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Legarda: ‘The City Who Had Two Navels’ — A Great PH Contribution to Global Conversations on Art and Culture

May 26, 2018

Venice, Italy — After successfully returning to the global contemporary scene in 2015 through the Venice Art Biennale, the Philippines has since then continued to build up its contribution to the continuing global conversations on art and culture.

Senator Loren Legarda, the prime mover of the return of the Philippines to the Venice Biennale, praises this year’s exhibition, “The City Who Had Two Navels” curated by Dr. Edson Cabalfin in the Artigliere of the Arsenale, saying that this gives prominence to what the Philippines can contribute to ongoing global dialogue on art and culture.

The Philippines Pavilion has triumphantly held the Vernissage of its second participation in the 2018 Biennale Architecture on May 24 and is now ready to open its doors for the public to see how the installation related the Philippine built environment with the shaping of Filipino’s national identity.   The Arsenale is one of the main exhibition spaces of the Venice Biennale.

Legarda, in her speech delivered during the Vernissage, recalled how her seemingly impossible dream to bring back Philippine participation to a significant global cultural event finally became a reality. She said that the wealth of talent in the country was what pursued her to advocate for the return of the country in the prestigious contemporary art platform.

 “It was in July 2013 when I first asked the question: why are we not in the Venice Biennale? A small country of a million people like Maldives was here, the Olympics of Contemporary Art and which has been host to the best contemporary artist and curators, but the Philippines was conspicuously absent for more than 51 years. So with the wealth of talent, I thought that perhaps we should try to get government to support it. It took us 51 years of hiatus before we finally got back. I could still recall how we arduously — in the most challenging, difficult ways — went through the process of reviving the Philippines’ participation in the Venice Biennale,” Legarda said.

National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Chairperson, and Commissioner of the Philippine Pavilion, National Artist Virgilio Almario, expressed his compliments over the collaborative effort and passion of the advocates, artists and the national government to make Filipino art known to the world through this massive endeavor.

“I congratulate everyone who has supported and worked on this project. It started with the 51-year absence in the Venice Biennale and now we have continuous presence in the contemporary art platforms since our re-entry in 2015. What a wonderful space that we have built, a space that reflects the collaborative effort of the NCCA, the Department of Foreign Affairs, our dear Senator Loren Legarda, and the hard work and dedication of the cultural workers who have devoted themselves to this project,” Almario said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, for its part, acknowledged the significant role played by the Philippines’ participation in the Biennale in making the country visible in the global scene.

This year’s exhibition tackles how the Philippines’ colonial past and the neoliberal era that affect the urban landscape of the present societies work together to shape and alter the identity of the country’s built heritage and the culture of its people.

Dr. Cabalfin, curator of this year’s Philippine Pavilion, expressed that his intention in creating the concept for the installation is to provoke the spectators to indulge themselves in global interactions and subsequently, challenge the realities of their perceived identity.

“The idea of Two Navels in this exhibition talks about the forces of colonialism and neo-liberalism as they affect the Philippine built environment. My hope is that the Philippines will contribute to this conversation because colonialism and neo-liberalism are two forces that do not only affect the Philippines but also the world as well,” Cabalfin said.

“There are many perspectives here and not everybody might agree with each, but it is exactly what I want because that’s when the conversation begins. Oppositional ideas, differing opinions are necessary in creating a healthy and important discussion that will then, my hope is, to instigate change and I see this Pavilion as an instrument of change for hopefully better Filipinos,” Cabalfin added.

Legarda, who addressed the challenge of continuity in the Philippines’ participation in the Venice Biennale, said that the exhibition is not the end of this discussion, but rather the beginning of probably a lengthy and complex conversation.

The Senator added that the participation in this prestigious platform of art and culture says a lot about the Philippines as a nation, saying that “the presence of the country in the Arsenale is a testament to the Philippines being at the center of art and culture in the world.”

Legarda was joined by NCCA Chair and National Artist Virgilio Almario,  Philippine Ambassador to Italy Domingo Nolasco, and Dr. Edson Cabalfin during the Vernissage on May 24.  Other personalities who also graced the Vernissage were Fernando Zobel de Ayala and his family; Lani Maestro, a visual artist who participated at the 2017 Venice Art Biennale, and UP Professor Yason Banal, one of this year’s exhibitors who collaborated with Cabalfin.

The Philippine Pavilion is now on its second participation in the Venice Architecture Biennale, with “Muhon” as the first one staged in 2016.

This year, 63 National Pavilions participated in the Venice Biennale and are housed in historic Pavilions at the Giardini, the Arsenale and in other historic city centers of Venice. The Philippine Pavilion will be open to the public from May 26 until November 25, 2018.