Thursday, March 5, 2015

SiningSaysay: time travel into Philippine history through art

Note: This photo-essay appeared in a slightly different version in the 27 Feb -05 Mar 2015 issue of the FilAm Star, 'the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco,CA. The author/blogger is the Manila-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the said paper.

"Martial Law in the Philippines" by Adi Baen-Santos

It’s the 29th anniversary of the EDSA People Power revolution. According to reports, the EDSA People Power Commission decided to keep the celebration very simple this year in preparation for an ‘all-out’ 30th commemoration next year.

President Benigno Aquino III and his family though are expected to attend the mass at the People Power Monument along EDSA today (25 February), which Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle celebrates.  Last year, Aquino skipped EDSA and went to Cebu for the commemorative program.

Macario Sakay from Norman Dreo's mural. 

Yesterday, former President Fidel V. Ramos led the flag raising and wreath laying ceremonies at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani to honor past heroes including the military personnel who joined the EDSA revolution.  Cory Aquino, the president’s mother, Ramos and Senator Juan Enrile were among the key figures of that historic peaceful revolution.

 The opening to the public on 19 February of the SiningSaysay: Philippine History in Art was very appropriate for the low-key People Power anniversary celebration. This is a collaborative art and history project of the University of the Philippines, the UP Alumni Association and the Araneta Center, Inc.

“SiningSaysay combines Sining (art) and Kasaysayan (history),” explained Prof. Grace Javier-Alfonso, in the “grand manner” painting or history art tradition of the UP College of Fine Arts.

The exhibit comprises 30 murals created by top Filipino artists from UP, each canvas measuring 6 feet x 12 feet. These are visual images of historical events and personalities from the pre-Hispanic times to the present.  The collection is mounted at the Gateway Gallery at the 5th floor of the Gateway Tower Mall in Cubao, Quezon City. 
SiningSaysay will be on view for the next two years with the aim of “engag[ing] the public [and the artists] in a continuous discourse in Philippine history” in order “to build a sense of nationhood and contribute to the people’s pride.”

To those who joined the EDSA People Power Revolution in February 1986, Angel Cacnio’s “Filipinos Unite to End Martial Law” mural evokes the promise of change for the better with the restoration of democracy. Whether that came about is a continuing subject of public discourse.

"Filipinos Unite to End Martial Law" by Angel Cacnio

The canvas of Adi Baen-Santos on “Martial Law in the Philippines” would recall to the First Quarter Storm generation one of the nation’s darkest moments: when Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under Martial Law on 21 September 1972. The mural depicts what Marcos deemed threats to the nation: communism, the Muslim secessionist movement, restive labor sector, student activism, and the oligarchs. The political dynamics of the time are represented by the images of Ninoy Aquino, Jose Maria Sison, Nur Misuari, and Imelda Marcos fluttering with ‘the true, the good and the beautiful’ blue ribbon.

"Restoration of Democracy Continues" by Grandier Bella

Cacnio and Baen-Santos are in the last four of the 30 murals. The next two are recent historical memories:  Michael Velasco’s “Ramos/Estrada Administration” and Grandier Bella’s “Restoration of Democracy Continues”.

Velasco portrays the watch of presidents Fidel V. Ramos and Joseph Estrada, the central image has them riding a jeepney with the iconic symbol of the centennial of the declaration of Philippine Independence on 12 June 1898.

This canvas invites public discourse esp. with regard to the pending Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). The Ramos administration negotiated with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and appointed Nur Misuari chairman of the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development. Estrada recently opined about an ‘all-out war’ following the Mamapasano event that resulted in the death of 44 SAF troopers.

Bella has former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and President Aquino occupying the left and right sides, respectively, of the canvas. There is no telling though of the rift between the two with the pursuit of Aquino’s “matuwid na daan” promise to do away with graft and corruption in government. In the whole, it’s a cheerful canvas which is shared by Manny Pacquiao, Efren Penaranda and a beauty queen. There’s a reminder though that Senator Trillanes once led a military uprising during the Arroyo watch.

Depending on one’s leisure, the viewer can browse through the texts after viewing each canvas for full appreciation of the visual images.

Petroglyphs detail from Junyee's "Pre-historic Philippines" canvas
We. started with two canvases on “Pre-historic Philippines”.  Junyee tells us that there’s an evidence of   a writing system, the petrogylphs found in the Angono caves, still undeciphered today, consisting of line and geometric incisions, and drawings of human figures.   Benjie Cabangis shows us the spiritual beliefs of pre-historic peoples, and the representation of the representation of their anitos.

The next two are about “Peopling the Philippines” (Simkin de Pio and Gig de Pio). One learns that the Filipinos belong to the Austronesian Race.  We’ve always thought we are of the Malay race.

“Pre-Hispanic Philippines” ( Randy Solon) shows the various ethno-linguistic groups that peopled the archipelago which had their own socio-political, economic and cultural institutions: the Ilongots, Gaddangs, Igorots in the North and the Manobos, Bilaan, Bagobo, Tiboli, Yakan, Palawanon and the Tausug in the South.  The canvas is embellished with colorful images of pre-Hispanic Filipinos from the Boxer Codex.

National Artist Abdulmari Asia Imao painted “Muslims in the Philippines” which shows how they faced Christianity (represented by the images of retablo altars) during the Spanish and American regimes.
"Chinese in the Philippines" by Janice Young

Janice Young’s “Chinese in the Philippines” is peopled by many prominent Filipinos with Chinese blood: Jose Rizal, Emilio Aguinaldo, Sergio Osmena, Pedro Paterno, Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee, Cardinal Sin and Cory Aquino.  The old generation is depicted by gray images of coolies and workers, which reminds that sometime in the 1600s, there was a great debate even among the religious whether the Chinese should be expelled from the country or not. Today’s young Tsinoys are represented in the canvas as well.

"Women Empowerment in the Philippines" by Grace Alfonso

Another interesting people canvas is Grace Alfonso’s “Women Empowerment in the Philippines.” She depicts the Filipina’s active role in society from pre-Hispanic times to the present, from the babaylan to the contemporary women who continue to fight for women’s rights. In between are the likes of Gabriela Silang, Tandang Sora, the suffragettes, and the women activists of the Martial Law years.

"History of Labor in the Philippines" by Neil Doloricon

Neil Doloricon shows us the “History of Labor in the Philippines” through the faces of Isabelo de los Reyes who established the first labor union in 1901, and other labor leaders like Jacinto Manahan, Pedro Abad Santos and Crisanto Evangelista atop the dynamic portrayals of laborers at work or on the march.

The History Art tour took us to “The West Discovers the Philippines” (Bim Bacaltos and Ding Hidalgo) which narrate the expedition of Magellan, the battle of Mactan and his death at the hands of Lapu-Lapu.

Detail from Salvosa's "Galleon Trade" mural. 
Jonah Salvosa’s “Galleon Trade” is a colorful narrative of the galleons plying between Manila and Mexico. Details also show the building of the Walled City (Intramuros) and the coming of the various religious orders that would figure prominently in the establishment of pueblos and churches all over the country.

We went through the colonial periods the nation’s proud and brave history:  the Spanish colonial period, how we responded to it via the early revolts, the reform movement, and eventually, the Philippine Revolution (murals by Vincent de Pio, Aileen Lanuza and Romy Mananquil); and the Filipino experiences during American colonial regime, how we re-asserted our independence, how we felt betrayed (Don Artificio, Norman Dreo and National Artist BenCab).

The Commonwealth Period is represented by canvases from Cris Cruz (“The Philippines under the Stars and Stripes”) and Romy Carlos and Norman Dreo (“Quezon/Osmena Administration”).  One sees here the transfer of the University of the Philippines to Diliman from its Manila campus, and the creation of Quezon City.

The peaceful narrative is interrupted by “Occupied Philippines” by Julius Samson showing the atrocities of war at the bottom part and the return of MacArthur as focal point.

The post-WW2 era is depicted by canvases showing the governance of Manuel Roxas (“Building from the Ashes” by Norly Meimban), of Elpidio Quirino (“Quirino Presidency” by Romy Carlos and Michael Velasco), of Ramon Magsaysay, Carlos Garcia and Diosdado Macapagal  (“Post-War Philippines” by Ben Infante). These canvases highlight major events or achievements during their presidencies.

"Muslims in the Philippines" by Nationalist Artist Abdulmari Asia Imao

Our SiningSaysay tour was capped with light moments on two canvases: “Philippine Festivals” by Romy Carlos to remind us of fiesta times in our hometowns or popular tourist sites; and “Philippine Icons and Symbols” by Denes Dasco to recall for us our badges or icons of identity like JP Rizal, Andy Bonifacio, mango, bahay kubo, and the Philippine Eagle.

That was one enjoyable educational artistic tour of our history!

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