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Keeping Traditions Alive

One of the founders of the highly popular ArteFino arts and crafts fair, Susie Quiros talks about how she has evolved from volunteer to an advocate for local artisans

When Susie Quiros enters a room, there is a strong, almost infectious, positive energy that she exudes: the energy of a woman who knows what she’s doing and, better yet, loves what she’s doing.

“I’m a housewife,” this elegant woman replies when asked about what she does. But one immediately notices a twinkle in her eye that pointedly tells you that she is anything but a conventional homemaker. Likewise, her eclectic outfits also grab your attention: brightly colored beadwork accessories and blouses that call to mind the vibrant patterns of tribal designs.

This is because Susie is one of the ladies who helped spearhead ArteFino, the annual arts and crafts fair that presents and promotes the work of the country’s indigenous peoples.

Since it was first staged at 8 Rockwell in 2017, ArteFino has helped spread the word regarding world-class products of exceptional quality produced by highly talented artisans and craftsmen from different parts of the Philippines. It has, since its inception, also served as a way of raising awareness regarding crafts and skills endemic to the Philippines, as well as a way of enabling women from indigenous communities to augment their livelihood.

As Susie puts it, however, her involvement with the initiative came out of the simple act of helping a friend.

“[Some years ago], I started doing volunteer work – a LOT of volunteer work – which eventually morphed into ArteFino,” she recalls. “It was pretty much because a friend of mine asked for help. First, we were merely volunteers as we were working with the Museum Foundation of the Philippines. For a while, we worked on it part-time but, over time, we got to know the people and the communities who made crafts like beadwork and embroidery for us.”

Working and interacting with women from various indigenous tribes from across the country enabled Susie and her co-founders to gain a greater appreciation for traditional crafts such as cloth or basket weaving, as well as the creation of uniquely beautiful accessories from materials locally sourced from nature. However, they also seemed to get a sense that time was running out for these endemic endeavors.

“When you think about it, [the work of these tribes] is a dying craft, a dying art,” she remarks somberly. “Then I had the opportunity to attend a talk from Ditas Sandico regarding the weaving of fibers from banana leaves. I suddenly found myself thinking, ‘How do we get these young ones interested in the crafts of their ancestors so that the skills get passed on to the next generation?’”

Indeed, it is a sad truth that many young people from indigenous communities have turned away from traditional crafts to seek more lucrative jobs in the big cities, putting many traditional methods and products at a risk of being lost forever once the elderly generation passes on.

ArteFino was born from this epiphany: an initiative that would not only bring additional income to indigenous households, but would also serve as a way of helping preserve the riches of the Philippines’ cultural heritage. 

“It’s something that I love to do,” Susie says with a smile. A wife, mother, and grandmother, she believes that she’s a late bloomer as she got into becoming an advocate for local arts and crafts late in life.

Perhaps working with the weavers and needlewomen of the tribes called to mind the women she grew up with: her mother and grandmother who both liked to sew and created a number of pretty and useful things, from clothes to curtains to bags. 

But, more than anything, Susie’s work with ArteFino has brought hope to communities and has ensured that their crafts will be enjoyed by generations to come. For the past couple of years, Rockwell has helped her and her fellow organizers push this initiative forward as its way of putting Filipino culture first.

As Susie herself puts it, “It’s all about creating something beautiful.”