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Let’s seize our place in the world

Legarda: We are ready to let the world hear our truths and our visions.

MANILA, Philippines - It is with pride and honor that I stand here today to announce that the Philippines will be part of the Venice Biennale for the third year in a row — 2015 was our comeback participation after 51 years of absence, 2016 was the first time we had a pavilion for the Architecture Biennale — and this year, the Philippine Pavilion will be mounted in the Arsenale, one of the main exhibition spaces of the Venice Biennale.

Allow me to narrate the history of our participation in the world’s oldest and prestigious international contemporary art platform.

In 1964, the Philippines first participated in the Venice Art Biennale through the efforts of the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP), featuring the works of Jose Joya, painter and multimedia artist, and Napoleon Veloso Abueva, sculptor, both of whom are now National Artists.

Then followed a long hiatus, 51 years to be exact, even as we have a wealth of very talented artists.

It only had to take one simple question to start the journey towards our long overdue return, “Why is the Philippines not in the Venice Biennale?”

It was a question I raised during the 2013 Senate hearing on the budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the cultural agencies of government.

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The answer was not due to lack of knowledge about the event, but more of how do we start, who will support and where will the resources come from.

The first challenge was funding. It was difficult because this was the time after Yolanda and the government had to be scrupulous with the use of funding. But investing in art is important. It is an investment in our people, our humanity, our spirit.

Eventually, we gained funding support from the government through the DFA. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the DFA and my office created the Philippine Arts in Venice Biennale (PAVB) Coordinating Committee to carry out preparations for the Philippine participation.

To cut the story short, we were able to mount the Philippine Pavilion in the 2015 Venice Art Biennale with the exhibit “Tie A String Around The World” curated by Dr. Patrick Flores and featuring the film Genghis Khan by the late national artists Manuel Conde and Carlos Francisco, multi-channel video “A Dashed State” by Manny Montelibano, and Shoal by Jose Tence Ruiz.

In 2016, the Philippine Pavilion presented Muhon: Traces of an Adolescent City in its inaugural participation in the Venice Architecture Biennale. It was curated by Leandro Locsin, Jr., Sudarshan Khadka, Jr., and Juan Paolo dela Cruz of the Leandro V. Locsin Partners (LVLP).

Both the 2015 and 2016 pavilions were mounted in the 18th century building, the Palazzo Mora.

As art is continuously evolving and we want to further promote Philippine art, we aimed to have a place among the other national pavilions.

This year, as we feature the works of Lani Maestro and Manuel Ocampo through The Spectre of Comparison curated by Joselina Cruz, the Philippine Pavilion will be located in Arsenale, the historic exhibition space of the Venice Biennale art platform.

Truly, we are gradually improving our place and we are able to better engage the world through our artists and the Philippine art.

But our greater vision is for our government to continuously support the development of Philippine arts and culture.

We must no longer put arts and culture, as well as heritage preservation, on the hindquarters of our nation building, because in truth, we are ready to let the world hear our truths and our visions.

Moreover, to enable art to flourish, we must look back on our past, our heritage. In our previous two pavilions, the curators both looked back — on the history of world-making in Tie A String Around The World, and on our built heritage in Muhon — and juxtaposed the past with the present, giving us lessons and allowing us to rethink of how we want our future.

In “The Spectre of Comparison,” we are once again brought back to the past through Jose Rizal. The exhibition looks at the two artists as emblematic of the experience of Rizal’s spectre of comparisons.

Through this exhibition, we hope to respond to the call of Christine Macel, the curator of the 57th International Art Exhibition, titled “Viva Arte Viva,” which she said is “an exclamation, a passionate outcry for art and the state of the artist. The role, the voice and the responsibility of the artist are more crucial than ever before within the framework of contemporary debates.”

In closing, I wish to thank the NCCA and the DFA for helping me realize my vision for Philippine art. I also thank the Department of Tourism for always lending its support to our participation in the Venice Biennale.

I have always envisioned the Philippines to engage in the global art conversation. Filipinos are talented and we have a rich history that has produced a very layered storyline for our country.

Our successful return to the Venice Biennale even after a long absence is proof that we always had our place in the world, we never lost it; we only have to be brave enough to seize it.

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