Purita’s informal registers
(The Philippine Star) - January 31, 2016 - 9:00am

Thick, green and oversized with crisp, brown pages, ends spilling out all soft and curved up like your favorite novel — Purita Kalaw-Ledesma’s bulging scrapbooks are dense and eclectic stores of Philippine art. They include hundreds of newspaper and magazine clippings, letters (both personal and “official”), journal-magazine covers and illustrations, comics, photographs, jottings, invitations, excerpts, photocopies of artworks, society pages, notes and fragments of advertisements. It’s impossible not to feel overwhelmed.

Spanning a remarkable 52 years, from 1948 — the year Purita founded the artists’ organization “Art Association of the Philippines” (AAP), the first of its kind in the country — to 2000, the scrapbooks constitute an unofficial sketch of the times; an informal register of thoughts and things.

Eighty-two of these obsessive and playful volumes exist and have recently been digitized by the Purita Kalaw-Ledesma Center. The Center is a resource hub initiated by the Purita Kalaw-Ledesma Foundation Inc.’s president Ada Mabilangan. It comprises a library of rare books and posters, a digital archive of the scrapbooks and a modest exhibition space.

The inquisitive will find, among Purita’s adventitious and wide-ranging collection, the first, second and third drafts of The Struggle for Philippine Art (the immensely influential memoir where Purita, as chronicler, and Amadis Ma. Guerrero, vividly recall the formation of the AAP and the confluent sway of modernism in painting in the country); a catalogue of the 64th Venice Biennale (the first time that the Philippines participated in the exhibition); a Nora Daza-esque cookbook of family recipes; and some precious, few copies of publications such as Art and Culture of the Philippines.

Mabilangan says that the idea of creating a space for research and archiving was brought about by the desire to contribute to an already frenzied, super-commercialized art scene. Launching the center through an archive, she thought, would be an interesting intervention, one that could potentially allow for a certain degree of reflexivity within the current landscape of art where aggressive endorsements of status and value abound — whether by way of the individual, the institution or the market.

The process of archiving is subjective interpretation, an imperfect conglomeration that seeks to consolidate knowledge and lay down order; which is exactly what makes archives such unique and fascinating projects. It is through their admitted vulnerability that one is able to find fissures, openings and opportunities. Their particularity tears them from official and authorized texts. Histories are made a little less impenetrable. Weighty things turn wobbly.

This undertaking of accumulation is a refreshing facture in a time when so many ideas have already been editorialized and decided for us, and favored voices seem to sound louder and better than the rest. Purita’s imaginative conjectures — through her writings and the materials she collected — provide us with some semblance of groundwork, “something to sharpen (ourselves) against.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, archives are meant to be contagious. Each time an archive is established a seam is exposed, and we are called upon to examine it and pick it apart. We are also reminded of how we are capable of making our own alternative associations, how we can choose what we think deserves to be remembered: it is only important that we begin.

* * *

The Purita Kalaw-Ledesma Center will be inaugurated tomorrow together with the opening of “Encourage and Opportunity,” an exhibition of works by Juvenal Sanso and select pieces from the Kalaw-Ledesma Collection. The center will be open to the public beginning Feb. 4. 

Access to all materials is free but an appointment is necessary. The center will be open Mondays to Fridays, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. It is located at the 8th Floor of the KL Tower, 117 Gamboa Street, Legaspi Village, Makati City. To set an appointment, call 843-2696.

The digital archive of the scrapbooks may also be accessed through the National Gallery of Singapore (NGS). For information, call the center or email kalawledesmagroup@yahoo.com.

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