Intramuros is a new haven for Philippine arts and culture

PASSAGE - Ed Maranan (The Philippine Star) - December 17, 2012 - 12:00am

So many activities have been taking place at the historic Intramuros  the old walled city within Manila  during the past several months, under its new administrator, Jose A. Capistrano Jr., who’s also the executive director of the National Parks Development Committee. 

I first met Jose “Junjun” Capistrano Jr. when we both worked for the DOT Secretariat set up to oversee the running of the Philippine Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. He was then in charge of the construction of the Pavilion, seeing to it that the vision of the planners was carried out in the execution of the design and showcase.

For almost two years now, Junjun Capistrano as Intramuros administrator has been in charge of restorations, renovations and innovations within the walled city, as the place continues to undergo the long-running process of reconstruction and rehabilitation since the post-war period. Well-known is the story of how the formidable walled enclave, for centuries the symbol of colonial pomp and power and the seat of the political and ecclesiastical rule over the archipelago, was thoroughly devastated by American shelling as the liberation forces sought to exterminate the remnants of the Japanese army holed up in the buildings.

The most popular section of the walled city, Fort Santiago, where we find the Rizal Shrine, has been reopened and turned into a venue for artists to hold their meetings, sketching sessions, and art exhibits. In fact there is now a group calling itself the Intramuros Visual Artists of the Philippines (IVAP) which has been collaborating with the IA on projects promoting Philippine culture, such as the First Intramuros Arts Festival held for several days in November. This also had the participation of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).  The program included an exhibit of paintings, sculptures and mixed media works by at least a hundred artists, both established and newly emerging art enthusiasts at the rebuilt Maestranza by the Pasig River, an imposing concrete and brick structure costing several hundred million pesos made possible by a grant from Japan. Its series of airy vaults served as separate exhibit halls for the many artists who participated in the two-week show.  Among the familiar names were painters Nemesio Miranda, Edgar Talusan Fernandez, Rafael Pacheco, and sculptors Ral Arrogante and Jose Datuin. 

The Maestranza, the first structure in the walled city that you come upon if you’re travelling by jeepney from Liwasang Bonifacio along the Pasig River route, is being eyed as the centerpiece for a sprawling park and promenade which will host shops and boutiques, restos and cafés, with the old world ambiance emphasized by streetlamp posts. 

The opening day of the FIAF also featured six higantes or giant, bigger-than-life papier mache skirted male and female figures carried aloft by bearers inside the structures. It was a fitting prelude to the actual Higantes Festival in the Rizal town of Angono where the figures are crafted as part of the traditional celebration of its fiesta on Nov. 23 in honor of San Clemente. Angono of course is now famous as an artists’ community and cultural center, boasting of at least two National Artists as natives of the place, the great muralist Carlos “Botong” Francisco and composer Lucio San Pedro. The president of IVAP, painter Nemesio Miranda, who signs as Nemiranda, is himself from Angono who has inspired a new generation of visual artists steeped in the folk tradition of painting.

Maestranza was host not only to a folk festival and an art exhibit, but also to a lecture on the second day by erstwhile CCP visual arts coordinator Karen Flores (who famously resigned amidst the toxic atmosphere created by conservatives’ opposition to Mideo Cruz’s iconoclastic exhibit on Filipino religiosity). Now a leading convenor of the Filvadro — the Filipino Visual Arts and Design Rights Organization Inc. Their mission is straightforward: “Under existing laws and treaties on Intellectual Property, FILVADRO administers and enforces the copyright of visual artists and designers over their artistic works.”

Flores discussed the resale rights, economic rights, and moral rights that all visual artists are entitled, and this vast panoply of entitlements cover percentage of gross proceeds from the sale or rental of original works, and the payment of licensing fees in case of reproductions “even if the artist has sold, donated, or leased the artwork.” The FILVADRO is not just an advocacy group, but a registered organization recognized and supported by, among others, the Confederation of International Societies of Authors and Composers, the well-established Filipino Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (FILSCAP), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines, the NCCA and the CCP.

The Flores lecture over, I went over to the sprawling Maestranza field where, on a concrete wall, a vast mural about six by six meters was taking shape as a team of painters from IVAP took their turns in completing an idealized representation of the environment with the iconic Mariang Makiling figure at the center of this dreamscape. The other wall right beside it, a smaller space, was beginning to fill up with symbolic figures as another team of artists worked to create yet another collective vision of what constitutes Filipino culture.

From morning till late afternoon, the Maestranza was swarming with excitable grade school and high school students, listening to art lectures or doing impromptu drawings on their sketchbooks, while older more subdued fine arts students were slumped on a grassy rise outside the entrance, doing on-the-spot oeuvres.

The afternoon program was highlighted by a finger-painting demonstration by the durable Maestro of Morong, Rafael Pacheco, whose public appearances have become rarer as advancing age and poor health take their toll on the artist, but he still manages to awe onlookers with a 15-minute virtuoso performance, albeit with shaking hands, of creating luminous underwater seascapes with acrylic colors and his bare hands. He thrives on the hope that someday, the folk artists of Rizal and other places will take up where he leaves off.

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