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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

entry arrow11:17 PM | “Mag-mugna Ta!”

... Because that was how it really was, in the beginning, when Dessa Quesada-Palm — Dumaguete’s transplanted resident theater maven and tireless cultural worker — gathered a group of local artists and culture advocates (among them, Glynda Descuatan, Ronnie Mirabuena, Sharon Rose Dadang-Rafols, Jean Cuanan-Nalam, Joji Benitez, Ditz Villas, Nicky Dumapit, Claudio Ramos, and yours truly) last January, and gave us what could be the equivalent of that great grade school staple of “Let’s put on a show!”

The plan was to gather, as much as possible, all cultural groups mushrooming in their secret corners all over the province, and put them together during one week of intense celebration of the arts—from dance to music, from literature to the visual arts. Thus was Kisaw 2009 born—a “pasundayag sa bulan sa sining.”

“Mugna” seemed the right tag line to describe the endeavor. It is the Cebuano word, after all, for “create,” but the word has also—of late—taken this street lingo connotation of friends gathering together to create something, anything in the spirit of fun, and in the light of communal effort. “Mag-mugna ta!” sounded like a spirited battle-cry, with the benefit of a smile and a wink.

But why exactly put on a show? Because February was National Arts Month—and it was becoming too strange to note that, no matter how much we hype Dumaguete City as the “Cultural Center of the South,” the city—and in a larger context, the province of Negros Oriental—had yet to undertake something as culturally all-encompassing as this particular celebration.

The rest of the country—particularly in stronger cultural centers such as Manila, Cebu, Davao, and Baguio—has been celebrating it for almost every year of the past decade, courtesy of the provisions of Proclamation No. 683, which has declared February of every year as National Arts Month. It is an official recognition of the role of the arts in reflecting, affirming, critiquing, and shaping our society—and, Dessa tells us, “it is a time when artists can take claim on public spaces, to engage with each other and with its communities, to create.”

Thus was Gihay Artists in Action, or GAIA, born—the new collective of local artists that was, and still will, spearhead the local effort to make art matter in the community. Its creed for the year: “We, artists from the disciplines of the visual arts, music, literature, dance, and theater, wish to contribute to celebrating the wealth of Philippine culture and arts and work on the theme ‘Art is a Right.’ Can you imagine a world without music, no poetry nor movement, no drama and the richness of the palette? Art is a right, almost in the same breath as the right to express and create. We envision a week, from February 22nd to the 28th, gathering artists from the city and beyond, a week exploding with performances, exhibits, workshops and forum, exploring and expounding on the various perspectives and understanding of art as a right.”

Because art is truly a right—something that only the most pedestrian cannot understand. And art truly has a function to fulfill as a beacon for the development in any community, something I have already explored in previous columns. For the most part, the GAIA group’s push to do something of this magnitude is encapsulated in America’s Public Broadcasting Service’s acknowledgment of its cultural advocacy: “For art is, at its core, about true freedom, about untrammeled speech, unbridled expression of the spiritual and the relentless search of conscience. Art explores our every corner—high, low, sublime and sorry alike; it is the mirror of humanity. And we have come to see cultural democracy as a right, just like economic and political democracy. It is a right that can be the foundation of change, wherein self-expression is a prerequisite for self-empowerment. In that sense, then, human rights, is at the core of artistic practice, in all its difference and breadth.”

The past week the, has been an exploration of art in public spaces, using the parks, the tempurahan, the boulevard, the kampanaryo, the wet markets, and the streets as venues for the arts to engage with the people.

In Tayada Kada Adlaw sa Parke, we took note of Tayada sa Plaza as having been the sole cultural showcase of the City of Gentle People, regularly featuring amateur and professional performances of talents. For Arts Week, various performing groups from all over Negros Oriental—including Youth Advocates of Theater Arts (YATTA), UGKAT, Silliman University Kahayag Dance Troupe, the Silliman University Campus Choristers, Asyano, as well as dance troupes from St. Paul University Dumaguete and Negros Oriental State University—gathered together in the heart of Quezon Park in Dumaguete, for a week of drama, dance, and music, in a public celebration of the cultural heritage of the city and the province.

For Balak ug Balitaw sa Tempurahan last Friday, we paid tribute to Dumaguete as a literary capital of the Philippines. Acclaimed writers and lovers of the literary arts from all over Negros Oriental gathered together at the junction of Silliman Hall and the Tempura Area of the Boulevard to give a spirited rendition of Cebuano poetry and balitaw (courtesy of Enriquita Alcaide and Veronico Duran), with a sprinkling of Cebuano love songs from some of the best local talents.

For Hugis ug Dibuho sa Boulevard, the visual arts heritage of the province was showcased in a public art exhibition by some of the best artists in Negros Oriental, including Sharon Dadang-Rafols, Razceljan Salvarita, Susan Canoy, Jana Jumalon, Amihan Jumalon-Fernandez, Jutze Pamate, Yvette Malahay-Kim, and Babu Wenceslao.

For Huni ug Sayaw sa Kampanaryo last Wednesday, local music took a boost in a spectacular concert of some of the best musical groups and singers of the city, including Kwerdas, Quddus Ronnie Padilla, Earnest Hope Tinambacan, Sharon Dadang-Rafols, Kakay Pamaran, Naddie Orillana, and others.

For Puting Tabil sa Tiangge, cinema—long considered as the favorite entertainment mode of Filipinos—was taken to the more public realm in a rare showcase of the best of Filipino short films, projected on the walls of Building II.

For Hinabi sa Sidlakan, renowned composer, theater director and impresario Gardy Labad, now of Bohol, shared his wealth of experience and wisdom on the topic “Art is a Right: Examples of Bohol People’s Organizations Initiatives in Sustainable Tourism” at the Sidlakang Negros.

It was a veritable celebration of our artistic wealth—a good enough beginning for what is hopefully an annual celebration locally. Good enough, even with its marvelous kinks, given that this was conceived on the fly, and with absolutely no budget or institutional sponsorships—only magnificent scruples and a great love for culture by all those who participated.

In behalf of everybody in GAIA, I would like to thank everybody for making Kisaw 2009, our Arts Week in Dumaguete, a success. Here’s looking forward to Kisaw 2010.

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