ART AND THE IGNORAMUS

June 30, 2006

We attended a lecture-forum on Historical/Cultural Heritage Preservation at the Holy Rosary Minor Seminary in Naga City. Lecturers were Aprill Tijam and Architect Michael Manalo. The event was well-attended by seminarians, rectors, academicians, architecture students, writers and historians.

Ms. Tijam of Ayala Museum talked about the role of museums in cultural and historical reclamation. We would learn that Ayala Museum, for one, borrows materials of Philippine origin from other countries in order to showcase them once again for the Filipino people.

Architect Manalo expounded on heritage architecture, looking at the semantic value of historical structures. For him these buildings articulate not only political but aesthetic history. He traces architectural designs as products of religion and culture. However, inter-cultural contact, even in the form of wars, would create a ‘mudejar’ or hybrid.

Recently there had been conflicts between heritage preservation activists and the ecclesiastical-secular power bloc as some parish priests and local officials are wont on defacing historical structures.

As our reaction, we saw the process of ‘mudejar’ as a continuing phenomenon. The determining aspects of hybridity being politics, commercialization and natural forces. We mused that among the three, natural forces seem to be the easiest to contend with than careless and whimsical members of the bureaucracy, whether ecclesiastical or secular. This time hybridity is not between two architectural styles, but between a finished work of art and an ignoramus. Needless to say, the results could be catastrophic.

As query, we asked Ms. Tijam to elucidate on some ‘ethical standards’, if there’s any, set by museums in acquiring artifacts and works of art coming from another culture. We noticed that some Bikol artifacts continue to be carted out of the region going to other museums.

She responded that there are standards and there are various factors as to why these artefacts leave Bicol. It could be that they are objects of theft or of merchandise.

For his part, Mr. Manalo explained that the so-called ‘ethical standard’ could be relative. It’s now between the ethical standard of the owner of the artifact and the buyer. He says that it would be better to have these artifacts kept in better equipped foreign museums.

And so it is an adoption case. The mother cannot take care of the child and so the state facilitates an adoption. Now this, I think, is only a temporary solution. It is even good to have them abroad for proper exposure. However, it is still best to have these artifacts back in our shores. The ultimate solution is to have a government and citizenry enlightened enough to care about Philippine history and cultures.   

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