Companions: mas masarap magkasama

Companions: mas masarap magkasama

Maria Dumlao & Bahay215 (Nicky Uy and Omar Buenaventura)

April 16 – September 3, 2022
Curated by Tina Plokarz


Companions – mas masarap magkasama explores food culture as a vehicle for the human desire for belonging and rooting into a new environment. Filipino-American visual artist Maria Dumlao collaborated with Filipinx group Bahay215 (Nicky Uy and Omar Buenaventura) for this multimedia exhibition featuring a series of interactive prints and site-specific installations. These open a dialogue about ecology, authorship, and cultural authenticity in intertwined environments. 


Photos by Ricky Yanas


In Companions – mas masarap magkasama (which roughly translates to “more delicious together), Dumlao and Bahay215 explore what it looks like to be Filipinx in the United States today. For centuries, cultures and communities have defined themselves through food, and that food is defined by wild and cultivated species that live and grow in a specific place. In the Philippines, this varies between the more than 7,000 islands that make up the archipelago, but often includes tropical fruits, coconut, rice, pork, and seafood – giving rise to regional cooking techniques and family recipes like sinigang, a clear soup flavored with a local souring agent like tamarind, or laing, taro leaves cooked in coconut cream. Spanish colonization and American imperialism have influenced and altered Filipinx food and culture, affecting people and plants alike.

These artists ask: which stories are told and which are suppressed by colonialism and migration? How can both types of stories be made visible in a respectful conversation that honors the past and sustains life into the future?


Photos by Ricky Yanas


In the original exhibition, Dumlao featured newly created prints exploring what is omitted or uprooted in (neo)colonial narratives. As ‘displaced relatives’ connecting Asia, Europe, and North America, the emerging vegetation, species, and creatures tell hidden stories of indigeneity, food trades, migration, and acclimating environments. Natural and metaphorical ingredients from botany and commerce were assembled into colorful images: invasive knotweed in familiar landscapes, processed pork meat on pineapples, and buzzing honey bees populate homes, forests, and garden centers.

Outdoors at the Visitor Center, two of Dumlao’s large-scale prints were accompanied by a bamboo sculpture by Bahay215’s Omar Buenaventura and Nicky Uy, which was loosely inspired by stilt houses original to the Philippines called bahay kubo. Colored filter panels in the sculpture allowed the viewer to see different layers of stories and lives hidden in Dumlao’s prints. Today, find Dumlao’s print and colored glass panels on the wall of our visitor center.

This exhibition was part of the Schuylkill Center’s 2022 “Year of Restoration,” celebrating protecting our environment from and adapting to today’s globalized world, even as we adapt ourselves to new lands and changing climates. Companions breaks down the false dichotomy between nature and culture: blending art, ecology and food, the exhibition explores how we, as individuals and as a community, define ourselves through food, plants, and our relationships with each other. 



Interview with Maria Dumlao. Past Present Projects, by Heather Moqtaderi, August 2022.

Nature’s Companions. The Times Herald and on our blog, by Tina Plokarz, April 2022.

Velocity Fund grants. Inquirer, April 2022.



Maria Dumlao works with combined media, including film, video, animation, sound, photography, embroidery and installation. Her work explores individual and collective history as mediated experience. Her work, History in RGB, combines images of history, popular culture, mythic folklore, landscapes, and creatures to propose alternatives to the systemic representations ordered by colonial narratives. Born in the Philippines, Maria immigrated to the US mainland, where she currently lives and works in the traditional territory of the Lenni-Lenape (Philadelphia area). She received a BA in Studio Art & Art History from Rutgers College and a MFA in Studio Art at Hunter College-CUNY. Maria’s work has been exhibited, screened and performed in the US and internationally. Most recently she completed a commissioned installation for Auckland Museum and Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center in Aotearoa New Zealand and was awarded the Center for Emerging Visual Artist Fellowship and the Leeway Transformation Award.

Omar Buenaventura and Nicky Uy are the Philadelphia-based collaborative, Bahay215. Omar Buenaventura is a maker inspired by his local environment and childhood experiences growing up in the Philippines. His work features reclaimed wood and locally grown bamboo. He is an Allied Health Professional working in trauma hospitals in the region. Nicky Uy was born in Manila, Philippines to children of Chinese immigrants. In her creative work she explores diasporic longings and loving adaptations through the context of wild and cultivated plants. Together, Nicky and Omar founded Bahay215 in 2020 as a way to connect Kapwa (in Filipino language to recognize the concept of ‘shared identity’) and Filipinx traditions. They have built a Filipinx planter and Seed Library, both housed at the Asian Arts Initiative, and have participated as altaristas for Fleisher Art Memorials’s annual Día de los Muertos. In 2022, they continue to collaborate with artists and seed keepers on sustainable planters, community seed libraries, and projects that connect the local environment and regenerative practices with the Filipino diaspora. Bahay215 occupies the land of Lenapehoking and recognizes Lenape People as original inhabitants and their continuing relationship with their territory. Facebook & Instagram: @bahay215



Generous support for this project has been provided by the Joseph Robert Foundation, the Velocity Fund to Maria Dumlao, the Leeway Foundation’s Art and Change Grant to Nicky Uy, Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award in 2021 to Maria Dumlao, and in-kind repurposed materials provided by Asian Arts Initiative.

Additionally, the Schuylkill Center’s environmental art program is supported by the National Wildlife Federation for event programming as part of The Alliance for Watershed Education (AWE) and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, as well as private donations by our members, supporters and friends.



* Opening and Spring Wild Food Talk on Saturday, April 16 with music by Philippine Folk Arts Society Inc’s Rondalla, artists talk and foraging walk with Nicholas Tonetti
* Naturepalooza on Saturday, April 23 with live music, activity tables, nature hikes, food trucks, and more, all centered around our Year of Restoration
* Art Kids Tour on Saturday, May 21 with Tina Plokarz, Director of Environmental Art
* Summer Wild Food Walk and Talk on Saturday, June 4  with Nicholas Tonetti and Nicky Uy
* Art Workshop in RGB, July 15, with Maria Dumlao

Photos by Gregory Wright