Monday, June 8, 2015

'Propaganda' for Ynangbayan

"Propaganda" takes the viewer through several epochs of Philippine history. It is the subject of a nearly five-month long exhibition (runs until July 4) at the Lopez Museum and Library (LML) in Pasig City.

When I heard from a source that the LML will be moving (when? the date is unsure and keeps being moved) to a more modest space somewhere in Rockwell Makati while a new museum rises in the future (when? it is unsure yet), I thought I'd better arrange a field trip for my writing students. Carpe diem... before the museum and Benpres Building on Exchange Road where it is housed are scheduled for some future demolition (when? no date given) to make way for something bigger or grander. The low-rise Benpres used to be called The Chronicle Building, one of the first ones to go up at the then cogon field that later become Ortigas Center.

Like in other museums, shooting pictures is allowed, but turn off the flash, please. Thank you for the deeply informative and personalized tour, Paolo Arago. Speaking for myself alone, I came out of this exhibition proud again to be what I am (a Pinay), where I am (in the bosom of the Philippines), trying to make the slightest difference when challenged and where this can be possibly done, not yet entirely coated with cynicism, so far not succumbing to that defeatist line "Talagang ganyan. Wala na tayong magagawa."

It's a good time to visit Propaganda as Independence Day (June 12) and Rizal's 154th birthday (June 19) are fast approaching, if these are to remain relevant in our workaday lives.

Back to "Propaganda" and the thrice colonized country that is the Philippines, not counting the British interlude. Let the pictures tell the story.

There is a coffee corner as one enters the museum. There we gathered to meet our guide Paolo Arago. Products promoted, especially the coffee, are Philippine made and grown. Here he tells us about the decoupage on the table and walls of movie stills from the black-and-white Philippine cinema years.Look for Susan Roces, Rogelio de la Rosa, Liberty Ilagan, if you're a child of the '60s who caught these stars on TV's Pinilakang Tabing.

The tour begins with the sight of Manila in flames during the last World War: Fernando Amorsolo's "Burning of the Intendencia," oil on canvas, New Year of 1942.

Shown are the backs of my boys Julian and Wilbert as they approach two more paintings by Amorsolo, the artist who romanticized our countryside in works that the Americans found so pleasing.

Amorsolo's "A Musical Duo," oil on cardboard, 1937.

Nunelucio Alvarado, one of Bacolod's social realist painters, combines graffiti painted on newspapers, chalk drawings and the portraits of farmers stunted by hardscrabble existence. The Bisaya phrase "Rompagon ang mga sakon" means "Patalsikin ang mga sakim" in Filipino or "Oust the greedy" (the slogan is weakened in its English translation).

Details from Alvarado's mural

J. Elizalde Navarro's "A Flying Machine for Icarus," wood, metal and found objects, 1984. This sets one thinking about the the hubris in the human desire for flight and speed, the myth of Icarus who flew so close to the sun until his wings of wax melted. And then the run-on thought fast forwards to the wacky races depicted in Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

Back view of the same suspended sculpture

"Simoun" by Cesar Legaspi, pen and ink on paper, 1961. Is he the same Simoun in Rizal's incendiary novel El Filibusterismo? Looks like him from his wealthy bearings and shielded eyes.

Print propaganda: the Marcos dictatorship is represented by a de luxe book (left) about the institution of its New Society a.k.a. Revolution from the Center. On the right are publications from the underground movement that persistently fought against the dictatorship since the 1971 suspension of the writ of habeas corpus through an armed struggle.

A political cartoon by Liborio "Gat" Gatbonton, one of the best editorial cartoonists of his day. Some things haven't changed in terms of politicians' "promises promises, their kind of promises that can just destroy a life...those kind of promises, take all the joy from life."

Joey Cobcobo's contributions are both wall- and floor-bound works that invite active participation from viewers. Take off shoes, slide into the bakya (wooden clogs) under which Joey carved words and images. Step on the inked portion with enough pressure to make the ink cling, then step down and leave an imprint on both the paper "carpet" (handmade by Japanese artist Asao Shimura who lives in Benguet) on the floor. Make another imprint on a separate sheet. There's your souvenir. When the expanse of paper is finally full at exhibit's end, Joey's intention is to stand it upright against a wall, and there's the unique print made by hand and many feet. Because of my occasional vertigo attacks, I lost my sense of daring and have only these pictures as mementos of that visit. Joey's ink on yellow paper work (horizontal orientation) is entitled "Ate Ina" while the scroll-length portrait of two males is "Perfecto."

A remount of Santiago Bose's 1983 installation "Pasyon at Rebolusyon" inspired by historian-scholar Reynaldo C. Ileto's Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippines, 1840–1910, a work that enabled us to rethink revolutionary movements, especially the one against Spain, in the light of the Filipino's deeper spiritual foundation,including the use of the pasyon to cloak anti-clerico-fascist sentiments.

Antiquarian's find: Urbana at Feliza (top), the equivalent of a Miss Manners guide to etiquette and good behavior for women in the 1800s. It's a reason for the boys to wonder that there were such things in the past that in the equal-rights age sound laughable.

Juan Luna was both painter and propagandist when he did EspaƱa y Filipinas where Mother Spain looks like she's leading her darker-skinned daughter Filipinas to a bright future. Luna was among those ilustrado expats who believed in assimilating with Spain. In lower photo, Paolo tells of another tale of figures beneath the outer skin of the oil paint, but that's for visitors to find out.

A choral recitative piece, "Like the Molave," by Rafael Zulueta da Costa that we did in high school began with the lines "Not yet, Rizal, not yet. Sleep not in peace..."

Santiago Bose was all of these: seer, avant-garde artist, iconoclast. Nothing's sacred, not even Mao Zedong who some of his generation of activists (and there are still many followers of the Chinese leader's thoughts) followed to the letter. Yes, Santi, straight from your larynx/pharynx, we see ourselves in Everything.

The Japanese (and their Korean recruits) were also adept in propaganda and trying to win Filipino minds and hearts on how being on the side of fellow Asians would be better than being on the side of white colonialists. But the guerrillas also did their fair share of hard-fought resistance. MacArthur's arrival was anti-climactic because the guerrillas already cleared the way. Shown at the bottom is the call to arms, the Fighting Filipinos poster designed by Manuel Rey Isip in 1944.

The late (it takes getting used to referring to him as "the late") Don Salubayba is one of those branches of art said to have grown out and independently of Santi Bose's legacy of social commentary and satire. His muddy-colored "Abysmal Abound: Trinity of Passiveness" (top) can be read as the indifference of Filipinos to vital life-or-death issues as they are lulled to stupor by television and other forms of entertainment. He eventually transitioned to boxed art that still retained some commentary like "Pagsasabuhay." Is that Filipina Overseas Worker remembering the green grass of home as she assumes global citizenship? In "Pagsasapuso," is that a stoic mujer pulled in many directions, her hands and heart broken in places while struggling to retain who she truly is amidst the march of dominating males (see the trousers). In "Tinikling Rhapsody," mixed media with LED light, one wonders what's fun about getting one's foot caught between clacking poles, or is this dance the kind agog tourists expect us to perform for them? Don, a master shadow puppeteer, still toys with the viewer's mind and must be chuckling at these puzzles he left behind.


A video loop keeps replaying to show various newspaper headlines about the events leading to People Power in 1986 when the dictator and his family fled and lived in exile but only for a short while even with his death. The surviving members are back in power. So have things changed, and where is this recovered "democracy" headed for?

It's a hard choice on what is the most important quality of the national leader for this generation of kids. Some are old enough to cast their votes next year. Photos by Babeth Lolarga
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