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From Saudi creative scene, Filipina flight attendant embarks on international art career
MANILA: When the coronavirus pandemic brought international travel to a halt, Erika Cadiz stayed behind in Saudi Arabia instead of returning to the Philippines — a decision that soon paid off with her childhood career dream coming true.
Raised in the suburbs of Bataan, a province 120 km from the Philippine capital, Cadiz became a flight attendant with a Saudi-based airline in 2017.
She would divide her life between Manila and the Middle East until coronavirus health restrictions shut air travel worldwide and forced her to choose only one of them. She chose the unknown and risked it all to join the art scene, which she saw thriving in Saudi Arabia.
“I’ve always loved art growing up, but it wasn’t something I ever thought I’d build a career in. I used to think that as much as I dreamed of becoming a painter, it was something I had to set aside temporarily because it wouldn’t put food on the table,” Cadiz told Arab News.
In February 2021, she converted her bedroom in Riyadh into an art studio and began selling small paintings on social media.
Initially, she had no contacts in the industry or local galleries, but local artists supported her foray into the art world and offered advice.
“In a place where art is booming, everyone is excited to see your art. Although contemporary art is considered new in Saudi Arabia, the art scene is very vibrant, hip, rich, and the artists’ community is open to everyone regardless of where you are from,” she said.
“I’ve met people who are way ahead of me in the industry and really uplift me and support me in every way possible. A lot of galleries hold exhibits that are open to expats. They openly support diversity.”
Just a month after setting up her home studio, she earned the opportunity to exhibit her work for the first time alongside other new artists at the Atoze Art Exhibition by Mawhub Arts Gallery in Riyadh.
“A good friend of mine tagged me online and pushed me to participate. I remember I had a week to produce five paintings,” she said.
Her successful first showing opened the doors for other opportunities, which included the Kulay Pinay (Filipina Colors) exhibition organized by the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, and the Saudi National Day Art Exhibition at the Royal Saudi Air Force Museum.
Curators took note of her work, quickly paving the way for her to showcase it abroad.
Her first international appearance was at the Dynamic Correspondence exhibition in Bologna.
“It was only a dream of mine to see my paintings hung on a wall in Italy,” she said, describing the experience as “surreal,” given that it happened only a few months after she entered the art scene.
Soon, she also found herself in Venice and Rome, where she participated in the Rome International Art Fair.
She also started receiving offers for commissioned art pieces from clients drawn to her colorful style, which she describes as “the intersection of retro realism and expressionism,” inspired by her travels and experiences as a woman in her new homeland.
“Since I moved to Saudi Arabia, I witnessed all the societal changes. Now women are given more opportunities in their chosen career, an advocacy I deeply support,” she said.
“The fact that I am from the Philippines and a woman able to excel in the field of arts in another country, especially in the Middle East, is something I am proud of.”
She has embraced both of her identities: as a Filipina and as a resident of Saudi Arabia.
“I have become my most independent self in the Middle East. I moved not knowing anyone. I didn’t have any family,” she said.
“The difficulties that I went through have shaped me to become my most authentic self, both as a person and as a creative.”
After years, Cadiz is again able to divide her time between the two homelands. Now, however, she is also able to fully pursue her new career, as she ventures into the art scene of her motherland with an apprenticeship in art gallery management in Manila, while also maintaining her main studio in Riyadh.
“It makes me feel mobile as an artist, and that is my dream — to not restrict myself as an artist. I want to be able to represent different cultures as I grow in this industry,” she said.
“I have two homes in my heart as an artist. I bring the Philippines and Saudi Arabia with me everywhere.”