A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: The Rich Tapestry of Inter-Weaving Mindanao Art 

BOOK REVIEWS
PRELUDES & PRESENCES – Stories and Poems
By Freeda Ko Quejada+=
Road Map Series Heritage, Volume 5, No. 1, Davao City 2010

  • WILDFIRE
    Melona Grace Mascariňas
    Road Map Series, Vol. 6, No. 4, n.d.
  • GAHANDOLANSAY – Garay, Handumanan, Pamalandong, ug Saysay
    By Elvi C. Tamayo
    Blue Iguana Computer Consultancy Services. Davao City, 2021
  • FLORALISM AND THE ART OF NELVERT ANINO
    By Maria Frencie L. Carreon
    Maven Media Asia, Zamboanga City, 2021

As Ms. Arlene Yandug, Xavier University Professor and co-editor of Tinubdan (an anthology of writings from North Mindanao) remarked after attending the opening of the Mindanao Book Festival last June 13, 2022:  “the energy,  the range of materials and local publishers represented are awe inspiring!”

Indeed, the standing-room only crowd who gathered inside the Audio-Visual Room of the St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) experienced this energy during this rare occasion when a big group of Mindanawon authors – traversing four generations – converged under one roof. The one other element of the Festival that makes it truly awe-inspiring –  apart from the wide range of materials represented  and the extent of the authors’ participation – is that the collection of books in this exhibit shows how the various fields of the arts are made to inter-mingle in the texts. 

Following the tradition of the Road Map Series – initiated by the distinguished Tita Lacambra Ayala, the  pioneering doyen of Mindanawon letters – the works of Quejada and Mascariňas are laid out in a unique manner tapping into the talent of graphic designers. Whereas the latter’s collection is all in poetry, the former has both poems and short stories in her works. A background check reveals both are also into other fields of art: Quejado in music and visual arts and  Mascariňas in films.

Dr. Arlene Yandug, Xavier University Professor and co-editor of Tinubdan (an anthology of writings from Northern Mindanao) remarked after attending the opening of the Mindanao Book Festival last June 13, 2022: “the energy, the range of materials and local publishers represented are awe inspiring!”

On the other hand, those of Tamayo and Carreon bring together the written word and visual art. In Gahandolansay, the cover of Tamayo’s collection of Cebuano-Bisaya balaks (poems) is a detail of his impressionist paintings. Along with the poems are pen-and-ink line drawings by a group of young illustrators including Aileen Grace C. Bacili, Windelene J. Serrano and Jefferson J. Cortez. In Carreon’s Floralism,  the book’s pages also include the subject’s paintings, pen-and-ink drawings and poster designs.

The field of visual arts across Mindanao has seen a remarkable growth in the explosion of talents, the number of exhibits mounted despite the pandemic and the choices made by the artists in terms of genres and subject matters. It is no wonder that those in the literary arts would tap into the resources of the visual arts to enhance their publications’ appeal. The four publications reviewed are only a few of the many books in this exhibit that allow the various fields of art to converge. 

Quejada’s Preludes is made up of seven poems and three short stories. Being a mother of two, a few of the poems refer to children (“the children grow, they grow like anything/ limbs and thoughts alike stretch sun-ward/ running feet tramp down our barrenness”), of facing grief (“she weeps until her tears/ no longer come from eye/ voice/ from mouth”) and of nature (“the loose black earth reminds us/ of fruitless seasons”).   On the other hand, her short stories are whimsical (with an allegorical tale of an old crocodile and a boy who wants to fly) or about everyday concerns of a family e.g. food on the table.

Mascariňas’ 14 poems in Wildfire (the blurb labels this as: a collection… that revolve around family histories – the repercussions and repetitions – told in the voice of a young woman living through calamitous changes and discoveries”) include short poems (e.g. House-hunting, before dusk with 8 lines) and long ones (e.g. Love Story with 64) . 

The poetess’ living through calamity is revealed in various facets of everyday life: the travails of house-hunting, fear of arson and meteorites that carried organic molecules colliding with Earth, experiencing claustrophobia, having just noodles for dinner, difficulties with a parent and a heart disease affecting a loved one. Reading the lines about the writer’s various haunting can bring readers into a full circle as they are confronted with the memories that haunt them. 

Tamayo – a philosophy teacher and formator who is also an accomplished painter with a few exhibitions to his name – is described in a blurb as; “spiritual, soulful” and his works “suffused with light.”  Gahandolansay, his collection of a hundred and one balaks could very well serve – in the words of Nelly Z. Limbadan’s  review – as “a tool for change for those who are willing to look back, look within, and look forward.”  

The 101 poems – written in fluent Cebuano language  spoken by those who claim this as their mother tongue – are  distributed through three sections of a specially designed book (by Igy Castrillo) namely Pakiglambigit (To be in connection with),  Pamaagi (Various Ways) and Paghandom (To Remember).

The book’s design is pleasing to the eye with lots of breathing spaces, the lines are fluid and easy to read. There is not a single word that is wasted; and one can only be impressed that poems of just one lines can spark so many images. There are rich metaphors as the poet takes advantage of the richness of Cebuano’s lexicon. Local popular everyday life expressions – Pastilan! Hay na Lang! Mao na ron! Pikat nimo!   Way Kurat! Kuyawa Oy! Ato-ato Lang! Puslan Man!  (local terms very difficult to find accurate equivalent English translations)  – take on added meaning even as they are titles of the poems!

Carreon is an award-winning writer and journalist with already a few books to her name (including Spaces (Narratives about the Mission of Fr. Angel Calvo, CMF);  Scissors, Papers, Water, and Stories and Life Changing MomentsFloralism is described as  a book that “explores and presents a unique and novel genre in art, as introduced by artist par excellence Nelvert Anino” (who hails from Zamboanga City). Carreon posits that her reason for writing this slim book of just 70 pages with photos of Anino’s paintings, pen-and-ink drawings and posters is “to make FLORALISM be known to all citizens, no matter where they are, what they can do.. (as they) appreciate art together with flowers” (quoted in Fr. Calvo’s Introduction).

Carreon gives the reader an explanation of her use of the term floralism: “it is a form of visual art whereby any living form and lifeless object, or scene drawn and hand movements are patterned with the use of flowers regardless of medium. The media tried so far are pencil and watercolor.” In her first three essays in this book, the author writes about visual art as society’s reflection, Anino’s discovery of his art and how it developed and what is the floralism in Anino’s art. Then in the following five essays, she describes floralism in relation to machismo/power, to women, to the peace agenda in Mindanao, and vis-à-vis spaces and the local fauna.

While the book shows a good collection of Anino’s works, the photos could only approximate the beauty and grandeur of the original pieces. One needs to view these in the actual setting where they are physically exhibited to fully appreciate the unique contribution of Anino’s works to the burgeoning Mindanawon visual art scene. For, indeed, the genre he has developed is quite unique and one wonders how images of flowers can constitute human faces! As Anino is also an accomplished architect, photos of his works are also included.

[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 Mindanao’s most prolific book author. 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.]