Archive of ‘art’ category

pop goes the world: in the eye of the beholder

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  15 September 2011, Thursday

In the Eye of the Beholder      

Keyboards ceased clattering. Phones stopped humming. Work ground to a halt in the country the other morning as people downed tools to watch the live airing of this year’s Miss Universe pageant. It was said that the Philippines stops for only two things – the Miss U contest, and Manny Pacquiao fights.

Such is our fascination with the contest, which was established in 1952. Year after year, people have sat glued to their sets to watch how our candidates fare. Those at work had to rely on word-of-mouth for the results, and watch the replay at a later date. But with the Internet now providing the live feed, anyone with a broadband connection could watch it. The contest this year garnered more interest, with the well-beloved Shamcey Supsup fighting other Amazonian beauties to uphold the pulchritude of Filipinas on the world stage.

Shamcey was a pambato on many levels. Physically, she is a gorgeous specimen. But what’s more interesting is her blazing intelligence – a magna cum laude Architecture graduate of the University of the Philippines and Board topnotcher? Her future offspring would be formidable if they inherit her combination of beauty and brains, assuming she has them with a male of such impeccable DNA as herself.

Whether or not she should have won is a moot point. Beauty contests are subjective. The question is why someone as intelligent and talented as Shamcey, who has proven the quality of her brains in the academic arena, should still seek to validate her physical worth as well in a contest that looks primarily at appearance.

Shamcey Supsup’s Philippine Architecture Board exam result here.

We know the question-and-answer portion is a mere accommodation to deflect accusations of shallowness. If you really wanted to test a person’s intellect, then ask them to solve an algebra problem or write an essay. Pageant questions generally ask what a contestant would do given a certain scenario. The answers are usually grounded on the candidate’s cultural background, which the judges, who also come from different backgrounds, may not entirely agree with. So how can the Q & A be considered as a serious criterion for choosing a winner? No, it’s still primarily the looks.

And there we see that no matter how long the feminist battle has waged, it’s still the world’s commercial standards of beauty that prevail. Women all over the world strive to reach this ideal. Many spare no expense for cosmetic surgery and dentistry. Advances in knowledge and technology in cosmetic surgery have made it easier for non-contestants – the average person – to look like a “Miss U” candidate.

Those who can afford the procedures end up looking like each other, blank-faced Barbie dolls with breasts larger than nature can make them, their foreheads immovable from Botox. (Google images of US reality show celeb Heidi Montag.)

What’s alarming is how, in the process of socialization, these standards of beauty are being applied to younger females. Children have always been sexualized at various points in history; the question is, is it in their best interest for adults to allow this, in this day and age that we supposedly know better? Can we not protect children from this trend?

But in America, for instance, we see how child beauty pageants are so popular that there’s even a reality show for it – “Toddlers and Tiaras”.  Girls as young as two are dressed in frills and made-up. Those six and older sport fake eyelashes, elaborate hairstyles, and are made to look as much like adult women as possible.

Some studies have linked preoccupation with appearance to dissatisfaction with body image, trust issues, impulse disregulation. Other women suffer from eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia – or put other forms of pressure on themselves as they struggle to conform to the world’s notions of beauty. Is this worth chasing after?

We need to revisit our ideas of beauty and body image. Filipinos are racist. Some have expressed dissatisfaction with the victory of Miss Angola, the lovely Leila Lopes, because of her skin color. Otherwise, they said, she had attractive facial features and a great body. This mindset hearkens back to our colonial mentality. It’s a cultural disadvantage that prevents us from seeing more beauty and goodness in the world.

The debate will rage on. One thing is certain – our fascination with beauty and beauty pageants will not go away.

* * * * *

Education through entertainment: Web developer Bea Lapa announced the release of an “edutainment” online game that will help children learn about history and geography by taking a virtual trip on “Janjan the Jeepney”.

The game took three years to develop and is a pro bono project of Anino Games, Inc., the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and the now-abolished Commission on Information and Communication Technology. Says Lapa, “It’s part of our mission to uplift Filipino talent and culture and support our education sector.”

The game is free for access at http://janjanthejeepney.com/.

* * * * *

Art Alert: Controversial artist Mideo Cruz’s all-paintings show “Phases of Ra” runs from October 8 to 29 at Gallery Duemila, Pasay City. In this group of portraits in oil on canvas, Cruz looks at “the representation of power and how the public assigns reverence to those who have it.” The images are of the elite of society, but with the heads “replaced by filled-in or imprints of circles, a direct reference to Ra, the Egyptian sun-god.”

Mideo Cruz, “Eclipse”. Oil on canvas. 36 x 36 inches. From the artist’s Facebook page.

“I always look at how people attribute to sacredness to a thing,” Cruz says. “I try to deconstruct those things and put parallel meanings to them.”

Long interested in the “dynamics of belief systems,” Cruz’s works ask: “Why do we sanctify something and how do we arrive at doing so? In this cycle of paintings, he asks us to look at the “neo-deities” and see why we revere them because what we hold in high regard says much of ourselves.” ***

Shamcey Supsup image here. Toddler in tiara here. Leila Lopes here. Janjan the Jeepney here.

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The 61st Palanca Awards

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  8 September 2011, Thursday

The 61st Palanca Awards

For a Filipino writer, winning a Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature is one of the most gratifying accomplishments one can achieve.

The awards night was held, as always, on September 1, at the Manila Peninsula Hotel. The guest of honor was F. Sionil Jose, a five-time Palanca awardee, who received the 2011 Dangal ng Lahi Award. Fifty-eight other writers were given awards from first to third place, in several different categories in Filipino, Cebuano, Iluko, Hiligaynon, and English.

Also present among the writeratti was Palanca Foundation director-general Sylvia Palanca-Quirino, who spoke of the six-decade long history of the awards. Their family’s dedication in sustaining this program is to be lauded; save for them, there would be no recognition for Filipino literary writers.

Winning a Palanca is something to strive for, a goal, and gives direction to one’s efforts. We hope the Palanca Foundation continues their support of Philippine belles lettres.

It was with tremendous pleasure that I attended the awards night to receive a first prize for Essay for my piece “The Turn for Home: Memories of Santa Ana Park.” The Palanca Award is a heavy brass medal as big as a saucer, hung on a wide sapphire blue ribbon. It comes with a certificate, a wooden presentation box, and prestige, that clings to the awardees like perfume.

With judges.

With De La Salle University’s Dr Genevieve Asenjo (judge, Maikling Kuwento – Hiligaynon) and poet German Gervacio (judge, Tulang Pambata). 

I dedicate my win to my writing mentor at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, professor emerita Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo. It was in her creative non-fiction graduate class last year that I wrote my winning piece.

It was also for that class that this year’s second-place Essay winner, professor Jeena Rani Marquez-Manaois, wrote her winning “The River of Gold”, set in Cagayan de Oro.

With Jeena.

With writer Natasha Gamalinda, who accompanied her fiance Rosmon Tuazon (2nd prize, Tula) to the ceremony. She was my classmate, along with Jeena, in that same CNF class of Dr. Pantoja-Hidalgo. 

The role of mentor, I realize now, is highly significant and cannot be over-emphasized. On my own, without guidance, I most likely would not have produced this work. It was Dr. Pantoja-Hidalgo who gave me the guidance to take my memories and give them shape and structure in narrative form.

May other writers be blessed with the same good fortune as to find a mentor as kind and encouraging, whose keen critical insights instruct and set the direction to do even better in the craft, not only technically, but also in the lyricism and “literary-ness” of the work.

In my essay, I weave memories of the Santa Ana racetrack and my personal life. Here’s an excerpt. In this scene, I’ve been thrown off my horse during morning workout (I was the sport’s first female apprentice jockey and trained for several months) and am lying on the track:

“Jockeys rode past me; unseated apprentices were not an unusual sight, in fact it was expected for one to fall several times during training, and since it was obvious I wasn’t dead – yet – there was no cause for alarm. One jockey did stop beside me as I lay in the sand, staring blankly up at the sky.

He halted his horse and leaned over me. I saw him upside down. It was some wiry guy clad in layers of t-shirt, sweatshirt, and jacket. They all looked alike in their helmets.

“Okay ka lang?” he asked.

Of course not, you idiot, I nearly broke my neck when I fell and I could have been paralyzed from the neck down like Ron Turcotte who rode Secretariat who was the greatest racehorse of all time in my opinion and he spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair until he died in a car accident – Turcotte, not Secretariat, was what I wanted to say.

“I’m fine,” was what I actually said.

We were married at Don Bosco Church five months later.”

The essay will be published in December by the UP-Diliman College of Arts and Letters in their literary journal, “Likhaan”. It will also appear online on their website and on that of the Carlos Palanca Foundation.

* *  * * *

I read with interest last Wednesday’s column here in MST by our opinion editor Adelle Chua, which dealt with the topic of depression. I have beloved friends and family members who suffer from depression, and those of us in their support network often wonder what other treatment methods out there other than the usual would be beneficial.

A friend, American psychologist and Virginia Western Community College professor Dr. Annemarie Carroll, advocates yoga to ease depression, in addition to other treatments such as therapy and fish oil.

Says Dr. Carroll, “There’s a lot of research about using [yoga] for depression and this is what I’m working towards doing with my psych clients. The reason yoga is so helpful is that it teaches people the ability to “ride the wave” of discomfort with breathing – whether that’s physical discomfort as in a yoga posture that’s difficult for you, or in emotional/mental discomfort, as those feelings can come up while doing the physical practice.

“The person then begins to generalize that to their everyday life situations. Any good yoga teacher would be helpful, but sometimes you can find a yoga teacher who specializes in this.”

I don’t know much about the yoga scene in Manila, and was glad to receive word from writer/performer Lissa Romero De Guia about the “Wake Up and Shake Up!” yoga event presented by Art of Living Philippines.

It’s a two-hour event of “Meditation, Yoga and Wisdom”, set for September 14 at the AIM Conference Center in Makati beginning 6:30pm.

The session will be conducted by senior Art of Living teacher Swami Sadyojathah. He travels extensively all over the world teaching yoga and meditation, conducting trauma relief, and “spreading ancient techniques on how to live life with a deep sense of joy and enthusiasm.”

No previous experience in meditation or yoga is required. Wear comfortable clothing and bring a yoga mat and water bottle. For details call Lorna Nasayao (0917-8484898).  ***

Portraits of Dr Pantoja-Hidalgo and Dr Carroll  from their Facebook pages.

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art of earth

I stepped into the lobby of the Senate of the Philippines and heard the faint trill of a flute.

The sound floated in the air, and swirled around my head like perfume. Irresistible, it beckoned. Hypnotized, I followed, and was led to the goddess on the wall.

An artist had taken handfuls of soil of different shades, mixed them to come up with hues and tints, and with these pigments of earth painted the goddess’s  image on canvas, conjuring her from the other realm, and trapping her forever under the gaze of mortals.

 ”Diwata Hu Suda” (2010), 4 ft x 5 ft, soil on canvas by Onanoy Saway Estrada.  On display at the Senate of the Philippines lobby in the exhibit “Talaandig Soil Paintings”.

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pop goes the world: by any other name

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today1 September 2011, Thursday

By Any Other Name

The debate on Filipino language and identity remains hot as ever, the flames stoked higher recently by Ateneo de Manila University student James Soriano’s essay “Language, Learning, Identity, Privilege”.

It was incendiary and set off an explosive string of comments pro- and -anti on the Internet. I have issues with language and identity myself and have written about them here before. But Soriano’s essay, on first reading, stank of the arrogance of privilege and caste. Referring to Filipino speakers as merely the people who wash our dishes or fetch us from school is at the very least insensitive.

On a second, deeper reading – no, still nothing.

Other writers have “deconstructed” the piece and claimed to have found it “satirical” and like Mideo Cruz’s art, meant to provoke. But why ascribe depth when there is none? The work, hardly well-written to begin with, screams that it was crafted by an unformed, immature personality that reminds me of nothing more than a social climber.

Soriano’s was a straight-up statement of fact and I object to the over-readings. Take it at face value.

From all over the world, reactions poured in. Says the California Dreamer (a Pinoy living in Los Angeles): “The fellow might have a serious attitude problem, but it was not about his attitude but his proposition. There’s always privilege and entitlement, especially where access to knowledge is unequal.  It was mean-spirited to say the least, but wasn’t he just a mirror of what’s wrong in society with a yawning gap between rich and poor, the information haves and have-nots?

“Once more, vanity is the death of us all.  He should’ve kept it to himself because from now on it will be all about a certain (bleep), and not the fact he framed his argument so badly that it fell apart.

“Identity is like water- the more one tries to grasp it, the more it slips past one’s fingers.”

Soriano may have a point in that because of the circumstances shaped by our culture’s colonial mindset and economic exigencies, and some individual families’ affluence, there are Filipinos who speak English better than any of the Filipino languages. Still, there is no call to denigrate the people who speak Filipino through preference, accident of birth, or lack of learning opportunity. And why laud one language over another? We are richer for being conversant in more than one.

We multi-lingual people have the advantage, because the words in the different languages we know have specific nuances; thus we are able to communicate more effectively because we have this formidable arsenal of words. Language is foremost a tool for communication.

This is also the point Carla Montemayor raises in her “How do you make dabog in English?” on Newsbreak Online.

“Since most English people are monolingual,” she writes, “they don’t get this seemingly schizoid shifting from one language and one thought process to another. I, on the other hand, cannot imagine myself using just one language all the time, forever. That’s like having a teaspoon in your hand when there’s a banquet spread before you. Attack with all available cutlery!”

I was in Los Angeles two years when an American friend asked me and an LA-based Filipino friend, “Why do you speak to each other in English and not in Filipino?” We replied “There are concepts we discuss for which there are no words in Filipino; but matters of family and the heart are spoken of in Tagalog.”

That is where identity lies – where the heart is. Language is there to help us articulate what is inside of us, struggling to get free and be shared with others.

* * * * *

My column last week was about first-time novelist Samantha Sotto, whose Before Ever After was published recently by Random House. Her story is a miracle of determination, drive, and dreams coming true. Here’s a Q & A with her:

Jenny:  Is this the first time you’ve written anything or had anything published – are you a professional writer? If not, what is your profession?

Sam: I’m a stay-at-home mom and Before Ever After is my first book. My previous career was in marketing management.

J: Where you educated in the Philippines or abroad?

Sam: I studied at Benedictine Abbey School for grade school and high school. I took up AB Communications at Ateneo. During college, I spent one year in the Netherlands where I studied at the Leiden campus of Webster University.

J: You’ve said elsewhere that Audrey Nifenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife was your inspiration for Before Ever After. In what way is your novel different from TTW?

Sam: I think the key difference is that while Before Ever After spans different historical periods, it is not a book about time travel.

J: You’ve made your characters, except one, non-Filipino. Why did you choose to do it this way?

Sam: This might sound strange, but it was the story and characters that chose me and not the other way around. Max, my main character, popped into my head while I was stuck in traffic in EDSA and told me his story. I just wrote it down.

J: Is there a second novel in the works? Will you set it abroad again?

Sam: I’m 80% done with my second novel. It explores an entirely different concept but is also set in Europe.

J: What has been the most exciting thing so far about this entire experience?

Sam: Holding the finished book in my hands was very surreal. The highlight, however, was when my kids read the dedication of the book.

J: What made you decide to try have your novel published abroad rather than in the Philippines?

Sam: I decided to pursue publishing the book abroad because I wanted to prove to my children that dreams have no boundaries.

The real-life inspiration in Boracay for “Shell”, one of the locations in the book. From the author’s public Facebook Page.

J: It’s been said that Filipinos are not a reading public. How do you think we can increase the popularity of reading in this country?

Sam: I think we should have more accessible public libraries so that people will be encouraged to read.

J: Where can we get your book?

Sam: The trade paperback edition of the book is exclusively available at National Book Store while the hardcover edition is available at Fully Booked. You can also order the e-book version via Amazon, iBooks and Barnes and Noble. People can find and follow me on samanthasotto.com, Facebook, and Twitter (@samanthasotto).

J: Describe your novel in one sentence.

Sam: It’s a fairytale for grown ups.

Samantha Sotto has proven that we don’t have to wait for dreams to come true – we can make it happen. May we all find our happy ever after!

* * * * *

Starting today till September 24 at Silverlens Gallery, catch “Slice”, Kidlat de Guia’s first solo photography show. His wife, performer Lissa Romero de Guia, calls him “the accidental artist”. “Slice” was born of those moments, she says, when “on a whim, [Kidlat] drove to Scout Hill at Camp John Hay. What he found there was completely unexpected: a childhood haunt in its death throes.”

Artist Kidlat de Guia setting up his works for his “Slice” one-man show at Silverlens Gallery. From the artist’s Facebook Page.

The images capture “the eviscerated remains of white clapboard structures in peeling green trim, the ice cream parlor transformed into a garage, debris carelessly strewn on the old tennis courts…[Kidlat’s] knee-jerk reaction to the carnage was to start shooting the beloved space that seemed to have found itself caught ‘in the beginning of the end, and the end of the beginning’. Through the lightboxes these photographs have become, Kidlat allows us a look into a slice of time that may well be gone in the blink of an eye.”

Kidlat is the first of three sons of stained-glass artist Katrin Muller and multi-awarded indie filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik.  ***Email: jennyo@live.com, Web: http://jennyo.net, Facebook: Gogirl Café, Twitter: @jennyortuoste

Image of writer Carla Montemayor here. Image of author Samantha Sotto from her public Facebook Page.

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pop goes the world: books now and ever after

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  25 August 2011, Thursday

Books Now and Ever After

The major problem faced by creative writers in the Philippines today is that few people buy books by Filipino authors, and this lack of financial renumeration is a disincentive for the creation of literature.

Creative writers struggle because there is a tiny niche market for their work, and this market is dominated by the few established writers who create high-quality output and have managed to make names for themselves over many years of hard work. Writers just starting out looking for publishers? Good luck with that. Lucky breaks are frequently prayed for, but not always bestowed by the publishing gods, who have their bottom line to consider.

The lack of financial incentives for creative writers is a major deterrent to the development of works in the literary field. Why write a short story that may never see the daylight of publication in the very few literary magazines on the market, when you can write a showbiz column for an online website and earn enough to at least feed yourself and your cat?

Journalism provides a decent living for many creative writers, but sometimes it’s not what they would really be doing. What puts food on the table does not necessarily feed the soul. Writing creative works nowadays is seen as self-indulgent, because there is no assurance that the work will be published, or even paid for. In the need to be exposed, many writers often contribute their work gratis for anthologies. In order to survive, creative writers need a day job, and write their creative works on their off-time.

Authors whose works have grabbed the fancy of the reading Filipino public, like the top-selling and mysterious Bob Ong (said to actually be several writers), may make the best of the situation, reaping royalties such as they are. Still, it is debatable if he makes enough from his books to quit his day job.

While creative writers dream of being able to do nothing but write, it’ll remain a dream until present conditions change.

Why are local readers not reading – and buying – the works of Filipino writers?

In publishing, the biggest earners are the textbook publishers with government contracts.

Also doing well are men’s magazine publishers – FHM, Maxim. Literary works, however, are of a different character, and its readers are fewer compared to, shall we say, FHM readers. While readers of creative works may also read FHM, it does not follow that all FHM readers will enjoy reading literary works. Sex sells better than lit. (Perhaps creative writers should write more erotica?)

Because there is a small market for literature, there are few publishers who are still in business – Anvil, among the private companies, and the universities – UP Press, UST Press, Ateneo Press, and De La Salle University Press. Fox Books, founded in 2007 with such lofty dreams for the literary world, went out of business in less than two years, unable to gain a solid financial footing, although it had published interesting works by humor writer Jay David, Layeta Bucoy, Beverly Siy, Sarah Grutas, and other young writers.

It has been said that the Philippines does not have a reading culture comparable to that of the Japanese or the American. We are a still an oral, story-telling culture. The media we enjoy extend the story-telling function to a mass audience. What is the visual stimulation of TV but the modern-day equivalent of sitting around a rocking chair listening to Lola Basyang?

In print, komiks such as “Wakasan” used to be more popular and were the preferred channels for narratives that could be enjoyed by the masses. But komiks were killed by the increase of printing costs, poor pay for writers and artists, and the onslaught of alternative forms of entertainment brought by cable TV and the Internet.

Lack of education and unfamiliarity with the language is another barrier for the Philippines developing a reading culture. If one cannot understand English well, why buy books written by Filipino writers in English? If one cannot read, why buy books at all, even those written in Tagalog and the other Filipino languages?

A related problem is the cost of books. TV is ‘free’, another reason for its popularity. Buying a book can take a sizable chunk from a student’s allowance or from an average householder’s budget. With the majority of the population belonging to the C-D-E socio-demographic, they are potentially the largest market for any sort of product. In the case of books, the cost should be brought down for them to be more affordable and their purchase considered in lieu of other forms of entertainment; however, given that the present prices of books are already as rock-bottom as they can be brought, this is a major issue that will be a stumbling-block for the creative book industry until it is resolved.

A major constraint for the development of a healthy market for creative works is the lack of support or the inadequate support from both the government and private sectors. When an alarming number of the nation’s population lives below the poverty line, when gas prices have shot to the sky, when the world is struggling from the fallout of a major financial depression, less attention and funding are given to art, which many in the mainstream see as a non-essential indulgence or luxury, compared to, say, food.

Government agencies such as the National Commission for Culture and the Arts would be expected to be the rallying point for a development-focused national literature program, and for setting the foundation for Filipino literature appreciation in elementary and high school. Yet without enough funding, such plans cannot be implemented. The state universities, University of the Philippines to name one, have always tried their best in that regard, but again finances are a stumbling block for the expansion of their programs, such as the annual UP National Writers Workshop.

In the private sector, one would also expect that bookstores would be more pro-active in promoting creative works by Filipino writers; however, it will be noticed that they do not give prime display space to local works. Filipino works are lumped under one shelf category, “Filipiniana”, instead of each work being placed where they belong by genre: horror, young adult, etc. along with works of foreign authors, which are given more importance because they sell better.

There is also a lack of marketing opportunities, and writers themselves have to find their own ways to sell their works. Carljoe Javier sold his Kobayashi Maru of Love from his backpack; Axel Pinpin went the indie-publishing route for his Tulang Matatabil and did his own distribution efforts.

Multi-sectoral support is essential to the development of a better climate for the publication and reception of Filipino creative works; how to gain this support is a matter for discussion and planning.

Because people don’t read, they don’t buy, so publishers don’t publish, so writers don’t write. But the lack of buyers does not mean that writers cannot write, or should not write; it just means that they might not earn anything for their efforts.

But there’s always one story that’s the exception to the rule. First-time novelist Samantha Sotto is the talk of the blogosphere with the recent publication of her Before Ever After by Random House’s Crown Publishers imprint. She is the first Filipina they have published.

The novel was born this way: Samantha, who had to take her preschool son to Ateneo in the mornings, would wait for him at the Starbucks on Katipunan across the Loyola campus. Having read Audrey Nifenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife and being dissatisfied with the ending, she set out to weave her own love story, pecking out the tale of Shelley and the charismatic Max Gallus over a year’s time, with much of that spent on research.

Upon finishing the manuscript, she bought a copy of The Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published and followed its advice, going online to search for an agent and finding Stephanie Kip Rostan, whose confidence in the worth of the tale led to her finding a publisher without much trouble.

The book is set mostly in Europe, which Samantha explored as a teenager. Its protagonists are non-Filipino; only one Pinay makes an appearance, when the action sends some of the main characters to Boracay. Overall, it is a good read. Generally I don’t like chick lit or the romance genres, but I loved this one in spite of myself. It’s well-written and  -plotted, complex enough to make it interesting without being difficult to follow, and the ending is enigmatic. It made me and my 13-year old daughter Erika, who devoured the novel in one sitting, sit up one night hotly debating “What really happened to Shelley and Max?”

Before Ever After is available in paperback at National Bookstore and online as an e-book at Amazon.com for $11.99, where it’s in the top ten bestsellers in its category.

It’s proof that even with the glut of content available, tales written with a magic touch will float to the surface and command attention; and that Filipino creative writers who despair of getting published here might try doing what Samantha did and get published abroad, and that way gain a larger audience and the proper renumeration. ***

FHM cover here.  Kobayashi Maru image here. 

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pop goes the world: son of a breach

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today18 August 2011, Thursday

Son of a Breach

Artist Mideo Cruz’s decision to affix a wooden phallus on the image of Jesus Christ as part of the deliberately provocative imagery in his “Politeismo” has led to an entire nation’s revisiting of its cultural notions of religion, art, politics, and the separation of church and state.

The discourse on the topic has become voluminous and will inspire many future theses and dissertations. Fresh insights into the issue may still be gleaned, especially when the artwork in question is compared cross-culturally to other art or media works.

Consider this: Mideo’s “Politeismo” may be seen as a “breaching experiment”. In that sense, it parallels the work of comedians John Safran and Sasha Baron-Cohen that deliberately seek to disturb, distress, and overthrow popular conceptions of what is normal and what is not.

In social psychology, a breaching experiment “seeks to examine people’s reactions to violations of commonly accepted social rules or norms.” It is often a class assignment in sociology and anthropology classes. A professor of mine at the University of the Philippines-Diliman College of Mass Communication is wont to post Facebook statuses that provoke reactions, which he then studies. For instance, he once changed his relationship status to “single”. We all know that he has been happily married for several decades. His post unleashed a torrent of comments which he proceeded to dissect afterwards using the appropriate communication theories. I believe he had a good chuckle over that.

Safran questions the boundaries of religion and race. In a now-famous skit, he knocked on the doors of Mormon believers in Salt Lake City, introducing himself as an atheist “missionary”. An elderly man tells him crossly, “I’m a bishop in the LDS church.” Undaunted, Safran asks, “Have you considered atheism?” The look on the man’s face is priceless. Then there was the time he applied for membership in the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, conveniently omitting to tell the KKK Grand Dragon that he was half-Jewish. The resulting exchange when he is found out is a valuable glimpse into the nature of discriminatory organizations.

Sasha Baron-Cohen, operating some years later in the same vein, took the shock attack to a different level with his heavily sexualized “Borat” and “Bruno” film characters. With “Bruno’s” naked penis given close-ups on wide-screen, the viewer is forced to face his/her own attitudes to the public depiction of sex in a non-pornographic context.

“Politeismo” breached prevailing cultural norms on what art is and how religion should be treated in art. It is a violation of norms that shakes up our definitions and expectations of behavior. Religious sentiment is so deeply embedded in Filipino culture that this particular artwork generated intense emotion not often manifested for other matters. This is the reason the controversy is still in the news. As far as “scandals” in this country go, it’s long-lived.

Would a continued breaching of these norms lead to a change in the way we define “normal”, “sacrilege”, and “art”?

Is this what our society is afraid of – the possibility, even the inevitability, of change?

Final takeaway? If you don’t like it, ignore. Says mandala artist Stephanie Smith, “It is always your choice how you spend your energy.”

* * * * *

University of the Philippines College of Arts & Letters professor Joey Baquiran is reminding the public of the UMPIL (Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas) activities later this month.

In addition to the reading on 25-26 August of papers by various scholars on Rizal’s works (mentioned in my July 14 column) at UP-CAL’s Claro M. Recto Hall, the UMPIL members’ convention on August 27 will feature the Panayam Adrian Cristobal (public intellectual lecture series), a booklaunch, literary forum, and the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas awarding rite which honors “Filipino writers who have produced outstanding works and have dedicated their lives and talents to the development, propagation, and promotion of Philippine literature.”

The first lecturer of the Adrian E. Cristobal Lecture series was poet Gemino Abad. The 2011 lecturer is National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario. His book Rizal: Makata (Anvil Publishing, 2011) will be launched after the lecture.

The Writers Forum topic is “Social Realism and the Writing of the Contemporary Filipino Novel” featuring fictionists Mario I. Miclat (author of The Secret of the Eighteen Mansions), Genevieve Asenjo (Lumbay ng Dila), and Edgar Samar (Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog).

The 2011 Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas awardees are Herminio Beltran (Poetry in Filipino), Fanny A. Garcia (Fiction in Filipino), Elmer A. Ordoñez (Essay in English), Crisostomo Ilustre (Fiction in Iluko), Maria Luisa S. Defante-Gibraltar (Fiction in Hiligaynon), and Sze Manchi (Poetry in Chinese). Paz Verdades M. Santos will receive the Gawad Paz Marquez for Outstanding Educator in the field of literature and The Varsitarian of the University of Santo Tomas the Gawad Pedro Bucaneg.

* * * * *

Perpi Tiongson wrote in response to my July 7 column on Mirana Medina’s Rizal films in Filipino Sign Language: “…FSL does not have its roots in American Sign Language or Signing Exact English, but dates all the way back to the 17th century…Archival documents dating to 1604 relate how Spanish Jesuit priest Raymundo del Prado used signs in the catechism and baptism of Deaf men in Dulac, Leyte. This is the earliest record of signs being used in the Philippines, although signs may have existed long before this.

“ASL came to the Philippines only in the first decade of the 1900s (more than 300 years later) during the American colonization, and heightened its influence on FSL in the 1960s with the coming of Peace Corps Volunteers…Thank you for the time and I hope you can extend courtesy to the Deaf community by correcting this misinformation.”  ***

“Politeismo” closeup from the artist’s public Facebook page. John Safran image here. Sasha Baron-Cohen, as himself (left) and as “Bruno” (right), here. Prof. Baquiran’s photo from his Facebook page. Dean Miclat here.

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pop goes the world: namaste, a place of wonder

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, published on 13 August 2011, Saturday

This article has already appeared on this blog in a somewhat different form here.

Namaste, A Place of Wonder

Namaste Art and Objects in Baguio City  is said to be the only shop in the Philippines that sells Nepali and Tibetan fine goods and art; they also carry  crystals and semi-precious stone beads to be made into custom jewelry.

Located at the ground floor of Porto Vaga Building along Session Road, the shop is small, yet filled with wonderful things. Everywhere is the gleam of brass or perhaps gold leaf, the shimmer of fine pashmina wool, and the sheen of beads displayed on countless racks.

Palanca Award-winning writer German Gervacio in front of Namaste. (April 2011)

I visited the shop last April. Its windows are crammed with an overload of interesting objects. Since they are informed by Buddhist Tibetan and Nepali culture, the meaning behind much of the things escapes the usual visitors.

In the center of the window was an intricate brass figure, winged and haloed, perhaps an avalokiteshvara (bodhisattva of compassion). Yet another gleaming Buddha sits serenely in the window, behind a quartz geode and metal elephant. Elephants (gaja in Sanskrit) symbolize fertility, abundance, richness, boldness and strength, wisdom and royalty. In Buddhism, the “Precious Elephant” means strength of mind, a “symbol of the calm majesty possessed by one who is on the Path.”

There is no wasted space in the shop; every available inch holds something. The walls of Namaste are adorned with paintings, carvings, masks, and a stringed musical instrument, while from the ceiling dangle bells, wind chimes, patchwork fabric hangings, and more.

Buddha figures in all shapes, sizes, and forms abound. One of my favorite tableaus on a high shelf featured a Buddha in the center, flanked by a warrior and a horse. In Chinese mythology, horses stand for virtue and power. From obvious associations, it also connotes speed, intelligence, and natural forces like the wind and waves. In Buddhism, the “Precious Horse” is one of the “Seven Jewels of Royal Power”, said to “travel among the clouds and mirror the Buddha’s abandonment of or “rising above” the cares of worldly existence.

Placed on eye-level on another shelf was a triptych, maybe eight inches high, carved from wood and painted in turquoise, pink, and gold. On the center of the left-hand panel is the Sanskrit symbol for OM, the “eternal syllable”. Buddha sits upon a lotus, and one is carved on either side of him. In Buddhism, the lotus refers to the “complete purification of body, speech, and mind.”

More brass Buddhas sit atop a pile of silk and wool fabric – shawls and what-not. From the ceiling in front of them is suspended a wooden charm carved and painted with the Chinese symbol for good luck.

The shop has many displays of bracelets and necklaces made from crystals and stones.I asked Namaste store attendant Meg Reyes to make me a bracelet. She asked me, “Ano’ng kailangan mo?” I asked her, “Ano ang tingin mong kailangan ko?” She looked into my eyes, while her own narrowed. Then she said, slowly, “Maraming naiinggit sa iyo.”

I was taken aback by that; it was unexpected. But then I recalled two Enochian card readings I was given last year, in November and December; the reader, Malou Mallari, told me both times to be wary of workplace envy. For the same issue to crop up again was an uncanny coincidence; I decided to take heed, and let Meg guide me in the choice of stones for my bracelet.

She put in a mix of power (creativity, health, success, etc.) and protection (anti-negativity, anti-envy, returning back ill-wishing) stones. Because the power stones cost more, I got only one of each, while the rest of the length of the bracelet was made up of the less expensive jet black “anti-negative” stones.

Meg chose various colors of tourmaline; clear, rose, and cherry quartz; and amethyst, jet, lapis lazuli, and angelite to make my bracelet. She placed my chosen beads on a makeshift cardboard stand, like a Scrabble tile holder, and strung them on several strands of elastic thread, then knotted the ends tightly and fused them in a candle flame.

I was also drawn to a tiny brass Buddha statue less than an inch and a half high. (I carry it with me every day in a pouch in my bag, putting it in front of my computer monitor when I get to work in the mornings.)

Before handing me my items, Meg “blessed” both the bracelet and the mini-Buddha in a Tibetan metal “healing bowl”, running a wooden implement around the rim to create a ringing, echoing sound, while telling me to think of good things. As I drew the bracelet on my wrist, Meg advised me to wear the power stones close to the pulse.

Prayer wheel and blessing/healing bowl.

Fast-forward to late May. Now one of the protection stones on my bracelet has cracked in half, and half of the bead beside it has changed color, from black to a murky gray. I was puzzled – I don’t slam my hand around, while the color change is frankly inexplicable.

Then the other day at work I learned that several people whom I thought were friends are backbiting me about my position, though  they admit that I have never done anything against them either professionally or personally.

When the green monster rears its ugly head, it spells the end of friendships. Or not, because now I realize these people were never my true friends, and I’m glad I found that out early on.

I can’t help thinking now that my bracelet took the hit of all that negative energy. A coincidence? It’s still uncanny. Three friends (a writer, a lawyer, and an editor) to whom I showed the damaged bracelet pushed it away and averted their eyes“Nakakakilabot,” they said.

I plan to go up to Baguio on the next long weekend and visit Namaste again, this time to ask Meg for a bracelet made entirely of the “anti-negative” stones as a pangontra. Though I believe luck is what we make it, some coincidences are just too strange and cannot be ignored.

It will also be a treat to immerse myself once more in a world of wondrous things replete with symbolism, a trove of exotic treasures from a different place, a haven for unraveling stress and instilling a sense of deep peace. ***

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pop goes the world: freedom of feedback

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  12 August 2010, Thursday

Freedom of Feedback

The topic that will not die. That’s the storm artist Mideo Cruz unleashed with the recent exhibit of his controversial work “Politeismo” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

That the artwork would offend religious sensibilities in this predominantly Roman Catholic country was a given. The artist expected as much, and in fact deliberately created his work as an artistic statement to provoke people to think about idolatry and, in extension, the role of religion in Philippine culture and their own lives.

However, no one expected how intense and massive the public reaction would be, or that the controversy would go global via the Internet.

The fallout was extensive. Politicians took up cudgels in behalf of the Church – Manila congressman Amado Bagatsing delivered a fiery privilege speech denouncing the work, prompting fellow lawmaker and former First Lady Imelda Marcos to have the exhibit shut down with one phone call. This is turn led to the resignation of Karen Flores, chief of the CCP’s visual arts division, which she announced yesterday at a forum at the University of the Philippines Art Studies Department.

What I found interesting about the entire thing was the extent of the public discourse which came from a myriad points-of-view. Some focused on the work’s artistic merit. Writer Sarah Grutas Tweeted, “Whether Mideo Cruz’s artwork is anti-Christ or anti-Church or not is beside the point. What needs to be addressed in the first place is whether Cruz’s artwork has any artistic merit at all. Does it even deserve public/national discourse? Maganda ba? Original ba? Art nga ba?”

Some opined on the responsible creation of art. Digital media artist Bea Lapa said, “Not all artists are behind [Mideo]. Many digital and new media artists do not want to be associated with this kind of work because we worked so hard honing our craft…I am not even Catholic, but I can see why such disrespect for powerful symbols could lead to chaos. As my brother, a sculptor, said, if we just express without burden of responsibility then we are no better than monkeys with paintbrushes.”

Others took up the issue of censorship. Artists’ Arrest, an “alliance composed of emerging and established artists and cultural activists…from the grassroots, alternative, and independent sectors”, posted a statement on Facebook:

“At this point, any defense or attack of the artwork “Poleteismo” by Mideo Cruz is already moot and academic because it will always be subjective…as it happens, the debate surrounding the artwork has been focused largely on its artistic and moral merits at the expense of calling our attention to what we think are more disturbing actions: the demand of a certain faction of the Catholic church for the resignation of the CCP officials; the vandalism of the artwork and in effect the CCP gallery in which it is in exhibit; and the decision of the CCP to close the exhibit.

“Peace and Beauty”, painting by Mideo Cruz. From the artist’s Facebook page.

“We call on the CCP board to rethink its position about the closing of the exhibit for it already constitutes censorship. We also appeal to artists and citizens to see the higher social wager at stake in this situation: our freedom of expression.  We join other artists and groups in the action to defend our right to express ourselves.”

Los Angeles-based Filipino musician Ray takes a pragmatic stance: “Mideo may well be a rabble-rouser, whose installation only aims to critique our colonial mindset and has stopped short of exploring its roots that go way before the arrival of Magellan (who, at best, only managed to shift that primal spirituality’s direction to a western and Judaeo-Christian orientation even as it moderately succeeded to blend in its animistic origins).

“If some art tucked in a secluded corner of the CCP – whose offensiveness may have been well unknown if not for the recent undue interest – offends anyone, there is less energy expended in ignoring it completely and engaging in more fruitful endeavors. If one finds an overpowering need to expend more energy, try exercise.”

On my blog, where I had posted my previous column which carried an interview with Mideo, 90% of the comments were laced with profanity, and 80% revolved around the thought “What if it were the picture of your mother, father, or other family member that had a penis stuck on it? How would you feel?” The insights here are that people are equating the defaced pictures of Jesus, Mary, and God with their relatives – in other words, Jesus et al. are considered part of the Filipino family – and that reciprocity is a significant value in our collective culture.

“Purity”, painting by Mideo Cruz. From the artist’s public Facebook page.  

Looking at the big picture, what we should appreciate about this entire debate is our freedom of speech as manifested in public discourse of the matter. Topics such as this will always be viewed subjectively. There will always be adherents for either side, and never the twain shall meet.

But to be able to talk about such things freely, to give rein to opinions for or against, is a liberty that we should not take for granted. There are many countries under repressive regimes where such conversation is forbidden and severely sanctioned if against the state’s position.

Social media played a large part in spreading thoughts about this topic. Through the Internet and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, feedback was instantaneous.

Feedback is integral to the communication process. “Communication is useless without feedback” – It completes the whole process of communication, sustains and makes it continuous; serves a basis for measuring the effectiveness of communication and for future planning; and paves the way for the generation of new ideas (Seun, 2010).

It’s good to see our right to freedom of speech getting a workout. But freedom of expression as claimed by artists is another matter. Public censure is a form of censorship, imposed by society; the shutdown of the exhibit by CCP in response to political pressure is a manifestation, as are the statements made by various politicians including the President.

“See Through”, painting by Mideo Cruz. From the artist’s public Facebook page.

If Mideo Cruz and his “Politeismo” caused offense, it has also generated new ideas, shown us the role of religion in our lives, and revealed the most effective channels for communication and feedback.

It also tested the boundaries of freedom of expression. Now we know how far an artist can go pushing the limits before social sanctions are imposed. If only for that, Mideo deserves our thanks. ***

Image of Imelda Marcos here.

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pop goes the world: art and soul

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  4 August 2011, Thursday

Art and Soul

Since when has an artwork created so much scandal and controversy as Mideo Cruz’s Politeismo, now on exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines?

The artist and his work. Image here.

It is a mish-mash of religious and worldly iconography that has divided viewers. The art world in general applauds the expression of the artist’s personal vision, while some Roman Catholics are indignant, with some lay Catholic groups even considering filing charges against the artist and the CCP to “stop (sic) the exhibit in 48 hours or face the legal consequences.”

In the case of Politeismo, religion + art does not necessarily equal religious art, the kind of art that fills our museums and private collections – exquisitely-carved wooden mild-faced saints in robes with eyes lifted to heaven or carried on a plate; paintings of miraculous scenes, Christ on his cross, or Mary stepping on a serpent, its fangs embedded in her white foot, her head wreathed in stars or roses.

Mideo’s art brings these deities and saints to the level of humans. And why not, one might say? That is the risk run when the object of worship is depicted as human. In this instance, the sacred + religious = sacrilegious, as its detractors claim.

Viewers observe the work at CCP. From the artist’s public Facebook page.

The outrage stems from prevailing cultural attitudes which insists on respect towards religion, especially the dominant Roman Catholic Church. In his paper “Filipino Values: Determinants of Philippine Future” (1990), Dr. Serafin Talisayon identified religiosity as one of Philippine society’s core values – “maka-Diyos, spirituality, religiosity, belief in miracles, devotional”. He also cites a Tsukuba University study (1980) that places the Philippines on the top of a list of countries and their spiritual/religious beliefs, followed by India, Brazil, and the United States.

Tagged with the label “Asia’s Only Catholic Country”, many Catholic Filipinos feel they have to live up to that.

On the other hand, US-based Filipino art collector Victor Velasco points out works of art such as Politeismo are created to a great extent in other countries. He mentions the issues “…Andres Serrano, Piss Christ, American Family Association, National Endowment for the Arts, Senators Helms and D’Amato; also Corcoran Gallery of Art, Robert Mapplethorpe; also Dread Scott Tyler and “What is the Proper Way to Display An American Flag?”

Of Mideo’s work, Velasco says, “I think the show is beyond Catholic images or iconography. It instead deals with every type of of ‘idolatry’. Hence, [the incorporation of elements such as] Mickey Mouse, Fernando Poe, Jr, Imelda Marcos, Obama. Is PNoy anywhere in the wall — he, who was voted into office mostly for being a symbol? It focuses on how symbols and images are potent (i.e. powerful therefore dangerous) devices in creating, conjuring, and perpetuating beliefs and worships.”

Part of the sprawling installation. From the artist’s public Facebook page.

Velasco put me in touch with the controversial artist himself. Here’s our question-and-answer exchange on the issue:

Q: “What is your reaction to the negative comments to your art – “blasphemy”, “sacrilege”, and so on?”

Mideo Cruz: “I’m still astonished about the entire incident because the particular artwork inside a gallery became an effective, provocative tool, [whereas] every artist [knows the reality] that very few people come to an enclosed gallery space.

“It is an existing work [of which] various versions were already exhibited, first at the UP Vargas Museum in 2002, at Kulay Diwa Art Galleries in 2005 wherein the exhibit was also featured in a Spanish TV, and in 2007 at the Nexus group exhibition in Loyola Heights, Quezon City. It is a part of a music video done in the same year, which is being aired until now. Similarly inspired projects were done in Zurich, Switzerland; Taipei, Taiwan; Sardinia, Italy; Hong Kong; China and; Vancouver, Canada.

“As a visual artist, the images I create contain more explanation than my words. Images are open to various interpretations on the basis of the viewer’s perspective, maturity, and imagination.

“I cannot please everybody. I cannot tell them exactly how they will look and translate my work but may I say, please don’t stop on the surface; if you will close your eyes upon seeing the images, there are more things to see.

“Sometimes we need to realize that what we are looking at is the mirror of our society and of ourselves. The uproar might be the unconscious denial of seeing ourselves truthfully in the mirror. The realities in our society are the real blasphemy of our own image, the blasphemy of our sacred self.”

Q:  “When you conceived this work, did you think the majority of Filipinos were ready for this kind of thing? Or did you go ahead knowing that there would be many negative comments?”

Mideo: “Michael Steiner, the Swiss movie director, used to tell me “Your works are not really for a Filipino audience, they may not be ready to see those images.” But when we will be ready? Some philosophers say that we are now leaving the era of post-modernism; the world now is talking about same-sex marriage and here in the Philippines we are still talking if it is morally right to use a condom. We are now the only nation that doesn’t have a divorce law.

“Next year the physicists in Geneva are expecting some new discoveries from the 70 million “god particles” from the Large Hadron Collider. Who would dare to do something outside convention if we will be afraid to go out of the box? We wouldn’t know that the sun is the center of the solar system if Copernicus was afraid to be tagged a heretic. People should not be afraid to introduce things outside the norm; the dialectics must continue and we should not be afraid of change.”

Taking pictures of the controversial work. From the artist’s public Facebook page.

Q:  “What is the majority of comments that you have received overall – more negative or positive?”

Mideo: “At first a lot of the comments were threats and personal attacks, which only strengthened the points of my work, but lately, some arguments are [shaping up], and personal attacks are dwindling down with more substantial arguments. I see everything as positive and the comments on blogs, social networking sites, and other media as an extension of the work in CCP in a newer context. This might be similar to how an artwork behaves and changes when transform to a document such as photograph and video. It is another kind of experience in perceiving the work. A lot of artists and people from the creative industry from here and foreign countries are now showing their support.”

Q:  “With this controversy, what would you say are the prevailing or dominant attitudes in the country when it comes to works that touch on religious matters?”

Mideo: “That’s where I started trying to understand the making of the sacred and how the people contribute to that. Then I reconstruct it with parallel meanings relevant to our life as people. It really depends on the audience how they perceive the images, there are various reactions of course.

“Most of the people who reacted violently haven’t seen the actual work nor try to read the signifiers more. Or some saw it first on TV where it already directed them to where they will focus their mind upon seeing the images. They are in another context and not in the context of an art space wherein the experience they will gain is open for critical discourse.

“One integral part is we are so afraid to use the phallic, whereas it is part of our ancient culture. Even in our own language it is a taboo to mention it.”

Q:  “Would you do this again – continue creating these kinds of works?”

Mideo: “The worst thing for an individual is to be affected by intimidation and stop doing the things he believes in.”

Politeismo is a mixed-tape of pop culture, politics, and Papa God. Image from the artist’s public Facebook page.

Q: “Do you have plans to show these works abroad? Or, what would be the fate of these artworks – are they for sale? If yes, do you already have a buyer or buyers? Do you think there are Filipino art collectors who would buy these kinds of works?”

Mideo: “No plans yet to show it again inside or outside the country. I have been collecting these“relics” since I was in secondary school, so most of these things will remain in my vault. A couple of years ago there were some local art collectors who showed interest in one of the work exhibited – the cross titled “Relic” – but [negotiations] didn’t prosper and I wasn’t that interested to give it up that time. I already sold some fragments of the installation I did in Zurich in 2008.”

I believe in freedom of expression. Stifling a country’s artists stifles its soul. Art is a reflection of the zeitgeist, and Filipinos in general are questioning the continued and pervasive influence of the Church in our society and culture. Witness the spirited debates on the reproductive health and divorce bills; on the vehicles given by a government agency to seven bishops.

Not only are the clergy and their assumption of moral ascendancy being questioned, but also those who seek to impose their Catholic beliefs on others, such as the Alabang Village homeowners’ association officers who sought to bar the sale of condoms in their area, a move met with opposition and derision from fellow residents.

Mideo and other artists who do similar work are exploring the way religious beliefs have become embedded in our culture. Where is sacrilege there? The Church feels threatened; how different is this from Jose Rizal’s time, as he portrayed in his novels? I saw photos of the artwork under fire, and I consider it pretty tame compared to what’s out there in the world.

I’d say we’re just catching up. Welcome to the rest of the world, Philippines. *** 

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namaste in baguio

When in Baguio last April I visited one of the most interesting shops I’ve ever entered – Namaste, at Porto Vaga Building along Session Road.

Namaste attendant Meg Reyes with writers Clarissa Militante and Genevieve Asenjo.

a place of wonder

It is said to be the only shop in the Philippines that sells Nepali and Tibetan fine goods and art, as well as crystals and semi-precious stone beads to be made into custom jewelry.

The shop is filled with wonderful things. Everywhere, the gleam of brass, or perhaps gold leaf, the shimmer of fine pashmina wool, the sheen of beads displayed on countless racks.

The shop windows are crammed with interesting objects. Here, a brass figure holds center stage, perhaps an avalokiteshvara (bodhisattva of compassion); behind it walk Meg and fictionist Yvette Tan.

Yet another gleaming Buddha sits serenely in the window, behind a quartz geode and metal elephant. Elephants (gaja in Sanskrit) symbolize fertility, abundance, richness, boldness and strength,  wisdom and royalty. In Buddhism, the “Precious Elephant” means strength of mind, a “symbol of the calm majesty possessed by one who is on the Path.”

The walls are adorned with paintings, carvings, masks, even a  musical instrument or two…

…while from the ceiling dangle bells, wind chimes, patchwork fabric hangings, and more.

A view of the Namaste shop interior. I’d love to have one of those intricately-carved wooden stools.

A prayer wheel sits atop a display case.

Buddha figures in all shapes, sizes, and forms abound…

One of my favorite tableaus – a Buddha in the center, flanked by a warrior and a horse. In Chinese mythology, horses stand for virtue and power. From obvious associations, it also connotes speed, intelligence, and natural forces, like the wind and waves. In Buddhism, the “Precious Horse” is one of the “Seven Jewels of Royal Power”, said to “travel among the clouds and and mirror the Buddha’s abandonment of or “rising above” the cares of worldly existence.”

This very interesting triptych is carved from wood and painted. On the center of the left-hand panel is  a prayer wheel with the Sanskrit symbol for OM , the “eternal syllable”. Buddha sits upon a lotus, with more on the other panels; in Buddism, the lotus refers to “the complete purification of body, speech, and mind.”

More Buddhas sit atop a pile of silk and wool fabric – shawls and what-not. From the ceiling in front of them is suspended a wooden charm carved and painted with the Chinese symbol for good luck.

The shop has many of these displays of bracelets and necklaces made from crystals and stones.

I asked Meg to make me a bracelet. She asked me, “Ano’ng kailangan mo?” (What do you need?) I asked her, “Ano ang tingin mong kailangan ko?” (What do you think I need?) She looked into my eyes, while her own narrowed. Then she said, slowly, “Maraming naiinggit sa iyo.” (Many people envy you.) I was taken aback by that; it was unexpected.

But then I recalled two Enochian card readings I was given last year, in November and December; the reader, Malou Mallari, told me both times to be wary of workplace envy. For the same issue to crop up again was an uncanny coincidence; I decided to take heed, and let Meg guide me in the choice of stones for my bracelet.

She put in a mix of power (creativity, health, success, etc.) and protection (anti-negativity, anti-envy, returning back ill-wishing) stones. Because the power stones cost more, I got only one of each, while the rest of the length of the bracelet was made up of the less expensive jet black “anti-negative” stones.

Meg makes my bracelet…

…choosing from these beads – tourmaline, quartz, amethyst, jet, lapis lazuli, angelite, and onyx among them. Beside the box of amethyst beads are two tiny (less than 1.5 inches high) Buddha statues that I was choosing between. I got the one on the left. I carry it with me everyday in a pouch in my bag, putting it in front of my computer monitor when I get to work in the mornings.

Meg places my chosen beads on a makeshift cardboard stand, like a Scrabble tile holder, and strings them on several strands of elastic thread, knotting the ends tightly and fusing them together in a candle flame.

The finished bracelet.

Before handing me my items, Meg “blessed” both the bracelet and the mini-Buddha in a Tibetan metal “healing bowl”, running a wooden implement around the rim to create a ringing, echoing sound while telling me to think of good things. As I drew the bracelet on my wrist, Meg advised me to wear the power stones next to my pulse.

envy breaks rock

Fast-forward to May 2011. Now one of the protection stones on my bracelet has cracked in half, and half of the bead beside it has changed color, from black to a murky gray. I was puzzled – I don’t slam my hand around, while the color change is frankly inexplicable.

The other day a friend at work told me that at least four people in our department, three men and a woman – people I had known from before we came to our present office, people whom I thought were my friends – have been griping about my position at work, though they acknowledged I had never done anything against them, either professionally or personally.

I noticed these four people have barely spoken to me the past several months – now I know why. This was not the first manifestation of their envy. (The first time around, the woman staged a weird and uncalled-for temper tantrum, texting me strange messages.) When envy rears its ugly head in erstwhile friendly relationships, especially in the workplace, it spells the end of friendships. Or not, because now I realize these people never were my true friends.

When Malou read my cards last year and told me that my biggest problem this year would be office envy – “It would really be severe,” she said – I shrugged it off, paid no heed; I was more interested in hearing about whether my lovelife would improve. Now I see what she meant.

And I can’t help thinking that my bracelet took the hit of all that negative energy. A coincidence? Still, it’s uncanny. Three friends (a writer, a lawyer, and an editor) I had showed the damaged bracelet to pushed it away and averted their eyes. “Nakakakilabot,” (gives me the shivers, frightening) they said.

I plan to go up to Baguio on the next long weekend and visit Namaste again, this time to ask Meg for a bracelet made entirely of the “anti-negative” stones as a pangontra. Though I believe luck is what we make it, some coincidences are just too strange and cannot be ignored.

It will also be a treat to immerse myself once more in a world of wondrous things replete with symbolism, a trove of exotic treasures from a different place,  a haven for unraveling stress and instilling a sense of deep peace.   ***

All photos by JennyO, taken April 2011  with a Nikon Coolpix L21.

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