First Sculpture Park in South East Asia

With the successful inception of the Himala sa Buhangin! Festival in 2012 followed by a convergence of thousands of locals and tourists last year, the arid landscape of the Paoay Sand Dunes has become an oasis of arts, making it the only country in South East Asia to have an Interactive Sculpture Park built right in the middle of a desert.

“People used to try planting in the sand dunes not aware that it’s an advantage . Over time, we got enlightened that this desert could be used for a lot of activities,” said Governor Imee R. Marcos during an interview.

The 835-hectare natural sand formation in Paoay has been considered as a ‘black sheep’ in the region for frustrating Ilocano farmers of growing agricultural crops in the area
However, the dry wasteland is now a fast-growing center for film tourism in the Philippines and an eco-adventure destination for tourists. And just most recently, the site has become a destination to internationally-acclaimed visual artist Leeroy New’s Interactive Sculpture Park, the first of its kind not only in the Philippines but also in South East Asia.

As Sir New comes back this year to unveil a sculpture of Flavio, the legendary character played by Fernando Poe Jr., in the film series ‘Ang Panday,’ he is now onboard with the expanding and improving on the already existing Interactive Sculpture Park.

“What we put up last year using scrap materials from the Provincial Engineering Office of Ilocos Norte was only the first phase of the project,” Mr. New noted.

Finding inspiration to the post-apocalyptic Australian movie Mad Max that was filmed in the desert, New explained that the art installations in the park look like pieces bobbing in the sea with the “Chrysalis,” a large-scale installation he created in 2012 which symbolized both the province’s religious heritage and its budding tourism industry, as the centerpiece.

He revealed that by upgrading the park this year, the forms of the art installations will become more intricate and will feature more sculptural qualities.

“We will make the art installations to definitely have more interactive elements. The structures from last year will have renewed and distinct characters,” highlighted by New.

Given the right direction and support from the provincial government led by Governor Imee, New hopes that the “national stigma associated with art as some kind of lavish past time will be eliminated through the conduct of the festival” and “it can be a crucial tool in activating otherwise neglected areas in the Philippines as it can cultivate livelihoods.”

Capping the month-long celebration of Ilocos Norte’s Fiesta honoring the province’s patroness La Virgen Milagrosa, the Himala sa Buhangin! Festival is a whole-day celebration to be held on May 1, 2015 on the sand dunes of Paoay to further strengthen its tourism potential as well as to develop the area as an all-around venue for the arts.-John Michael Mugas, PGIN-CMO