Layered narratives of Philippines’ culture and the arts

‘Lakbayin ang Sining’ is a compendium of writings on the country’s culture and arts groups in the regions. / PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF LAKBAYIN ANG SINING

Making sense and making memory of the country’s culture and arts programs initiated by private and public agencies invited by the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ (CCP) Cultural Exchange Department are in Lakbayin ang Sining: Readings in Creative and Cultural Work in the Philippines (CCP Exchange Department, Manila, 2020, 195 pages), edited by Alejandro D. Padilla.

Divided into seven rubrics, the commemorative book on the 25th anniversary of the CCP Outreach Program is an indispensable and authoritative compendium of writings on the founding, growth and extension works of the country’s culture and arts groups authored by their respective founders, administrators and artistic directors.

The conversational tone and eclectic ways the authors presented their cultural and artistic groups, along with vintage and contemporary photographs, may be categorized into six: Dance, Theater, Music, Visual Arts, Fashion, Arts and Crafts.

The rubrics allow the reader to journey through various times of a group’s growth alongside the country’s historical movements and events reflective of the book cover depicting the tricycle.

The artwork by Leonardo Rey S. Carino of General Santos City is a tribute to the tricycle, rendered in all its diverse designs, make and color. It is a most resonating metaphor for the book that translates, to borrow a phrase, an accretive cultural bundle.

The tricycle, according to writer Karlo Antonio Galay David, is a common mode of transportation in Mindanao but it is the most ignored. It is just there — convenient and cheap — but it is never appreciated nor is it a celebrated means of going from this to that point by the public, unlike the iconic jeepney.

The cover features the artwork of Leonardo Rey S. Carino paying tribute to the tricycle.

On the other hand, a few years back, scholars and scientists predicted that human creativity may be duplicated by computers, machines that were originally intended to serve man’s needs given his limited memory. But this invention of man’s genius has backfired, and today we swing from our present vocabulary, “record, upload, share,” to worse scenarios of the inventions of man, from humanism to liberal humanism to this era of algorithms, paving the way to the new religion called “Dataism,” according to Yuval Noah Harari in his book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2017, HarperCollins, New York).

In his book, Harari writes about an experiment where poetry, music or painting could be duplicated by computers, and humans would be none the wiser for it. A chilling experiment indeed that may put doubts on the creative abilities of humans. Music, for instance, with all its mathematical patterns, may be played for the audience, and humans could not tell whether that was Beethoven’s or the machine’s.

Yet, this compendium published by the CCP Exchange Department, the brainchild of its present steward, Carmencita “Chinggay” Bernardo Jasareno, inspires us to believe in man’s creativity some more.

The book’s layered narratives, most importantly, tell of the sacrifices of artists and cultural workers and their shared vision of passing on to future generations their expertise for continuity and for sustainability of the country’s culture and arts programs, whether supported by generous individuals, foundations, universities or local and the national governments.

It is commendable that the book highlights the cultural groups from the fringes, that is, from the regions, and not only the center that takes importance unlike in the past because the Philippines has a diverse cultural heritage.

This is another brave attempt to put together the histories and the significant roles the cultural and artistic groups play in contributing to love of country. It is likewise a testament to the works of many individuals and institutions that have realized their potentials to give and pass on what talents and resources they had and to also educate and train the underprivileged.

If my memory serves me right, a book whose title I forget said some civilizations, like those of the Incas’ and Aztecs’, have disappeared partly because their masters failed to pass on their knowledge and their secrets to succeeding generations.

Culture and the arts know no boundaries, and many practitioners have known depravity and sufferings, from personal or from their social and political environments, because of their passion for an art form, whether this be in music, visual arts, literature, in dance or in theater. Many more have been catalysts for change, and their celebrity status helped their fellow human beings during war or during other calamities.

Lakbayin ang Sining is a must read for all, an inspiration to all. The testimonies of the cultural workers and artists in this volume are learning experiences from various vantage points, resonating with artistic and cultural transformations that may end ignorance of what culture and the arts mean.

Perhaps, in the future, CCP can also put together several volumes the culture and arts programs of the country’s island groups. True, nobody can cover everything but if even half of what the regions pride themselves with of their arts and crafts and rich cultures can be featured, it will not be farfetched to have a more robust view of what the Philippines is about. To paraphrase what somebody said, for only through its culture and the arts can a nation become truly deserving to be called a nation.

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