Sunday, October 5, 2008

an educational sunday at the national museum

"when you're looking at a historically-themed painting, you have to ask, 'who did it?' and 'what's the message?'" john silva shares, as he shows us two contrasting paintings depicting the arrival of the spaniards in our country.

his quote particularly struck me, as i always try and find out who the artist is behind the work whenever i view paintings and other works on display in any museum. the artist is seldom a problem. museums almost always post the name of the artist.

the message, on the other hand, was an entirely different thing. it's actually the reason why i was in the museum on a sunday morning.

growing up, i hardly paid any attention to my history (sibika at kultura) classes. i found it boring and useless, and boy, do i regret that now. i didn't realize then how history is strongly woven into travel, and how i would be greatly interested in finding out the origin of things, people, and events when i grow up.

so now, i'm trying to make up for that stupid mistake, and thankfully, john silva has taken it upon himself to educate the people about our history through philippine art and artifacts found in the national museum.

silva makes the tour interesting by inserting little anecdotes on how he and the staff decided to reorganize the museum. he explained that the current look and feel of the museum of the filipino people, in the former finance building, is mainly targeted to the youth, as he believes in fostering interest in the young 'uns to encourage them to become archeologists, or at least, involved in the development of our heritage.

what was once just a sad old elephant's bone placed under glass has been contextualized by placing the bone against a drawing of an elephant, giving the children a better picture of why this bone is important. if this was how the museum was when i went on a field trip there as a kid, i would have probably paid more attention.

the tour starts with the different galleries of the museum of the filipino people, housing some of the stuffed animals that we all remember, old burial jars unearthed up north, relics and treasures found from the wreck of san diego, and a replica of a balangay, to name a few.

but the definite highlight of the tour is the art collection. we were pretty lucky to catch the amorsolo retrospective, featuring portraits by fernando amorsolo. and guess what, amorsolo held a firearms license. betcha didn't know that! :D

also on display were the finalists of the philippine art awards, with pretty impressive and creative paintings and mixed media works. silva regales us with backgrounds of the best works, and every painting presented becomes more than just a framed work of art when you know how and why it came about. for example, "the igorot culture" by jordan b. mang-osan looks pretty impressive by itself, but when you realize that the entire work is a solar painting, meaning, he used the sun and a magnifying glass to etch the image into marine plywood, and ended up with a large masterpiece, you start to marvel at the hard work and dedication, and you see the work in a completely different light.

the three-hour tour stops for a 15-minute break before you move into the national museum, that scary, old place where me and my classmates walked single file from room to room to view those creepy stuffed animals. today, this museum holds a good collection of artworks from renowned greats such as juan luna and felix resurreccion hidalgo, to creations done by modern, contemporary artists of today.

monobloc chairs were placed in front of the grand spoliarium, telling us that this is not going to be a quick lecture on the painting. true enough, silva explains the importance of the painting, the allegory, what the painter wanted to express, and how this incredible work of art spurred a domino effect that led to the philippine revolution.

after that, we went from room to room, and i realized, as silva explains, i also start to appreciate the layout of the paintings. how the placement of each work had a meaning, and of course, how i didn't see that the last time i was there.

at the end of the day, little bits of trivia are now ingrained in my head, such as "agrifina" stands for agriculture and finance, describing the two buildings facing each other in that circle in luneta. the agriculture building now houses the department of tourism, and the former finance building is now the home of the museum of the filipino people. i'm also pretty interested to read up on governor bustamante, who was killed by friars during the spanish colonial period, and the subject of a gigantic painting that stands across the spoliarium. thank god for the internet, finding out about these things is easier now. the trick is to just gain the interest, and have a good background, which i got today. :)

and it also makes me feel good, knowing i contributed to a great cause. john silva does these tours for his cause of teaching public school teachers about philippine art and history, to encourage them to impart the same knowledge to their students, and hopefully, also get them to bring the kids to the museum. targeting the problem at the root. :) i like it.

for those who are interested in taking the tour, the schedules for the month are on oct 8 and 29. you can check the schedules by texting john silva at 0926-7299029. you can read more about him and what he's up to over at john's thoughts and deeds.

view my photos of the national museum tour.


Anonymous said...

Hi there! I really enjoy reading your blog :) Hope you don't mind me linking it in mine. Thanks!


Anonymous said...

Cool pic of the Manunggul Jar. I am quite sad, though, that the original is in the National Musuem and not in its real home, in Quezon, Municipality in Southern Palawan. Instead a replica of the jar is stowed away in a small, dimly lit section in a National Museum "branch" in the town center. We were hoping that the National Museum would give enough funding for Quezon for security, so the Manunggul Jar can visit its home at last.

The Quezon locals are very proud of their history, especially of the Manunggul Jar find, and you can see the fierce pride in their faces when they talk about it. I actually enjoyed our talks more than the island-hopping and Tabon Cave tour. My ex-publisher was quite baffled when he read my Quezon travel piece and asked why I chose to focus more on the history than the tourist sites, hahahaha. He doesn't really get the coolness of travel narratives *winks*