Soul crafts
SECOND WIND - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura (The Philippine Star) - October 25, 2014 - 12:00am

At first I was thinking of going on opening day but something came up. So maybe on the following day, I could take my cousin visiting from Barcelona but then she got sick.  In the end I went on Sunday morning. I’m talking about the exhibit called Manila Fame 2014, the Design and Lifestyle Event. This year it was entitled Soul Crafts for All.

I walked through the second floor glancing only at displays that caught my fancy. Manila Fame offers you a wide range of designs from the very ordinary to the totally outré or very far out.  Some of the totally outré handbags I loved and 20 years ago I would have bought and carried to my dinners or nights at the CCP or other formal affairs. But now I am old. What would I do with those bags, the gorgeous jewelry created by artists but display them on a shelf in my closet? It’s not worth it anymore. But I am not the market for the designers. Their market is young, rich and successful, like me at my peak but not anymore.

A rather big display caught my eye. I saw a navy blue fabric with familiar frogs embroidered on it. Itneg, I thought, a hangover from my days as president of the Coca-Cola Foundation Philippines. Then we wanted to get involved in something Filipino. I thought of the revival of natural dyes and we found that they were still being used in Abra by the Itneg tribe. That’s why the frogs were familiar to me. Plus I have a special affection for frogs. All the men I thought were princes I kissed. They turned into frogs, part of my collection. I’m joking, of course.

 So I interviewed the ladies there. They told me Sen. Loren Legarda had funded their participation. They showed me how they had brought their crafts up to date. They had taken their ethnic beads and reproduced them in plastic. I bought those and will experiment with them in my earrings because they are plastic, light, not heavy on the ears. They can be modernized. The Itneg woman wanted me to buy more of her things but I thought I have a jacket, two sarongs with matching vests hanging in my closet unworn for years. I have several blankets and runners also.  I don’t need any more Itneg things. I purchased all these things at a time in my life when I was on the way up. Now I am on the way down. Now I have to consider to which daughter I will pass them on.

 But I was touched by their presence at Manila Fame because it showed me that little by little, very slowly the government was beginning to realize that our crafts are an integral part of our history and should be modernized and shown. They are part if being Filipino.

  I turned and saw the woven mats or banig. Three weeks before I had bought a banig to use as a carpet for my modern living room. I liked it because it had a straightforward geometric pattern, only two colors — navy and natural — and while it barely fitted, it fitted well enough. 

 There has been much development in banig. The designs are more sophisticated.  The sizes are bigger and different, some are like runners, some are round, and some are rectangular. I am so charmed by banig that I have two of them in my apartment — one in the living room and another in my bedroom under my desk. The banig that impressed me was made in Samar.

Then I went downstairs and walked through the furniture display. I saw a young woman wearing six-inch heels and looking very pained.  “Don’t your feet hurt?” I asked her.  “Yes, ma’am, but I need to wear them.” I looked at the display. An antique capiz divider, a dining room with six chairs of different designs, none matching except in the fabric upholstery, absolutely my kind of home.  The young lady told me this was the display from Ilocos Norte made possible by their governor Imee Marcos.  It was beautiful, traditional Filipino but with a contemporary twist.

 Finally I ran into a lady from whom I had bought a basket and those things you put under warm bowls of food maybe four years ago at her debut at FAME. She makes them out of newspaper folded and glued into interesting pieces.  I was so pleased to see her again with a wider variety of designs and colors. She was a perfect example of crafts, made from newspapers that ordinarily would be thrown away, very attractive and extremely sturdy. I bought more from her.

 In the end I thought this year’s Manila Fame was the best I had seen, and I have been going for many years. It showed me how our crafts have advanced from the old to the innovative and attractive without for one moment turning our backs on their value as part of our history.

 * * *

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