Posts Tagged ‘art’

pop goes the world: celebrating love and literature

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  7 February 2013, Thursday

Celebrating Love and Literature

Once in a while I feature in this column the literary events of the season, and here’s what’s happening in this month of love:

* * * * *

When you have a lost a loved one, how do you mourn?

Each person finds a way of coping. Support groups help; articles and books yield valuable tips. But ultimately, each one deals with grief and the pain of loss on an individual basis.

University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Arts and Letters associate professor, published poet, and performance artist Nerisa del Carmen Guevara lost her beloved to violence last year. This year, she spearheaded an interdisciplinary project at UST that brings together 11 colleges including the College of Science and the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery in a collaborative effort that explores the many different forms and faces of love.

“Making: Love in Fourteen Collaborative Acts” will run from February 11 to 15 at the Main Lobby of the historic UST main building. It will showcase fourteen literary works – poems and excerpts from stories, essays, and plays – translated into other forms of art and science, all focused on love.

The project is organized under the wing of the UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies (CCWLS) headed by Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo (also professor emerita of the University of the Philippines College of Arts and Letters).

“Making: Love” carries further the old UST Creative Writing Center’s project “Brushes with Words and Chords,” which featured works of literature, painting, and music.

The artists and collaborators will be at the exhibit for meet-and-greet and photo opportunities. On closing night, they will read from or perform their work.

Professor Guevara invites the Thomasian community and the public to the event. She adds, “I will be performing on February 15. This performance is called “Elegy.” I have collaborated with an architect, a mathematician, and a musician. I asked them to build me a bridge between life and afterlife.”

This is a love-in of literary, artistic, and scientific proportions. Bring your Valentine to UST to witness, experience, and taste “Making: Love.”

* * * * *

This event comes soon after the revitalized CCWLS under Dr. Hidalgo revived the UST literary journal “Tomas,” during an event that also saw the blessing of the Center’s new offices.

Established in 1998, the center used to be under the Faculty of Arts and Letters but is now an autonomous unit under the Office of the Rector. “Tomas” will be published every semester.

But wait, there’s more from UST. “The Varsitarian,” UST’s 84-year-old student publication, is organizing the 5th UST J. Elizalde Navarro National Workshop in Criticism on the Arts and Humanities and is now accepting applications.

The workshop will be held in Baguio City from May 26 to June 1 this year.

Fellowships will be awarded to 12 promising young critics who wish to enhance their analytical, research, and writing skills. Applicants must submit a scholarly, properly documented essay, 15-25 pages, on the following art forms – painting, sculpture, architecture, dance, drama, music, film, photography, and literature – on or before March 15, along with an updated resume and a recommendation letter from an academic mentor or art critic.

Send email to workshop convener Associate Professor Ralph Semino Galan at ralphseminogalan@gmail.com for details.

* * * * *

The admirers of Jose Garcia Villa will have a chance to see books and papers from his personal library at the Ateneo de Manila University starting today, February 7, 4:30 pm, at the Pardo de Tavera Room of the Rizal Library Special Collections building.

The Villa Estate donated rare Filipiniana, documents, and ephemera to the Rizal Library. The exhibit runs until May 30.

* * * * *

Tomorrow, February 8, the Literature Section of the University of San Carlos will hold “Minugbo: A Forum on Contemporary Visual Media” in Cebu City.

The forum will feature lectures by Jiji Borlasa (who will speak about Cebuano filmmaking), Anne Lorraine Uy (storytelling through pictures), and Diem Judilla (cinematic writing for short films).

This is a parallel event of the short film contest sponsored by the Section.   *** 

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daily art: essay-a-day

Inspired by Summer Pierre’s one-page story writing exercise, I started an essay-a-day daily art project, a diary-slash-creative non-fiction effort.

Summer’s method of using keyword flashcards to choose a topic is interesting but I’m too lazy to make flashcards. I suppose instead of flashcards that I’d have to carry around, I could flip through a book and point to a word.

For now I rely on serendipitous random happenstance of whatever floats to the surface of my mind when faced with a blank sheet of paper, though I do have a theme going on now; all the pieces start with “In [add name of city].”

Here’s my second entry in a pocket plain Moleskine.

Materials: vintage Sheaffer Agio fountain pen inked with Noodler’s Black Swan in Australian Roses, Derwent Coloursoft pencils.

I follow Summer’s rules of writing whatever comes first to mind and no editing. The length of the piece is constrained by the size of the page, although I’ve done a two-page piece.

I posted the picture above on Instagram and Twitter, and tweeted a link to Summer’s article. That got a retweet and a favorite from Summer herself! (Follow her on Twitter @summerpierre).

I asked if she didn’t mind that I adopted her idea.

Her reply? “@jennyortuoste of course not! I am THRILLED you took to it!”

Art is global and knows no boundaries. 

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the shop of strange (flash fiction)

The strange shop sold only balls of all colors, sizes, materials.

In one corner he saw a crystal one with a watch within it.

“What does this do?” he asked the old woman behind the counter.

“It is the ball of time,” she whispered.

“Break it and you will go back as many years as you wind the watch’s hands to.

But choose wisely. Not all times are good, and you can never return to this time.” ***

Photo: “Timesphere”, original digital art by Jenny Ortuoste, 26 May 2012. 

Story and photo also posted on Instagram (follow me @jennydecember)

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pop goes the world: impeachment as drama

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  12 January 2012, Thursday

Impeachment as Drama

The ubiquity of communication media makes it possible for an entire nation to follow an impeachment trial that, back in the old days before television and television networks seeking to outdo each other in ratings, could only be viewed by a select few.

Government and court proceedings were filtered by information “middlemen” – journalists, writers, reporters – through the processes of agenda-setting and framing, whether performed unconsciously or not. The audience did not use to receive the entirety of the experience. This was made possible later on with the advent of the Internet, to the vastness of which reams of documents and footage could be uploaded. This could not be done in the limited space of print or regular broadcast channels.

With the rampant commercialization of the media, especially television, and the tougher arena brought about by a free-market environment and the number of competitors, networks playing the ratings game are forced to deliver what the public wants, in order to survive. And if the public wants to see more of this and less of the other, programming is developed to cater to those wishes.

Since today’s audience is politically savvy, a highly significant event such as the Corona impeachment trial is being given extensive coverage by the networks and others news organizations and individuals on the Internet.

Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona before the start of his impeachment trial. Image here.

While this easy access to information makes it possible for the audience to craft their own experience by picking and choosing their sources of news, the constant exposure also has a tendency to desensitize. The Corona trial is eagerly watched, almost as if it were the latest telenovela, as if these aspects of our country’s politics and governance were merely plot elements in a play.

The word drama comes from the Greek “to act” or “to do”. It must have characters who, in the course of their lives, somehow become involved in a conflict situation. The narrative follows their actions and reactions to the conflict, which at the end of the play are resolved.

People following the trial cast the characters in their minds as either “hero” or “villain” depending on their personal beliefs and convictions. And because the Internet, unlike traditional print and broadcast media, allow for instant and nearly unlimited feedback, it can bring out the best in people, who share insightful and meaningful comments, and the worst, through “trolls”, vicious-minded people who have no significant analysis and post only cruel and hurtful insults.

The trial is bringing out the true colors of people.

Apart from being seen as a drama, it is also being pegged in public perception as a sporting event. Facebook and Twitter users, especially the latter, post play-by-plays of the proceedings: “Si Cuevas parang nakikipagkwentuhan lang sa Starbucks.” “Dimaandal looks like he could use a beer.” “Bully, o.” Pass the popcorn.

Does this mean we no longer take important events such as impeachment trials seriously? Filipinos as a people have a dramatic nature – “romantic”, a creative writing professor of mine described it. Filipinos tend to exaggerate, inflate, and yes, dramatize even the most trivial of events.

Putting the impeachment trial on the level of a drama or sporting event underscores the tremendous interest that people are taking in the proceedings, because Filipinos care deeply about such things, and elevate telenovelas and the PBA to cult status. Treating the trial like “Flor de Luna” and Corona as bida or contrabida shows that we care what is happening to our country, that we want to participate in this even vicariously, and that if the only way we can be a part of this milestone event is to watch it, then by golly we will.

And we’ll discuss it, over bottles of beer at an after-office inuman or online, because by being aware of the unfolding of events and sharing our opinions on them we enter the play as actors ourselves, and thereby feel – even to a slight degree, even if it is an illusion – in control of our nation’s destiny.

Whatever the outcome of this impeachment, we will already have gained something valuable – we will have learned something more about ourselves as a people.

* * * * *

Award-winning photographer Dominique James, who is now based in the US, recently announced the launch of Blanc Worldwide, an “international photo collective” composed of six photographer-members: Dominique James (Atlanta) and Lester Callanta (Toronto), co-founders; and Kyo Suayan (San Francisco), Michael Mariano (New York), David Fabros (Manila), and Randy Tamayo (Melbourne), founding members.

Their online gallery at http://www.blancworldwide.com exhibits a landscape photograph from each member, available for a limited time to the public as fine art photographic prints.

According to Dominique James, “The two main goals of Blanc Worldwide are to provide professional representation of the Filipino photographers in the international arena, and to make their works available and accessible worldwide. The chosen images for Blanc Worldwide’s exhibition and exclusive print sale depicts aspects of the immediate, primary or accessible location from where each of the photographers is geographically based.”

“This is the first tightly-knit, project-oriented photography collective composed of Filipino photographers of its kind in this digital age that we know of,” he added.  *** 

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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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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: 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: 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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