellious spirit in me,” she answers on a more serious note. “I want to be able to do what I want to do. Not only in drag, but in other aspects of my life as well,” she adds in Tagalog.

So’s artistry and identity are born from painful experiences throughout her life. As a trans kid, she faced discrimination and scrutiny from both inside and outside the LGBTQIA+ community. “I experienced being bullied in high school, both mentally and physically. There were moments when the bullies chopped me inside,” she shares. On Drag Race Philippines, So opened up about being kicked out of prom for wearing a gown because of her trans identity. “I stayed the whole night until the program ended; I did that because it was a way to protest for myself and other trans kids, and I hope no other kid will ever experience that again,” she then said.

Instead of succumbing to the dark situations she’s been through, she chose to use them to build her identity. “I’ve been through so many battles where I’ve learned to fight by knowing my self-worth,” she says. “Ever since I learned that we are all valid and that I deserve to live and be myself, I have made these experiences a source of bravery, courage, and perseverance in my life.”

Because of her courage, So has inspired others, including James Carl Calizo, who nominated her. Calizo writes, “Being the goddess herself, she may not have won the crown of Drag Race Philippines season 2, but she still proved to the world that she was something else, that there is something special within her. For that, she is an inspiration to the community. She is not afraid to experiment and explore things.”

Visit everyday this month for daily features on inspiring women, as nominated by the people whose lives they’ve changed.

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