A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: An Art Fair in This Time of the Pandemic?

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 26 October) — A fair – understood as an event organized for the general public held in a big public space where there are various exhibits of all kinds of products and where people have fun with games and all – ceases to exist in a time of the pandemic when crowds are discouraged to gather together.  Known locally as PERYA, it connotes barbecuehan,  ferris wheels, shooting galleries, cotton candies and all kinds of fun games that both adult and children can enjoy.

So what is this 2020 Mindanao Art Fair all about, and how dare the organizers set it up during this time of the pandemic?  Well, we really cannot expect artists to just remain ensconced in their safe places and not hope to find ways to get their art works exhibited. Besides, owing to the restrictions of the lockdown, various schemes have arisen – mainly happening online – thanks to the availability of the internet despite its limitations in a Third World setting such as ours.

Now unfolding is the Second Mindanao Art Fair organized by Lawig-Diwa Inc. and sponsored by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCAA) with the theme “Living Art in a New Landscape.”  The 1st ever Mindanao Art Fair, Exhibit and Conference (MindanaoArt) was held on October 4 – 6, 2019 when it was possible to bring a crowd together. The actual art exhibit was set up at the GMall of Davao Atrium, Bajada.

The objectives of the art fair and conference are geared towards the total development of the cultural landscape of Mindanao, including the wellbeing of the artist especially in this difficult time of the pandemic. An important element of the fair is also to boost the livelihood of artists and the Mindanao creative industry as well through an exhibition where art collectors can have a pick of distinctive Mindanao art works.

This year, there is actually a physical exhibit of Mindanawon art works, which is at the Malayan College in Matina, Davao City. But not all art works can be seen in this actual exhibit (but they can be accessed online). There was actually a plan to launch the exhibit at the same time hold a whole-day conference at the same venue last October 22 for a small gathering and have it streamed live for the general public.

This conference’s aim is to continue building up its intellectual tradition by holding a parallel event to the art fair – the Mindanao Art Talks or MindArTalks. It did happen but only for a very small select group and the three panel discussions of the actual conference were then scheduled for viewing on Facebook in the following days.

I took part in the Third Panel with the topic – Mindanao Identity and (Hi)stories in Mindanao Art – along with Museo de Oro curator JC Salon, the playwright Saturnina Rodil and the historian Rudy Rodil. The discussion was facilitated by Vinci Bueza of ADDU.

Here’s a few ideas I shared in my paper – Challenge to Mindanaon Arts: To Embrace Mindanao’s Wounded Soul (but only parts of this talk were included in my talk):

To be considered a Mindanawon artist, one who is taga-Mindanao who engages in paintings, sculpture, poetry, theatre, dance, architecture, writing a novel as well as any form of art installation – one first has to possess the soul of the shaman (baylan, beliyan,mabelyan, walian, babaylan or mangagapog).  The baylan’s distinctive role in their Lumad community is to be their healer.

Most of us would consider all those who produce works of art that either reflect or integrate Mindanao’s rich cultures – in terms of how they employ the symbols, colors, textures and artistic styles of especially Moro and Lumad artistic traditions – as Mindanawon artists. And let’s face it, especially since the rise of a greater appreciation of the richness of Mindanao’s cultures, there have been a proliferation of art works of such type of artistic products especially if they are meant to penetrate the mainstream.

At the surface level, whether these are popular, folk or naïf art, these are products of artistic endeavors and thus, are art works, too. We shouldn’t be so elitist in orientation to consider these popular art expressions as too shallow or just meant for the hoi polloi.  However, as Mindanao’s art circles have began to ask seriously – what is really the identity of what can be considered a truly Mindanawon work of art? – we do need to dig deeper into what constitutes the Mindanawon soul.

To make this possible, one must be rooted in the very landscape and reality of where one is coming from.  One must have a sharp sense of one’s rootedness to the historical, ecological, cultural and spiritual elements constituting the person’s abode and milieu. Rooted in the land of one’s indigenous ancestors, one retains the memories of one’s descendants – their dreams and hopes, their struggles and difficulties of survival and how they have survived through life’s vicissitudes. A familiarity with our ancestors’ myths and epics (the Darangen and the Ulahingan), how they celebrated life’s mysteries during rituals (e.g. the buklog) which were mainly the repositories of most artistic expressions (dance, music, poetry, songs, symbolic visuals and the like) can also help bridge the past and the present, assuring a sense of continuity between generations.

But it has not been all sunshine and light, joy and celebrations!  Somewhere in time, our descendants in Mindanao including Mamalu and Tabunaway – those who remained within their indigenous belief system and those who embraced Islam – faced tensions and conflicts, some of which led to the outbreak of violence with ensuing brutalities, dislocations and deaths. In the pre-conquest epoch, there were tribal skirmishes leading to ridos and pangayaws.

Violence began to take on large-scale configurations with the forcible entry of colonizers from the Spanish to the American and even the Japanese.  Ancestral domain and tribal lands were confiscated and grabbed, resulting in the native population’s dislocations. Natural resources got exploited and today practically all forests are gone and mountains have been leveled for mining purposes, Chieftains and other indigenous leaders who resisted have been harassed, imprisoned, tortured and killed.

Through it all, Mindanao’s soul got wounded and the call for healing has been the cry of many Mindanawons for decades now.  Some agencies and institutions – mainly civil society organizations from faith-based groups to non-governmental organizations, the academe and media – have been at the forefront of the resistance to oppose the continuing victimization of Mindanao and peacebuilding efforts through various approaches. Involved in both resistance and healing approaches have been Mindanawon artists through the past half-a-century. This demands that artists should comfort the disturbed but also disturb the comfortable.

If Mindanawon artists need to embrace the wounded soul of Mindanao, they need to also acknowledge their own bruised souls. In their book – Wired to Create, Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, the authors – Scott Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire – made a popular argument that “humans are biologically suited to turn chaos into beautiful forms.” They further posit that “as creativity is often a messy process, it is not surprising that imagination, solitude, passionate expression, along with play, are building blocks for innovation.”

Mindanao’s historical moments of chaos creating cultural tensions certainly provides a most apt backdrop for the Mindanao artist to experience woundedness even as they live in a context that urgently demands healing.  This is why – in the face of difficulties and struggles they have faced – the creativity of a growing number among them has become a positive coping mechanism. For many of them, the experience of adversity have forced them to question their basic assumptions about the world and therefore to think and express themselves more creatively.

But to embrace the wounded soul of Mindanao is but one end of the equation; at the other end is the commitment to become part of the healing process. Who can we turn to if we are to assure the future generations that we will bequeath to them a peaceful Mindanao where its people are not victimized by the rich and powerful, are able to provide for their children’s needs and live in peaceful co-existence with everyone else no matter the differences of ethnicity, faith traditions, cultural practices, genders and sexual orientations, and other identity constructs? Of course there are the religious leaders (iman, priests, pastors), the educators, the guidance counselors and the medical personnel (in the field of medicine and psychology).

But more and more, we will have to rely on the artists. From a philosophical perspective (and appropriating the Greek thinker Heraclitus (535-475 BC), the artists can guide us through the chaos that we face and their works could then become representations of the “flux” – the constant occurrence of change. For everything around us is in flux, in the sense that everything is always flowing in some respects, like the waters coming out of our watersheds as they flow towards the sea. Heraclitus maintained the very nature of life is flux, is change, and that to resist this change was to resist the essence of existence.

In this occasion of the 2020 MindanaoArtFair, we challenge our Mindanawon artists to take seriously this role. For more than any other Mindanawons, they are the ones who can best help us see a path that we can explore to heal our wounds. For as the American visionary artist asserts:  The artist’s soul is like a tree with roots in the Heavens and limbs branching to earth, explosively blooming creation.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Manobo Dreams in Arakan: A People’s Struggle to Keep Their Homeland” which won the National Book Award for social science category in 2012,  “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” two books on Davao history, and “Ordinary Lives, Lived Extraordinarily – Mindanawon Profiles” launched in February 2019. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw). Gaspar is a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents]

 

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