Joel Vega

Zomer Expo 2014

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2014 at 8:48 am



March has turned out to be a friendly month with my selection to participate in the 4th Zomer Expo to be held at the GEM in The Hague from end of May to August this year. With “Light” as theme, around 1,000 art works were submitted last March 22 during the first round at the Gothic St. Eusebius Church in Arnhem.


All works were judged anonymously and without titles, with the first round proceeding like a carousel in a factory shop. A work will be shown for approximately 15 seconds, with the jury raising their hands for approval to the second round.

The first-round ‘day’ jury selected more than a hundred,  and by the end of the day the final six-man jury further narrowed the submissions to 80 works including my piece titled “The Wedding Guests.” “The Wedding Guests,” previously shown at Galerie Bart in Nijmegen, is part of my 2013 series of photo transfers on cloth.

Hoping to see Netherlands-based friends at the Gemeentemuseum (GEM) in The Hague where 260 works will be shown for the annual Zomer Expo from May 29 to August 31!

Additional info at:





Thatcher’s swagger politics

In Current events, Pop culture, Travel on April 18, 2013 at 11:58 am
Thatcher Maggie joel 222

Meeting Thatcher in Dammam, Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s

I met Margaret Thatcher in the early 1990s on a dusty, sun-scorched airfield in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. In journalistic jargon it was an “ambush’’ interview two other colleagues and I had,  when we were informed that the Iron Lady was in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia for a whistlestop visit, perhaps some vague detour in her secret agenda.

There are no civil niceties in such situations when journalists are fishing for news.  What you have is the firing of quick questions, tape recorder on hand, and out again to beat the early front-page deadlines. We were told to wait outside the VIP lounge where Thatcher and her daughter Carol were formally received after stepping out of the plane that brought them to Saudi Arabia’s oil fields.

I expected the Thatcher ladies to come out wearing the traditional black robes and scarves reserved for women. They both came out of the VIP lounge dressed in business attire, and we were surprised because dress code details are not taken lightly in Saudi Arabia regardless of status and once you’re out in public.

Looking back, it’s remarkable that the first thing I saw was not her face, but the sweep of carefully coiffed silver-blond hair that even the wind failed to ruffle. Then a pair of eyes that scanned the three of us—quickly from left to right like a desert lizard, as if we are obstacles blocking her way to the exits. The press in Saudi Arabia is far from hostile, and yet the frosty air that exuded from her was like an unseen Great Wall of China.

We don’t expect her to provide details of her visit and I was cynical that my editors would run a decent story of her whistlestop tour. Our questions were almost routine and her replies perfunctory. No breaking news, no telling details. I even forgot now what I wrote for the newspaper about that brief encounter.

But what was not lost, even after she was recently edged out of power at that time, was her political flair and the unspoken reminder that she was in command and fully holding the reins. To the pointed questions, she mumbled a runaround reply and my doubts were confirmed that despite my efforts, the story would land somewhere in the inside pages.

I  am not a fan of the Iron Lady, certainly not of her divisive way of politics and her championing of the free market which, as many know by now, has contributed to the financial crisis in Europe. Privatization, market deregulation, anti-labor tactics…the arguments may swing back and forth, but the record is clear that the free market enthusiasts had their spectacular blunders.

What is also ironic in the case of Thatcher is that she is often praised for her iconic role in female politics, when she herself considered feminism as “poison.” It is rather curious that her fervent female admirers conveniently disregard her war record in the Falklands or the way she tore apart communities in the UK with her declaration of war against the unions.

Indeed, the free market has brought us the iPad but do we really need 10 varieties of a tablet, 20 types of shampoo and a grocery shelf stocked with 40 variants of potato chips? Thatcher avidly preached the value of individualism and the free market, and ran a total war against state management, but ignored the salient fact that in times of crucial nation-building, crisis, famine and war, solidarity is precisely what we need.

In a crisis situation the free market ideas of the Thatcherites do not work, otherwise what we will have is a social condition of Darwinism where the poor, the jobless and the handicapped are trampled by the powerful and the strong. Here in our country there are moves to privatise public hospitals with false premise and hopes that competition will improve services. I doubt if the queue at the Philippine General Hospital will get shorter with private management.

Besides, do we as human beings leave to the free market our choice for a partner, children and building a family?  The free market camp pretends that we have free will. But are we really free when we have our deeply-rooted obligations to our wife, husband, children, our elders, and in the case of many Filipinos, even to our extended families?

Thatcher was a product of her working-class background and her cold and scientific training at the chemistry lab was the core and progenitor of her equally cold, calculating politics. No wonder that some Brits celebrated the passing of the politics that she represents, for we could only surmise what we could have achieve by now had she not strutted and swaggered on the world stage.

NOTE: This column has been originally published in the April 11 edition of the Manila Standard Today, and reprinted in the April 14 edition of the Saudi Gazette

The Emperor wears armored clothes

In Current events on October 8, 2012 at 3:31 pm

The fairy tale “The Emperor’s News Clothes,” Illustration from

Note: The following article appeared in the Opinion pages of the Manila Standard Today’s October 7 edition.

We know the story of the emperor who wears no clothes, and the flipside to this cautionary tale of folly is the Emperor who wears armored clothes.

First, a brief context; anyone who even casually visits the Internet these days will see how the popular social media channels like Facebook and Twitter are bristling with intense condemnation of RA 10175, also known as the Cybercrime Law. I have seen via the Internet the backlash following the Mideo Cruz art exhibit last year, the recent (and still ongoing) RH debate, but the Cybercrime Law seems to take the cake when it comes to the intensity of the tweets and posts attacking this piece of legislation. The protests are fever-pitch; one can easily burst an arterial vein.

The disinterested might say the livid responses are only limited t o the Internet, but to take a dismissive stance is to underestimate the clout of modern social media. If there is a channel that ideally suits the Filipino propensity to congregate and gabble about the latest happenings in our universe, social media offers ideal platform. Our collective love to commiserate, share, cajole, praise, solicit and connect- all these and other needs are answered on Facebook pages.

The dynamics of a social media is similar to a gathering storm. It begins with the stirring of a leaf, the twitch of a single branch. Eventually the whole tree picks up the tremors, sends them upward to the sky where it connects with airborne molecules to collide with other violent atoms, reverberating in a lightning strike.

Lesson 1: It only takes a single spark to trigger a storm.

Note: The following article appeared in the Opinion pages of the Manila Standard Today’s October 7 edition.

We are saddled with leaders whose arrogance is rooted in elite systems built in decades ossified in political reactionism. I am not even sure about the accuracy of the word reactionism; but elite-centered political systems are predictable in the sense that anything that moves or speaks against their narrow interests are targeted as the enemy, thrown to the corner post as vagabonds and threatened with the full brunt of the law.

Decades ago the Filipino’s inclination to critique, judge and gossip around is relegated to the barbershop, the sari-sari store, basketball court and the next kanto or street corner where issues are dissected and commented on. Today we have bandwidth speed, complete with thumbnail photo attachments to illustrate our discontent or pass acidic judgment. The reach is not simply around the next bend, but to other continents. I read Filipino community posts originating from Manila, monitoring them here in the Netherlands, and receive responses to my inputs from as far as the Rocky Mountains of Canada. The spirit can vary from jolly to serious, but the links and responses are instant and often a click away.

Lesson 2: The dynamics have changed. Everyone holds a bludgeoning stick.

Back to our emperor with the newly-donned metal armor; to curtail the speech that is made possible by a so-called democratic space as the Internet is similar to curtailing the trail of a speeding sound. It is not only reckless to repress this open space, to do so is to stifle a very human need, creating an implosion that could only lead to bigger and wayward, hostile responses.

Our political leaders betray their insecurity by donning protective armor. The irony seems to be lost in them who used and benefitted from the same dynamics of communication. Effective governance is not about growing layers of protective steel; rather it thrives on the opposite, in environments that nurture contrary minds and opinions, with the aim to bridge existing gaps. To set up defensive cover under a rain of words is actually to cower and invite the bullets that hit the very feet of vulnerability.