It’s interesting how artworks or installations take on different contexts based on the location of the exhibition — originally at the Philippine Pavilion in the Arsenale for the 59th Venice Art Biennale, and afterwards at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila in BGC for its homecoming exhibition. They’re different, all right, but more or less the same. With something — a concept, a belief, the labor of minds and hands — woven into every component.
After its run in Venice from April to November 2022 — after having sold over 800,000 tickets, with an average of 4,000 visitors per day — “Andi taku e sana, Amung taku di sana/ All of us present, This is our gathering,” has returned to the Philippines. The homecoming show is on view at the third-floor gallery of The M until Sept. 13, 2023.
The exhibition, co-curated by Yael Buencamino-Borromeo and Arvin Flores, features the work of visual artist Gerry Tan, in collaboration with musicologist Felicidad A. Prudente and weaver Sammy N. Buhle.
It all started when Gerry Tan visited a pottery place and weaving house in Miag-ao, Iloilo, and was mesmerized by the sound: the propulsive rhythms of the pedal loom. It reminded him of the minimalist music by Steve Reich or La Monte Young. He asked himself: “What if (the weavers) were weaving the sound that their looms were creating?” What if music were rendered visible? What if tapestry could intone?
Thus began the synesthetic exploration of weaving of fabrics with a system of patterns that annotate the very sound the looms made. Enter master weaver Sammy Buhle (who runs a home-based weaving center in Ifugao) to needle the grooves, so to speak.
The rest, as they say, is tapestry.
Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda — the project visionary of the Philippines’ participation in the Venice Biennale — was an early champion of the work of Sammy and his mother, Angelina, who specialize in Ikat weaving.
The senator recalls how she witnessed the Buhles’ artistry during one of her trips to the Cordilleras. “I saw intently the transformation of natural fiber into strips of Ikat threads. I was in awe at the distinct beauty of their weaves, astounded by the intricate, elegant technique of their weaving. I can vividly recall how, at that time, I instantly imagined myself wearing this kind of exquisite material to international events. It is uniquely Filipino, homegrown, and made with so much passion.”
And that passion has become a piece of biennale history.
“The exhibition’s focus on the discourse between soundscapes, visual art, and even the art of weaving, not only highlights the interconnectedness of cultural data, but also shows how its translation into something palpable can result in the promotion, and a deeper understanding of our identity, our stories and traditions,” explains Senator Legarda.
Simply put, Sammy Buhle has brought soul to the looms.
The senator says, “Everyone (at the Venice Biennale) witnessed the underlying story of weaving as a Filipino tradition and saw contemporary resonance. I have always believed that Filipino culture and the arts are a binding narrative of our nation’s history and who we are as a people. What we have to contribute and share with the world deserves a grand introduction through international platforms. It deserves to be talked about.”
National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) chairman and Philippine Pavilion commissioner Victorino Manalo encourages the public to lean into the potential of art. “Art can help us innovate and evolve, taking up contemporary forms in order to be continuously relevant today. Through the work of Filipino creatives and thinkers, we seek to anchor on art to address issues that are pertinent to the improvement of society.”
For a cultural advocate such as Senator Legarda, everything is threaded, connected. One just needs to see the patterns in their eloquently multi-colored choruses.
“The collaborative nature of the exhibition likewise echoes many indigenous beliefs that are anchored on the idea of community and interconnectedness among people, other living beings, the environment and even the Divine — conveying the idea that regardless of our differences, we are all one.”
Two cities, one conceptual tour de force, with a seemingly infinite stretch of land and water in between — the notes that those hands have woven are home.
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The Philippine participation at the 59th International Art Exhibition — La Biennale di Venezia — is a collaborative undertaking of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the Office of Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda. The commissioner of the Philippine Pavilion is Victorino Manalo, chair of the NCCA. Its homecoming exhibition was made possible through a collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. For information, visit philartsvenicebiennale.net. See updates on Facebook and Instagram @philartsvenice.
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