An art contest by and for women

A not-so-secret fact of the corporate world is that women make up a majority of positions, including leadership roles, in the Philippines. And the country’s burgeoning population is also majority female.

So with that in mind, a new initiative springs from a partnership between BDO Unibank, Inc., SM Supermalls and Zonta Club of Makati and Environs: an art competition just for women called Sining Filipina.

It’s a groundbreaking art contest aimed at empowering women artists by giving them a platform to create. The deadline for this year’s entries is very close, though: women artists must submit works in the Figurative and Non-Figurative (abstract) categories by this Jan. 31.

The top cash prize for the First Place winner is P250,000; Second Place wins P150,000, and Third Prize wins P100,000. 

BDO Unibank VP and head of Sustainability Office Marla Alvarez

For its initial launch, moderator Ces Drilon sat down with SM Supermalls president Steven Tan, BDO Unibank VP and head of Sustainability Office Marla Alvarez and Zonta Club Makati and Environs (ZCME) VP Joanne Zapanta-Andrada to ask: why a women’s art challenge now?

“For years — perhaps millennia — the art world has been dominated by the worldview of men,” says Zapanta-Andrada. Since 1971, ZCME has held a spotlight on women’s equality and empowerment, mirroring the mission of Zonta Club worldwide. Drilon pointed out that, to this day, there is no female National Artist awardee for visual arts in the Philippines.

Zonta Club Makati and Environs VP Joanne Zapanta-Andrada,

Lopsided as the art world has been, in the corporate world, women have held a stronger position. SM Supermalls president Tan noted that women make up over 60 percent of the SM workforce, including executive roles, and that its CSR branch, SM Cares, has long supported women empowerment through initiatives like the 270,000-strong Super Moms Club, Safe Spaces Training, Breastfeeding Month and Breast Cancer Awareness advocacy.

So why not expand this trend to nurturing women artists?

“Honoring women has long been a priority of SM,” said Tan, “so I’m as excited as you are to champion the creativity and brilliance of women through this contest and to continue our collective journey towards a more inclusive and empowered society for all.”

BDO VP Alvarez noted that 75 percent of the bank’s workforce is female, and that their chairperson, Tessie Sy-Coson, is a hands-on supporter of the arts (her daughter is an artist). “So supporting women in terms of providing a space for them in the art scene is an extension of how we are empowering our clients, our communities, so that they can also access the same opportunities that male artists have had for years.”

Zonta spearheaded Sining Filipina as the pandemic wound down. “Our club has a special affinity for the arts, and in the last couple of years we realized that there really was an underserving of women artists,” says Zapanta-Andrada. The short deadline gives this call to artists greater urgency: “We already wasted a couple of years with the pandemic, so we decided to strike while the iron is hot.”

If there’s a theme to this women-powered contest, it’s just that: women power.

“We would like to see how women see themselves. And what better way than this theme?” Zapanta-Andrada adds. “For years, women have always been the physical muses of artists, it’s always about their beauty, but women are much more than physical beauty, they are more than just objects. So we wanted to see what the milieu is right now for women.”

As entries start to come in, the three-judge panel (names not revealed, but two are women, one is male) will hopefully look at women’s perspectives across a wide range of ages, economic backgrounds and life experiences. Professionals and non-professionals are welcome to enter, and the works will reportedly be unsigned to allow an even playing field while judging.

But one category, Drilon pointed out, is absent for this virgin launch: trans women and LGBTQ members.

“At the moment, entries must present a birth certificate, that’s a requirement,” says Zapanta-Andrada. She and Drilon said this issue strikes close to home, but Zapanta-Andrada noted: “This is just the beginning. I’m sure this will grow. That’s the hope, that’s the dream.”

The female members onstage said they hope to be “surprised” by the entries. Zapanta-Andrada wants to see “something fresh, not a stereotype” in the work, and Alvarez said she’s “looking forward to women’s representation of themselves across various stages of their lives. Because I want to know what the young women of today are thinking about, what their concerns are or what’s important to them. I also want to hear more about women of my age, and where they are now.”

In a contest highlighting women’s many forms of expression, the results should be eye-opening, to say the least.

The final selected works will be displayed at SM Aura, where the launch took place, by March 2024, in time for Women’s Month.

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Deadline for entries to Sining Filipina is Jan. 31, 2024. Works can be submitted in acrylic or oil paint, sized at 24” x 36” or 36” x 36”. Application and requirement details can be found at or email

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