Friday, September 11, 2009

Hefty sum for some and a shake-off feast: a talk show with three artists as Imelda reappears at the CCP

“Members of a militant teachers’ organization criticized on Wednesday [Sept. 2] the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP)’s planned gala tribute for former First Lady Imelda Marcos, saying it is an ‘utter disrespect’ for the Filipino people,” reported last Tuesday [Sept. 8], and said “the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) vowed to stage a protest rally on Friday [Sept. 11] during the invitational gala event in honor of Marcos, the founding chairperson of the CCP.”

     Update Sept. 11: “Flamboyant former first lady Imelda Marcos arrives at the government-run Cultural Center of the Philippines for a special ‘gala tribute’, held in her honour, in Manila on September 11, 2009 despite angry protests that the event should not go ahead.”—
     And as a way of reminding ourselves, we might be interested in re-reading novelist F. Sionil Jose’s letter to the CCP in August of 2008, explaining his reason for walking out of the “necrological services” [see Wikipedia entry on ‘Philippine English’ on the meaning of that phrase, eulogy actually] for composer and conductor Lucrecia Kasilag—click here

Well, . . . you know, modesty aside, I can only say it a hundred times. My blog post of last Thursday [Sept. 3] regarding the “five fruits of the nationalization of art” had blabbered so much already about these normal consequences, and cannot say anything more. As did other earlier blog posts here with the ‘art and the state’ label that have whispered quite enough warnings about more inanities to come at/from the CCP, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, or whatever else state institution for the arts, be it in the near or far future. What can I say? The CCP, the NCCA, and the nationalization of art by government and its willing subjects, is Imelda Marcos. Has always been, always will be. And even if this country by dint of a miracle (a nightmarish one, some say) is to fall into the hands of the Communists, wouldn’t the CCP and the NCCA then simply be tasting the other end of the same banana? Except that this time it’ll all be about social realism, away from the dictates of the present ruling parties’ standards of good and tolerable art. What can I say? I can only be tremendously honored by that guest appearance of my earlier blog on this subject which appeared in its entirety in a major online column.
     To bore you for a second, let me just narrate a bit of what happened. When Philstar Online critic-columnist Sylvia Mayuga read my blog essay of last week titled “Five fruits of the National Art tree,” she thought of making way in her online column so that that blog of mine can appear there, in her Only One World column (at as a guest column. She intimated to me this thought one day [afternoon of Sept. 3] and quickly notified me of its being “a go” the very next day [Sept. 4]. The streamlined version that finally appeared on can still be read here. Again, it was already quite an honor for me even just to be asked. And even before this guest appearance, in the preceding week, Ms. Mayuga had already generously featured my name—embarrassed and elated—in the concluding paragraphs of her column essay “New Morning for Inang Bayan” in a supposed exchange between “two young minds” contemplating the issues, the other mind being that of an Oxford University doctoral student of postcolonial literature and former CCP employee and member of the Gawad CCP committee, a mental warrior named Lila Shahani. (Ms. Mayuga also provided a link at her column to another blog of mine that she mentioned in this latter column, “Two fruits, one tree [or, why there is no such thing as a national artist],” and an attached interview with Ms. Shahani).
     Now, after those two Mayuga-column guestings, and after getting wind of a lot of comments supposedly addressed my way but not delivered this way (many not posted, in fact)—comments that were either in agreement or partial agreement or total disagreement with the essay, or even critical of the necessity of the essay in the heat of the moment of awaiting the results of a fight at the Supreme Court—I thought that I have written enough about the subject with those blog essays on the National Artist issue in this site (again, with the ‘National Artist’ “label”; in blog jargon, a “label” means “a subject or theme keyword assigned by the blogger to a set of articles or postings”). Yet, as I sense this will not just be another fleeting issue for the blogosphere chatter but something that might have to stay with us for a long, long time, to perhaps remind us to return to it again and again in the form of other Carlo Caparases and Cecile Guidote-Alvarezes and Imeldas, I thought I may give the issue concerning the inherent evil of a nationalized artistic culture just one more exposure . . . as I here make way in my turn (S. Mayuga-fashion) for the guest appearance of three Facebook friends of mine, each from a distinct representation in the visual arts, to have their say on the issue as moderated by me.

     One of our guests is Bob Bernardo A. Nuestro, a visual artist who—along with other independent artists—proudly runs a gallery called Artist-Run Independent Art Space and is the head of the painting department of the Philippine Women’s University School of Fine Arts. Our second guest is Ronald Achacoso, a quite articulate and subtle painter whose stark intelligent works often show at the West Gallery aside from Mag:net Gallery; Ronald was one of the Thirteen Artists Award grantees chosen by the CCP in the year 2000. Our third guest is Dulz Cuna, a restlessly independent painter from the Visayas, art events organizer, and humanities professor at the University of the Philippines in the Visayas, Tacloban campus.
     So, without further ado, let’s go to our guests. Welcome, guests.

# # #

JSV: Bob, Ronald, Dulz. Could you tell us of any experiences you've had regarding state sponsorship of your art, if any, whether through the CCP or the NCCA or any other government institution?
     Bob Bernardo A. Nuestro: I have no experience with state sponsorship because I’m not comfortable with having to deal with these institutions, although I have some friends there. That is why my gallery is called Artist-Run Independent Art Space [ARIAS]: we are independent, we never ask support from the NCCA.
     Ronald Achacoso: I received a modest grant in 1988 to do a large-scale painting at the CCP. I enjoyed that project. I had the energy then to do very ambitious works and I thought Judy Sibayan, who was Officer-In-Charge at the time, did a good job following up and corresponding with the artists. I was nominated a couple of times for the Thirteen Artists Award and finally received it in 2000. Very political, and I was the token representative at the time of the “unanointed” crowd. I filled up the walls with drawing exercises on paper—cost almost next to nothing—and I think it was an issue of sorts: people were ribbing me about what I did with the money. I think if they give you a cash award it should really be up to you what you want to do with it. Pero yung parang bibigyan ka ng award, tapos you have to prove you deserve it? Ano yon?
     Dulz Cuna: As an artist and cultural worker, the main feeling I get is the alipin saguiguilid (slave in the corner) effect. They use me to get this and that, research on this and that, paint this and that—honestly, I get the preemption that I am some Indio Cinderella and my sovereign rights are in the coffers of a wicked Stepmother. I remember a long time ago, when I helped out in CCP’s Museo ng Kalinganan by bringing their Outreach people to the Orasyon tattoos in Olegario Larrazabal’s warlord fiefdom, an island called Gayad, the barangay started teaming up with folk religious cults and mambabarangs (black magic/witchcraft practitioners) that I feared for my dear mental life torn between the sacred and the profane. . . . Some articles and data were gathered (which I could not include in my paper, for it was sacredly and gingerly possessed by the Museo) and bagged, to my dismay, because it was “guests first,” you know what I mean? Well, when the Museo opened I saw my name in a 10 pt.-font typeface in the Acknowledgements section, among many others in a brochure, as boon. . . . Another one. When the NCCA launched “Sambayan” (National Arts Month), my fellow visual artists and I individually made long paintings for our (Leyte) provincial stage. . . . Ms. Guidote-Alvarez (director of the NCCA) was impressed by them and she “borrowed” the nice ones and brought them to Manila. When we asked the provincial government later where the other painting banners were, they told us Ms. Alvarez did not return them. . . . There are many other experiences where I felt the alipin syndrome, if I enumerate them all I warn this reply won't be short and sweet. . . .
     JSV: Well, do you think private sponsorship is better?
     BBAN: It’s better. Private sponsorship is more businesslike and professional; you must really have good ideas for the sponsor and, of course, for the artists themselves.
     RA: Not in a position to say, really; depends on who’s giving it and for what purpose, I guess.
     DC: I can’t judge yet. This alipin syndrome with the government system that stocks me with projects that I missed the Metrobank, AAP, Shell etc. art contests, robbing me of time and eligible age for joining . . . and now there’s the Philip Morris Philippine Art Awards Competition . . . I’ve got to . . . I’ve got to.
     (giggles from everyone)
     JSV: But don’t you think everyone who got a grant deserved it, or at least one you know who got one?
     BBAN: No, I don’t believe they deserve it; it’s all from the same kami-kami, tayo-tayo, connect-connect thing. Except for a few, maybe. Maybe?
     RA: Obviously not. I said I would join the funeral march for the National Artist of the Philippines title award if the most vociferous awardee were inside the coffin himself. I kind of like the idea that Carlo Caparas’ winning is there to agitate. Anyway, the National Artist award is a relic of a fascistic regime that has seen better days and I sincerely believe we should lay this award to rest, Caparas or no Caparas. Essentially the same thing with the other minor awards. Masyado tayong pang-award mentality.
     JSV: Dulz? Don’t you think everyone who got a grant deserved it?
     DC: No!
     JSV: So, what do you have to say about the CCP?
     BBAN: The same. CCP is politically manipulated. Even the succession is blurred, not published. Politics in art is natural; it is part of some people’s survival tactics to eke out a living.
     RA: CCP is a mausoleum more than anything. It even looks like one. It failed to fulfill its role and it needs the artists to validate it instead of the other way around. It’s a non-entity. In the ’80s it still retained some prestige, but the signs of erosion and decay were already there.
     DC: Launder the Imeldific diaspora that seems to be seeping out of the Center stealthily!
     JSV: And the NCCA?
     BBAN: The same. They are all just easily manipulated by active professional parasite artists into giving the latter government money.
     RA: I know nothing about it. I’ve met some people who get to show here and there because of it, they seem to be nice and all that but not very intelligent.
     DC: Don’t handle Artist or Culture awards. Be sentinels in the ramparts instead and leave us to be Rapunzels swinging by our hair in our Ivory Towers like in a mad Cirque de Soleil!
     JSV: So, how do you get funding for your art?
     BBAN: I get funding from my collectors from our gallery, they are all private citizens but always have a concern for the development of art.
     JSV: How ‘bout you, Ronald?
     RA: Now that’s a big problem.
     JSV: Dulz?
     DC: The parian or tabo (tiangge) system with my fellow visual artists (from the VIVA, MAWF, TIVA, KANSIAGU collectives); we paint, sell, and put aside funds for materials . . . or write friends abroad, sell online, market, mountebank, etc. . . .
     JSV: Do you feel comfortable about your fellow artists getting funding from the government while you don’t?
     BBAN: I do not feel comfortable with that, with those professional applicants for all available grants and residencies, because their body of works can’t settle on real art statements. Instead, they live their artistic lives like parasites. Some suck out government funding for, say, critiquing the government! With this last type, it is all part daw kuno of post-modernist discourses, which is actually creating false myth-making and just manipulating the thick-skinned government funding agencies like the NCCA to give them money. Getting funding from the government is OK if the artist is really creating significant work, but in my twenty years in the art scene I have not seen any significant exhibition funded by the NCCA. Or maybe I am not aware of any.
     JSV: Ronald?
     DC: (shrugs)
     JSV: What about you, Dulz, were you comfortable with your getting funding from the government, fully aware that some of your peers didn’t?
     DC: Nope. That DARN LIQUIDATION scares the itch mites off our pores! And the Commission on Audit rushes after us with a Beeeeg Steeeek!
     JSV: Would you say you’re against it, then, this government funding for the arts?
     BBAN: I am against the government’s funding of exhibiting artists or professional artists. I’d be okay with funding for students, those who really study art. I am the head of the painting department of the PWU SFAD. . . . I believe institutions like schools of fine arts should be the ones funded, along with students considered as marginalized.
     RA: Can’t really say I’m against it but really think I could use their money.
     DC: Not really; we like the allocation part. But I remember the time when we had the fluvial festival regatta contests in Tacloban—the “Layag (Sail) Painting Contest” had a cash prize of P5,000, while the banqueros racing with the sails had P20,000 to boot. When we questioned the disparity, the government organizers said: “But you are just painting! They have to row the boat!” Ergo, there should be an intrinsic system for grants and allocations.
     JSV: Bob, youve never had any state-supported art made, but don’t you sometimes wish you had?
     BBAN: I wish I had but it must be more businesslike. It’s like commissioning, for—say—public art or socially-concerned works.
     JSV: Ronald, wouldn’t you want to have another shot at state-supported art? As you said, you could really use their money.
     RA: Some people have the talent or tenacity to avail of these things. I’m not one of them.
     JSV: Dulz, you wouldn’t mind, would you?
     DC: Yeah, well, we were jealous when our good friend Nemiranda of Angono, Rizal had landmark edifices made in Tacloban and was paid a hefty million sum. We felt slighted ’cause we have good sculptors in our group, so why naman didn’t our local government support us and instead gave the award to an out-of-towner? No offense meant to Ka Nemi, blinow-out naman kami, hehehe.
     JSV: To shake you off, huh. [FIN]

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