When Elmer Dumlao arrived in Jordan in 1994 at the age of 33, he visualized the best years of his life spent as a creatives man in an advertising agency.
But kismet lit another path. And like the desert sand that slowly but surely lays claim to what it covets, Dumlao—in a span of 24 years—realized his heart’s desire: to be a visual artist; his works viewed by kings, queens and other royalty in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
“I was a commercial artist for 12 years and in all that time, I wanted to be a visual artist. I had already participated in a group exhibit, but still had no one-man show. I was still looking for a break,” Dumlao said.
In Jordan, Dumlao started as a creative director for McCann Erickson. Years later, an officemate of his put up an advertising firm and invited him to head its Creatives department.
Dumlao accepted and between him and his boss, closed some of the biggest accounts in the Middle East. “I launched Coca-Cola and McDonald’s in Jordan. We also had the Royal Jordanian Airlines, and some big banks.”
It turned out that his officemate, Al Sheriff Mohammad Alluhayqac, was a distant relative of Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
“Al Sheriff is a title. It means ‘family of the Kingdom of Hashemite of Jordan,” Dumlao said, adding, “my boss was asked by the King to work as Chief of the Protocols Office. As a loyal subject, he had to do the King’s bidding. A year later, in 2006, my boss asked me to work for him.”
There, Dumlao’s world expanded, far beyond the days when he struggled to get better-paying jobs after earning his Fine Arts degree at the University of Santo Tomas and in the years since he got married.
As the eldest in a brood of four, he had helped his father man their home-based silk-screen factory, while his mother taught in an elementary school.
A fresh graduate in 1981, Dumlao got hired as a contractual in the Philippine Refining Co., earning P150 a day, before transferring to Republic Flour Mills (RFM) as a supervisor for outdoor advertising for P7,000 a month.
When he got married in 1984, he decided to look for an overseas post, working in Saudi Arabia until he found luck in Jordan.
“In 1994 there was still no Internet. What I knew of Jordan I sourced from brochures, which said that the country had churches, cinemas, and that men and women were not segregated, even in buses. Jordan was an open society. I liked the country and its four seasons. And now, I had the chance to work in the Palace,” he said.
At the Protocol’s office, Dumlao said he exerted himself, taking on jobs that normally would have required three or four people to do. He became the artist, creative director and art director.
Still, despite the heavy load, Dumlao managed to find time to paint, sculpt and do visual art. Work commenced from Sunday to Thursday. People went to church on Friday and Sunday was a free day.
At the Palace, his title was creative and design supervisor. “I do all designs, from books to medals, even the official flags that the Protocol Office puts out. I also do logos of the military. We worked like an in-house advertising agency.”
To all these jobs, he found one task his most cherished and most demanding brand: His Majesty King Abdullah II.
It was Dumlao who did the portraits of the Royal Family that were given as gifts by the Protocol Office to invited guests. “I did the portrait of King Abdullah II, the Crown Prince of Jordan and the late Prince Hussein. I based my portraits on their photographs. Some of the portraits are on display at the Protocol Office.”
In 2010 Dumlao had his first one-man exhibit, Jordan through the Eyes of Elmer Dumlao. The exhibit, according to Dumlao, offered a unique perspective on Jordan’s history, culture, traditions and beauty.
“My boss attended the first exhibit and invited princes and princesses to attend. All my works were sold out,” he enthused.
To date, Dumlao has had seven exhibits in Jordan and one (just-concluded) in the Philippines, entitled Ground Zero: An artist comes home, held at the SM Megamall in Ortigas, Pasig.
His principal focus is mixed media on canvas or wood or metal.
One of the most entrancing pieces that graced all his exhibits is Inborn, shown in Dumlao’s Animan series.
First presented in 2012 at the Zara Gallery in Amman, Jordan, the piece is a beautiful execution of the theme of the series—the cross-breeding of two creatures reincarnated into one unified piece of art.
Inborn merges the body of a woman with the head of a horse shrouded in metal. Dumlao said the woman is a person with disability, hence the missing arm and leg.
“She may have been born incomplete, but she represents beauty beyond ugliness,” he added.
Now approaching 57, and an art consultant of the King of Jordan, Dumlao has this advice for beginning visual artists: “I had thought it was already too late for me, having started so late in life. I didn’t start out as a visual artist. I went into advertising because I needed an income. But my feelings frothed with the need to express my art. The lesson is thus, never quit. Never lose sight of your art. Your time will come.”
Image credits: Ferdinand G. Mendoza