Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Museum After-Musings

We took a guided tour of the National Museum—actually museums, since they occupy two buildings (they own a third one, but they’re renting it out)—on a Saturday morning. We started off on the Museum of the Filipino People, which was formerly the Finance Building. It is also the venue of two television commercials we shot, so I was quite familiar with the exhibits inside since we had a chance to tour the place before. But the difference was that we had Mr. John Silva, the Museum’s senior consultant, to take us around and explain things.

Museum appreciation is, I’m beginning to realize, a discipline onto itself. One must have an innate curiosity of wanting to know, and seeing artifacts of the past and trying to contextualize them allows one to get a glimpse of what was. One point that Mr. Silva kept reiterating is how museums should “contextualize” their artifacts on display; meaning, they should give the viewers the context surrounding the artifact, so that the pieces aren’t viewed in limbo and become “objectified” or taken out of context.

Even paintings should be contextualized. We moved over to the other building, which contained the National Art Gallery. Here the main attraction is, of course, Juan Luna’s Spoliarium, a massive masterpiece dominating the main hall of the Gallery. Mr. Silva took the time to tell a 10-minute backgrounder of the painting, including how it played a big part in Jose Rizal’s journey to becoming the Philippines’ national hero. Thanks to my art teachers in grade school, as well as my high school social studies teachers and my Phil. history college professor, most of the stuff he mentioned I already knew. But to have the bits and pieces of information on history and art woven and blended into a tapestry right in front of the massive painting, which was at the center of it all, is quite an overwhelming experience. (Actually it’s very easy to be overwhelmed: the sheer size of the painting, with its dark, tragic subject, easily dwarfs the viewers and one can’t help but feel meek and small in front of such magnitude of skill and scale.)

Mr. Silva said that one of the museum’s objectives is to allow Filipinos to get to know who we were as a people before, so that we have a better appreciation and sense of nationhood. Ganito tayo noon, paano tayo ngayon? But that begged in me the question: So we understand our past and we get an idea of what we went through; so what now? Knowing and understanding is one thing; being proud of who we are as a people is another. How does knowing and understanding our past make us proud of ourselves when we see our present, still divided, still struggling, still at each other’s throats? He recounted an incident wherein the senators who help fund the museum insisted that the exhibits should equally represent the different provinces, to which he violently opposed. And I think that’s one major stumbling block to our growth as a nation; the fact that we are physically divided (1,700 islands gives us a diversity of dialects, local culture and cuisine!) made it easy for the colonists to divide-and-conquer us; years and years of pitting fellow Filipinos against one another have made it difficult for us to consider ourselves as one people. Yes, we know we are under one flag, singing one national anthem. But we still have vestiges of “wala akong paki sa di ko pami” values on a provincial and national level. I feel that on a simple level, it is easier for an individual to grasp the notion of “pride in one’s province” versus the larger “pride in our country.”

And that’s why I am more inclined to travel around the Philippines first before traveling all over the US or Europe. I love watching that local travel channel on cable that focuses on showing the beauty of the different provinces of the Philippines. I hope there will be more local museums (affiliated with the National Museum, if possible) that are accessible to the general public, because we need to appreciate ourselves then and now. And my hope is that the more these programs and museums show us how connected we are as a people, the more we get a sense of an identity as a country, the more we can be proud of ourselves as a nation.

Maybe our future lies in embracing this diversity. But instead of using it to divide us, make it our strength as a people. We need to feel proud of ourselves as one nation, one country.

Some more photos:

Currently on exhibit, one of the several paintings by Julian Schnabel, apparently a painter as well as a movie director (he directed “The Diving Bell And The Butterfly” and “Before Night Falls”).

The top of the beautiful, winding staircase at the National Art Gallery.

The staircase is a beautiful example of the architecture of its time. But look what I found underneath it…

…a Playstation control pad! Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?


Ming Meows said...

Same thoughts here. It's like every region is a different country.

Re: joystick, it would be more shocking to see a condom.

Anonymous said...

ay nakaharang ako sa photo! LOL. :)

joelmcvie said...

@NARNIAN: I had another photo with just the painting, but I chose the one with you and J. Silva to show scale.

The Green Man said...

Awww... had I known you guys were attending John's tour... I should've freed my shced. John is a good friend.

But I am happy you were able to see John in action. and looking at your photos, you visited the J. Schnabel display... we were the one who put that exhibit up :-D

Hope we get the chance to meet :-D

joelmcvie said...

@THE GREEN MAN: Yes, let's meet. Viewing art is interesting in itself, but having it contextualized makes it more relevant. =)