Sunday, February 24, 2019

Through the eyes of an art enthusiast in the National Art Gallery Manila

The National Museum of the Philippines.

I was charmed with visual art as a kid. With my enormous gratitude to art growing up, I got myself into doing art as well. It helped me express what I was truly feeling inside, and it served as one of my forms of therapy after an exhausting week. However, after high school, I moved on from visual art and turned my head towards creative writing—first poetry, and now travel writing. Because the inner child in me is still enthusiastic about visual art, I visited art museums in Manila in order to go back to what I once loved to do.

It's February, and aside from being the month that saves a day for lovers and lonely hearts, it's also the month which celebrates art. After touring the Museums of Natural History and Anthropology, it was the perfect time for me to visit the National Art Gallery. As I entered inside the once meeting place of the House of Representatives, I was greeted by the unique white statue of an angel--which reminded me how serene it felt being alone—whose wings were lifted, as if she was on the edge. Her hands were held out while she looked upwards into the heavens, asking her maker to give her strength to guard the people she protected.

The lone white statue welcomes you as you enter inside the Old Session Hall.

You may wonder, why? Just behind it was the reason: images of chaos and death--for it showed the scene of a violent onslaught by clergymen against a noble politician who wished to end the trail of corruption that followed one of the heads of the church during his time. The Assassination of Governor Bustamante and His Son by Feliz Ressurreccion Hidalgo loomed over me and it felt like the painting was covering my line of sight, as if telling me that corruption was still lingering up to this date.

The Assassination of Governor Bustamante and his son by Feliz Ressureccion Hidalgo.

I turned my back and was met with a scene of suffering and pain from a painting that showed bodies, worn and torn from battles, being dragged in a dark hall. On the left, I saw people, acting like crows and vultures, awaiting the armaments and personal items of the dead to be thrown at them in order to keep as mementos or to be sold off to their fighters of the Roman arena. But on the right, I saw a woman weeping in agony for the loss of someone she held dear; and a man carrying a torch to serve as a light to help him identify whether one of the bodies was his son. The painting of suffering was none other than the Spolarium by Juan Luna. The painting, an oil-canvas, won a gold at the Exposicion de Bellas Artes.

Th renowned painting of Juan Luna, The Spolarium.

Afterwards, I trod gently, exited the session hall, and traveled towards the other galleries of each floor. One of the galleries housed the sculptures made by Fernando Amorsolo, each sculpture given great detail so that it was truly life-like. The hallways were decorated with paintings by different artists, some showing daily scenarios, while others so abstract that the viewer would need a few seconds to understand their true meaning.

Mural hanging on the wall.

I took my time at another gallery which paid homage to the fallen Dr. Jose Rizal, who, aside from being the patriotic individual that we all know him to be, was also a skilled artist. Included in this gallery was the clay figure of a dog that sunk its teeth deeply inside the armored back of a crocodile that was also bitting at a smaller figure, which resembled a pup. This sculpture, made at Dapitan in 1894 and aptly named A Mother's Revenge, tells us the extent to which a mother's love can go to protect or save her child. But in an allegorical sense, and in the context of Rizal's time, this would depict how the motherland—the Philippines—should fight its oppressors.

Philippine's National Hero Dr. Jose P. Rizal.

Another gallery that caught my attention housed a set of large paintings. Through one painting, on the left, I peered into the time wherein our ancestors relied on the blessings of the priestess dressed in delicately woven white fabric and wearing a headdress to establish her role within the tribe. She stood up and cried out, calling on the power of various nature spirits and deities in order to heal her tribe. The second painting brought me into the age where medicine was extracted by a witch doctor from different plants and materials found within the Earth. The witch doctor, covered by a white robe, pounded on the herbs and mixed them together to create a concoction that would relieve a person from his physical suffering.

With the third painting,  I jumped into another time in which our forbearers relied on the capabilities of religion and its clergymen to heal the wounded in exchange for donations to the church, and also on our dependence on the innovations in medicine brought about by the foreigners in the past. Then I looked at the last painting, which showed that our medical centers now have adequate equipment and that our medical personnel are perfectly trained in order to fill in the needs of our society. The set of paintings, titled the Progress of Medicine in the Philippines, can be found with Gallery X. The painter, Carlos V. Francisco, was declared a National Cultural Treasure back in 2011.

I moved forward from those set of paintings and came upon a mural at the Old Session Hall of the Senate of the Philippines. With each step I took, I was sent back in the past, into the jungles of pre-colonial Manila. I saw tribesmen fighting against invaders from another land and using their wood-made armaments and their mastery of the terrain. Subsequently, I found myself near the sea where a high-ranking Spanish officer was ordering his troops to charge and take control of the city. I suddenly heard the creaking of wood behind me, and so I turned around, only to see a huge cross already raised. I was pulled by the time again and found myself in the middle of a battle, which was led by one of our national heroes, with blades drawn and carrying a familiar red flag with three K's written on it.

Then I heard someone counting down in Spanish and as the voice approached zero, a barrage of gunshots were heard; I ducked for cover, only to realize I was at the foot of the one being shot—it was Dr. Jose P. Rizal, with his face leaning towards the sun and hoping for a bright future for the country despite his death. Afterwards, I found myself back in reality, and I realized that the moments I went through were part of Carlos V. Francisco's masterpiece, Filipino Struggles Through History or the History of Manila. The mural was just recently put back into display after being restored from deterioration. It stretched so long that mural covered most of the center of the Old Session Hall.

There are so many pieces of art to view and discuss, but since art is open to each and every person's relative interpretation, I leave you the challenge to explore the artworks that are currently nesting within its walls of the National Art Gallery. There is a genre for every one and each piece has its own story—a story that plays a significant role in our history. From what I have seen, I can walk out of the National Art Gallery with the firm belief that history is not only confined in the books that you read inside the classroom every day, but it can also be embedded in the fine craftsmanship of those who have lived in different eras. Their stories are worth telling through art, for their art reflects the rich imagination of our country.

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