I was invited to participate in a drawing exhibit at the University of the Philippines Vargas Museum. I don’t think I’ve ever drawn something this big. It was fun and liberating not having to worry about color.
“Masasabi na ang Infinito Dios o ang Nuno (katutubong Bathala ng mga Tagalog) ay ang henyo o galing ng mga Pilipino na napasok sa bato o anting-anting, na kailan man ay hindi nakapamulaklak at nakapanaig dahil sa kahirapan at kawalan ng kapangyarihan.”
– Nenita Pambid, “Anting-Anting: O Kung Bakit Nagtatago sa Loob ng Bato si Bathala”
I grew up listening to stories about anting-antings, sacred amulets that gave the wearer powers and protection. In movies, the actor Ramon Revilla popularized the idea of the anting-anting. I saw the old Ramon Revilla flicks on afternoon TV after coming home from school. There was Nardong Putik, the hoodlum turned folk hero in Revilla’s movies who became invisible when in contact with mud. I remember Kapitan Inggo, Kumakain ng Bala who made snacks of bullets. There were stories that you had to stand underneath a banana blossom (puso ng saging) at night while waiting for it open and eject a droplet of magical juice. The supplicant must catch the droplet in the mouth to receive magical powers.
My grandmother gave me a rosary and told me to keep it close like a sacred amulet. She had an old prayer book bound in black cloth, pages yellowed and smelling of age. And I imagined it to be an object of power, like an ancient book of spells. I took it to school and kept it in my pocket and I imagined it had magic.
In Quiapo, vendors sell amulets beside the Catholic Church. Supplicants touch the statues of saints with their handkerchiefs and rub it on their bodies as a kind of benediction.
The Filipino revolutionary Macario Sakay famously wore a vest with inscriptions as an anting-anting to ward of danger and harm. It didn’t work though; he was hanged by the Americans.
The idea of magical talismans permeates Filipino popular culture, even in our superheroes. Whereas, American superheroes were born out of science experiments, many Filipino superheroes possess magical objects that grant them powers. The superheroine Darna, who in her civilian guise is a crippled girl named Narda, accesses her powers by swallowing a rock that fell out of the sky. Then there’s Captain Barbell who transforms from his scrawny alter ego by lifting a magic barbell.
In the mythological landscape of the Philippines, it seems you can possess God through objects.
While preparing for my painting “Bathala sa Bato” (24 x 48 in., Acrylic on Canvas), I turned to Nenita Pambid’s book “Anting-Anting: O Kung Bakit Nagtatago sa Loob ng Bato si Bathala”
Scholarly research into anting-antings can be difficult to find. That’s why Pambid’s book is a gem.
Although it could have greatly benefitted from better production values and colored photos, it remains an interesting glimpse into the world of these mysterious amulets.
Books are receptacles of stories. They’re like sculptures of information – words and stories made into tangible objects. Books are also metaphors for people’s identities and memories. The pieces revolve around the idea of the breakdown of these identities and the slow dissolution of memories. Specific stories and personalities dissolve and run together. Singular identities lose cohesion until they become anonymous. The books try to depict that moment before all identity and story dissolves. In that moment, the object is in flux and becomes something new and different.
The Center for Art, New Ventures and Sustainable Development (CANVAS) will be launching another edition of the Romeo Forbes Children’s Story Writing Competition this year. I’m honored to have my painting chosen as the contest piece for this edition of the competition. The contest uses artworks as the inspiration or basis for all story submissions. This time around, the stories will be based on my painting. When a story is chosen, I will be illustrating the entire book based on the winning entry.
CANVAS actively promotes Philippine art and culture through exhibitions and collaborations with contemporary artists. One of its chief advocacies is the promotion of reading and literary in the Philippines. The stories and children’s books published by CANVAS are eventually given for free to children of distressed communities around the Philippines. Its goal is to provide 1 million books for 1 million children, and with each new CANVAS book, the organization draws closer to that goal.
The deadline for submission of entries is on October 16, 2015; Friday, 5:00 p.m. (Manila time). Details about the contest and how to enter can be found on Canvas’s blog or at their facebook page here. All inquiries should be directed at CANVAS since I’m only doing the paintings and I have no hand whatsoever with the rules.
Art Fair Philippines 2015 is happening in 9 days as I write this. I’m part of Canvas Gallery‘s Libro Exhibition, a group exhibit which features artworks inspired by books. I decided to make new book assemblages as my contribution to the show.
I have eight new pieces ready for exhibition. Here are some works-in-progress.
Art Fair Philippines is happening on February 5-8, 2015 at The Link carpark, Makati Avenue, Makati City.