Loren Legarda: ‘Culture weaves us into one unbreakable fabric’

July 14, 2013

It now sits adoringly in one of my own bookshelves. Sandwiched between an old Amorsolo volume and non-fiction by Nick Joaquin. This thing. This thick navy blue book titled Philippines: An Archipelago of Exchange published by Actes Sud — a work put out to coincide with a historic exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris which culminates today, July 14.

The STAR was invited to the opening reception last April 8 of “Philippines: Archipel des échanges (An Archipelago of Exchange),” a landmark exhibition of pre-colonial Filipino artifacts and ancestral art co-curated by homegrown anthropologist Corazon Alvina, the consulting curator of the Metropolitan Museum in Manila, and French art historian Constance de Monbrison, who is in charge of Quai Branly’s insular Southeast Asia collections. The first exhibition of its kind in Europe, “Philippines: Archipel des échanges” presents four national cultural treasures (the Oton Death Mask; Palawan Zoomorphic Ear Pendant; Pendant flower, fragment of ear pendant with ring and quadrangular body; and the Maitum Anthropomorphic Burial Jar from South Cotabato) as well as more than 350 pre-colonial works — sculptures, pottery, textiles and personal ornaments. It was quite a feat to pull off. It would make any of our countrymen lucky enough to be in Camus land during the duration of the show proudly Pinoy.

The book — which catalogues the assorted histories of these treasures, as well as some behind-the-scenes insights about the staging of the show — was made possible with the support of Senator Loren Legarda.

“I first learned of this exhibition in 2010 from the French ambassador to the Philippines then, Ambassador Thierry Borja de Mozota, and was so excited to hear about it,” Legarda explains. “Stephane Martin, the president of the Branly, came to my Senate office and briefed me on the project. I later met Constance de Monbrison, the French curator of the exhibit and invited her and Cora Alvina, her co-curator, for a breakfast meeting on how I could help in any way. The suggestion of producing the English version of the book or catalogue came to be. Then in December of last year, I joined the public launch (at The Ayala Museum), when Stephane and Constance came to Manila.”

They came to the right person.

The Senator has undertaken a lot of projects in her role as one of the country’s cultural vanguards. She opened the Hibla Pavilion of Textiles and Weaves of the Philippines, a highlight of Manila FAME Design and Lifestyle Event in October 2012. She also collaborated with state universities in the Cordilleras in documenting indigenous forest conservation systems, such as the muyung in Ifugao, batangan in Mountain Province, imong in Kalinga, chontog in Benguet, lapat in Abra and lapat in Apayao. She organized the first National Indigenous Peoples Cultural Summit on Oct. 13, 2011. It was a forum which highlighted the need to support the IP’s in their efforts to have full mastery of and confidence in their cultural identity. All that and more.

“The Branly exhibit made me proud once again of the richness and diversity of our Filipino culture and heritage, which showed how developed our artistry was long before the arrival of (our colonizers),” she points out.

This is apparent when we journey from the highlands of the Cordilleras up north to the highlands of Mindanao and the various ethno-linguistic groups that populate these vast areas. Whenever the Senator herself visits a particular province, she always discovers marvels about our culture, with every visit leading to a discovery of our rich heritage — from intricately woven fabrics, cultural songs, chants and dances that narrate the story of our ancestors, to the distinct way of life that our indigenous peoples, who are our culture-bearers, strive to preserve. Essentials that tend to go unnoticed by most of us Filipinos who are strangers in their own estranged land.

“I truly am heartened by the deep appreciation and admiration of the French towards our indigenous culture. This appreciation has to be further cultivated among our very own people and I will continue to be relentless in my work towards this goal. I will endeavor to create a similar exhibition in the country when the collection is returned to the various institutions and collectors so that our people can witness for themselves the significance of these objects to our story as a nation and people. I will also help in the creation of folk art museums in every region and province and support initiatives for cultural preservation.”

And why — pray tell us, Madame Senator — should Filipinos care more about matters of art and culture?

“Because art and culture form our common ground as a people. We have to find that common ground so that we remain connected to one another, to find the essence of being Filipino. We have to know about and be proud of what we have and where we came from so that we can strengthen our unity. Otherwise, ‘Filipino’ will only be a citizenship and not a people with its own identity built by the knowledge, acceptance, and love for its heritage.”

Legarda plans on distributing copies of the book to all public libraries and state universities and colleges, which she hopes will allow more Filipinos especially our youth to discover the artistry and ingenuity of our ancestors and how our culture has been enriched by a history of openness and exchange.

“Our culture is our identity, it’s what makes us unique, distinct from other nations,” the Senator concludes. “You have to know where you came from to have a better understanding of what you want in life. In the same way, as a nation, we must know the ways of our ancestors — the way they lived, their practices and customs. Culture will tell us all about these things. Our culture weaves us into one unbreakable fabric that is the Filipino soul.”

Source: The Philippine Star