They look powerful together.”
That’s what Eman Jacob M. San Andres wrote when he shared three artworks from his “Kalsada Heroes” series on Twitter as @artenicojpg.
The series features Filipino street vendors reimagined as superheroes. His manong sorbetero is flinging ice cream with his metal scoop. His muscly magtataho is surrounded by a hail of silken tofu. His buko vendor grips his cleaver with a cuff-covered arm.
The 19-year-old multimedia arts freshman at Far Eastern University Institute of Technology kept adding to the series that people have also dubbed it “The Avendors.”
A long-haired magbabalut is throwing eggs in the air, his basket in tow. A sapin-sapin vendor looks fierce in purple, tongs in one hand while cradling a bilao with her other arm. His inihaw vendor wields magical anahaw fans. One kalsada hero makes it rain siomai. Another spears kwek kwek with his sword.
They do look powerful—so powerful that San Andres’ “Kalsada Heroes” series has gone viral and has even made it to the news on national TV, something that the young artist said he never expected. “It has been overwhelming for me but at the same time. I am grateful for the amount of appreciation I have been getting as well.”
San Andres is quick to point out that he isn’t the first Filipino artist to do a series on vendors. He was originally inspired by the work of Patrick Gañas, an illustrator who designs characters often derived from Filipino culture.
“I think it’s an interesting topic and a genius way to mold the context of giving them the spotlight they deserve,” San Andres said.
What made San Andres’ concept different is how he gave his vendors superpowers. “I think it gives an important message to viewers that these ordinary vendors are actually our modern-day heroes. They’re people who work hard for their families,” he told us in an interview.
It’s socially relevant, too, he said. “People usually look down on their jobs but it is one of the most honorable work one could have.”
San Andres, who grew up in Makati, is no stranger to street vendors. The magtataho is his favorite. “I am really close to magtataho vendors. Aside from the fact that I love taho, the vendors are really polite and jolly. I am actually planning to make Magtataho as their leader and, of course, having Salamangkero as their mentor.”
He has other favorites, too. “Taho is my most favorite, but I also love kwek kwek and sorbetes. It was the best combo I used to buy after a long day at school before the pandemic.”
Street vendors who have seen his work have been reaching out to him. “They have been messaging me and thanking me, telling me that they appreciate [the fact] that I envision them as heroes and it means a lot to them. It makes me really happy and I feel very touched.”
Passion for art
San Andres discovered his passion for art as a child. “When I was around 5 years old, I already knew I loved drawing. I would always ask for art materials. I find comfort in drawing.”
He finds inspiration in many things—his family, friends and the people he looks up to in the field of art. “I want to make my future stable so I could show my parents that their hardships did not go to waste and I want to keep creating because my friends have been supporting and pushing me to try new things that I was afraid of doing before even if I know it would help me grow as a person and as an artist.”
He’s had to stop accepting new commission since the amount of attention his work has gotten has led to a flood of requests.
“I enjoy working on commissions when clients want me to work on an artwork to unite two or more people who are apart in real life. It gives me comfort and a huge honor to recreate a fabricated memory. I have worked on commissions of broken families, lost loved ones and separated friends. I made it possible for them to be united, even with just a painting. I think that is one great power an artist holds.”
His tips for other young artists? “Give yourself a break when your body wants to. As a creator, ideas come at unexpected times and when they come, you would want your brain to be in the perfect state to bring something creative to life.
“Also, your passion is not material for competition. Your passion grows more when you learn to accept and appreciate the things you can do. That’s for starters.”
He wants people to go beyond looking at his art. “Let us show support to our beloved vendors in our own little own ways. Their jobs are not easy jobs; let’s fix that stigma.”
And in parting, he added, “I would like to take this opportunity to remind my fellow Filipinos to register to vote.”
Wield that vote like the Kalsada Heroes of San Andres wield their suman and bananas—it is your super power.
Eman Jacob M. San Andres, tel. 0908-2927913; email [email protected]; follow @Artenico.jpggg and @Eman Jacob on Facebook, @artenicojpg on Twitter, @artenico.jpg on Instagram.