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Loren on loving the native

February 4, 2015

Taking a break from sad, disheartening, infuriating and dismaying news, Sen. Loren Legarda, clad in a Mandaya blouse and ethnic jewelry, guested at yesterday’s “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel” and spoke about much more pleasant matters: the need to protect the environment (she chairs the climate change oversight committee in the Senate) and to promote and preserve indigenous culture.

True, these are not trivial concerns. The preservation of traditional crafts and arts, the senator stressed, is key not just to the development of local cultures but also to their economic uplift. “Culture can bring jobs and empowerment for rural women,” she declared, citing how, in visiting various trade fairs and exhibitions, she would be greeted by weavers, embroiderers, even entrepreneurs who proudly showed off their wares and proclaimed how the senator had helped them by funding their projects or even just simply encouraging them or getting them to network with appropriate government agencies.

Legarda spoke proudly of the selection of Dr. Patrick Flores, whose “curatorial proposal” was selected by a six-member board of jurors (three of them international) for the Philippines’ pavilion at the 56th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale 2015, a major global art event.

It’s a major accomplishment because the return this year of the Philippines to the Biennale marks an end to a 50-year hiatus from the international contemporary art scene.

Flores’ proposal, titled “Tie a String Around the World,” revolves around Manuel Conde’s 1950 film “Genghis Khan,” cowritten and designed by Carlos “Botong” Francisco and screened at the Museum of Modern Art and at the Venice Film Festival in 1952. It is culturally significant for us Filipinos because both Conde and Botong are National Artists.

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As designed by Flores, the Philippines’ booth will have the restored “Genghis Khan” as its centerpiece, and shown “in conversation” with the contemporary art projects of intermedia artist Jose Tence Ruiz and filmmaker Mariano Montelibano III.

As press material puts it: “The pavilion seeks to initiate discussion on the history of the sea and its relationship with the current world, claims to patrimony, and the struggle of nation-states over vast and intensely contested nature. It locates the Philippines in the world through its deep ties to ancient cultures, its precocious modern art, and the critical responses of contemporary art to present predicaments. Through the work of artists across generations, this history is told as a history of art and a history of the world.”

Legarda also spoke proudly of her collaborations with officials of the National Museum which currently houses an exhibit of indigenous textiles and weaving called “Hibla” (threads). Once located in a “tiny” room, “Hibla” has since been “promoted” to a much larger room, said the smiling senator, and has allowed her to bring in weavers and other artists to demonstrate their skills before the public.

In fact, recounted Legarda, during the visit of Queen Sofia of Spain, “she wanted to visit only one exhibit, and that was the one on ‘Hibla.’”

A walking “exhibit” herself of the continuing relevance and wearability of traditional clothing, Legarda spoke of her daily joy of “opening my closet and seeing the whole Philippines,” since she has a collection of clothes from all over the islands.

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This “passion” for indigenous clothes—the fabric, weaving, jewelry and accessories—is one she must have inherited from her mother Bessie and her grandmother, Legarda mused. “They had so many baro’t saya and I remember seeing them wearing these on special occasions.”

Her “passion” for age-old arts and crafts Legarda brings even to her outreach work, coordinating with Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) in setting up what she calls “schools of living traditions” to impart skills and techniques to younger generations. Also with Tesda, she has formed a “convergence group” composed of, among others, the Fiber Development Authority, the Philippine Textile Research Institute, and the Bureau of Domestic Trade to work with indigenous artists to codify the training curricula and source materials, including native plants to be converted into dyes.

With the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Legarda has also embarked on “heritage mapping,” which she describes as “food for the soul, feeding the stomach.” For starters, during the Christmas celebrations last year, the senator hosted a heritage lecture featuring Associate Professor Eric Zerrudo on “Heritage, Makakain ba ’Yan? (Can we Eat Heritage?)” It was there that Zerrudo emphasized the need for heritage mapping which, he said, should be “at the core of development… [starting] with awareness, then appreciation, protection, and finally, utilization.”

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In line with this, Legarda has filed a bill that requires the Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education and Tesda to “collaborate and work with the NCCA in implementing plans and programs that integrate and mainstream Philippine arts and culture.” She envisions schoolchildren knowing the history, heritage and artistic legacy of their hometowns, hoping this would somehow lead to greater appreciation and love for what makes us Filipinos.

Turning to matters environmental, Legarda spoke proudly of her son Lean’s accomplishments as a renewable-energy entrepreneur, with the 22-year-old embarking on his marketing of solar energy panels with such speed and alacrity that, she confessed, “I feel proud of, but am also anxious and scared” for him.

As for her political plans, Legarda said she will remain in the Senate until 2019 but has forsworn all other political ambitions which, she observed, has enabled her “to become better focused and to truly enjoy” her remaining years as a senator.

Source: Inquirer