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  • Ida Beltran-Lucila

Michael Moya: Finding Purpose through Art

In last summer's Sari Sari Market organized by Sosyal Scoops, I was attracted to a table of Philippine-inspired and religious illustrations on display. The works were done by Michael Moya, and I wanted to know more about his art. In my conversation with him, there was so much unraveling of a person who has gone through a lot of suffering, wears his heart on his sleeve, and has shown great resilience, sentimentality, and spirituality.

Michael Moya is an Edmonton self-taught artist and illustrator who also works as a mechanical engineering technologist. He was an easygoing eldest child of immigrant parents - his father was a mechanical engineer in the Middle East, who joined his mother who was a caregiver in Canada, to start a family. Drawing was a regular activity with Michael even as a young boy - copying his favourite cartoons, characters in video games and comics. It was a recreational endeavour for him.

In 2011, his life reached a critical point. Michael collapsed in the parking lot, was brought to the hospital, and after a couple of hours, was given a diagnosis of leukemia cancer. At the Cross Cancer, he had complications with his chemotherapy, i.e. internal bleeding which rendered him partially blind on his left eye, and pancreatitis, that put him in a coma for three months. He relates a strange yet extraordinary experience while in coma. He recalls going through an out of body experience, seeing purgatory, and visions of angels. He describes travelling through an alternate universe, an awareness of being trapped, then going through images of the sacraments, an experience of cleansing and an awareness of the presence of Mary and Jesus. And at the end of his journey, he woke up from his coma. In his physical world, he was medically dying and was given the Sacraments for the Sick and the Dying. For some months after that experience, Michael was declared cured of his cancer, defying medical prognosis. A true miracle indeed.

Getting emotional in the retelling of his story, Michael reveals his second lease in life has allowed him to reflect on his purpose, the meaning of his experience, and why his life was saved by God. It has taught him to appreciate everything in his life. And so, contemplating on the parable of the talents, he is now determined to use his talent for art in portraying who he is - a Catholic and a Filipino.

Michael's work is greatly influenced by Japanese pop culture, i.e. anime and manga, with vibrant colours, and done using professional grade markers, pen and ink. His religious art is a collection of contemporary portraits of Jesus and the Saints. There are currently 50 works in this collection. It is his way of evangelization, presenting his Catholic faith in a pop culture style, to attract more people to the faith. Art is his expression and at the same time, his avenue to learn more about his subjects. Michael's research and work on his Catholic and Philippine-themed art collections have allowed him to understand himself more. He loves reading about the Saints as these are stories of people who had flaws, went through suffering, and turned their lives around. He is fascinated by Philippine history, and especially loves illustrating pre-Colonial Philippines and mythology. To this end, he has worked and self-published the Monkey and Turtle Komiks on his Facebook page. Started in 2019, this is an ongoing, work in progress series, featuring comedic slices of life. Eventually, he dreams of writing and illustrating a Filipino epic, in the likes of Lord of the Rings, the characters, plot and images of which, had been percolating since he was a young boy.

Michael hopes that his art inspires other people to their faith and their cultural identity. He is gratified when younger people ask him about his work, opening up a conversation about either his Catholicism, or Philippine heritage. He has used his works for church fundraisers, particularly for the World Youth Day in Poland in 2016. Through his art, he would like to make his mark in the world, as a cancer survivor, as a Catholic and a Canadian of Filipino descent. In his words, "This is who I am, this is me, Michael Moya."

Know more about Michael at Facebook and Instagram, @MichaelMoyaIllustrations.


* This article was published in the October 2021 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.


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