Friday, July 29, 2022
6:30 PM |
The Ungentle City
Sometime ago, a friend of mine who is a writer decided to decamp to Dumaguete to live—if only for a few years. [That was the plan; it was nothing permanent.] A native of Zamboanga, she had been living in Quezon City for some time and soon came to Dumaguete to be part of the Silliman University National Writers Workshop. Like others before her, she was immediately besotted with the place. So when her brother decided to pursue college at Silliman, she took that as a chance to make Dumaguete home as well—and in 2019, she moved.
She tweeted the following on the day she settled in: “Hello, sea! Hello, mountain! Hello, trees! Running on zero sleep and basically a bag of emotions today, but boy oh boy, this view from earlier [shows a photo] made me all the more smitten with this place.”
This is not the first time we’ve known this to happen. It’s almost a phenomenon—and us locals even have a word for it: “na-dagit.”
It means, of course, “kidnapped”—but one of the more benign and gentle variety. It is a take on the fabled origins of Dumaguete’s name. Legend has it that Dumaguete’s name came from the marauding expeditions of pirates from the South, who regularly pillaged villages around the Visayas and took as slaves their inhabitants. This was during the Spanish colonial period. [While history tells us these raids certainly happened, they mostly came as a response to Spanish incursions into Muslim Mindanao. History also tells us that a village called Dumaguet already existed, with the name pre-dating the pirate raids which reached its peak in the 18th century, spurred by the great market demand for slave labor for the Dutch East Indies. But all this deserves space for another article.]
This time around, however, we have turned around that terrible association with “kidnapping” into a kind of marketing ploy: to “dagit” now means to charm Dumaguete’s visitors enough that they decide to stay for good. Na-dagit.
This actually has so many anecdotal bases. I know a friend who was on his way to Manila from Mindanao, and when his boat docked for a few hours at the Dumaguete pier, he decided to go around the city—after which he went back to the boat, took his bags, and settled in Dumaguete for good. (He’s still here.) I know of another friend who went for a scuba diving vacation in Siquijor, passing through Dumaguete only to get to the airport and then home to the U.S.—but something about the place charmed her so much that she moved her entire family from America and settled in Dumaguete for good. I know of another friend who came to Dumaguete to visit his best friend—and soon found himself building a house overlooking Sulu Sea somewhere in Siaton.
These are stories we have taken to be regular fodders when we talk about our origins as Dumaguetnons—and chances are your parents or your grandparents were langyaw as well, settling into Dumaguete after studies in Silliman or after being assigned here for work—and now they and their offsprings are Dumaguetnons through and through.
There is much to love about Dumaguete—but truth to tell, there is also much to dislike. The City of Gentle People, alas, is not always so gentle.
Off the top of my head, I hate most the following things:
 The brownouts.
 The unbelievably high rentals—which rival that of more industrialized cities like Cebu.
 The over-abundance of expats.
There are other things I also dislike, but these take the cake.
But to go back to my writer friend. She posted something else on Twitter only a year ago: “Two years in and I’m no longer smitten with this place. Right now, it’s a mixture of love, hate, and righteous anger. Been writing about this place a lot—or at least been trying to—and it’s just incredibly challenging oscillating between introspective tenderness and fits of vituperative rage. Haaaaay, Duma.”
To be honest that made me laugh. Because it fits exactly one of the developmental stages of becoming Dumaguetnon, especially if one is a langyaw newly-migrated to the city.
First, there is the stage of pure love and affection. Everything is charming, everything is easy and cultured, everything is only ten minutes away. Second, there is the stage of gradual disillusionment. Everything is suddenly a chore, and sometimes—especially if you’re considered a nuisance by the locals—there is pushback. [You will find yourself shunned.] Third, there is the stage of rage or resignation. Most langyaw who cannot assimilate truly leave Dumaguete at this stage; some do come to love the city for real, but they know they must leave it to truly become themselves. And then fourth, there is the stage of becoming a settled contented cow. You have truly become a native, and while you see the flaws of living in Dumaguete, you’re looking at everything with rose-tinted glasses.
I remember reading this blistering Philippines Free Press article on Dumaguete from 1969, written by the great Kerima Polotan, who was briefly a resident—and I love its candor:
“Dumaguete City is described by its radio station as ‘the city of gentle people.’ The presence of Silliman University is its one claim to fame; visitors like the Luces and the Rockefellers drop in, and the university is constantly rolling out the red carpet for some foreigner who, given his hot bath and his coffee promptly, might just leave a donation. Few seashore towns can match its beaches, the gray-blue-green scene across Tañon Strait, and the cross above the Santander town church in Cebu that you can see when there is no mist.
“The city has all the virtues and the drawbacks of the small town, a warm and generous people, but at the same time, a parochial mind, a pharisaical touchiness, a country-cousin kind of conceit, insulated against the rest of the world by a smugness deeper and broader than the sea around it. What saves Manila from being swept under by its filth is the irreverence of its inhabitants, its people’s willingness to question the demigods, and to be disenchanted. Manila survives its seasonal circuses and grows hardier than ever because it is not so touchy it cannot meet the antics of clowns like Antonio Villegas with therapeutic laughter.
“But the small town can’t do this. It is not capable of this kind of healing humor. Dumaguete hardly ever laughs at itself—if it did this, it would never recover. It takes itself very, very seriously. At any one time, there are seminars, forums, and workshops going on about demography, food production, manuring, modern math, history—things like those—but the town itself manifests a squeamishness about taking a long hard look at its own backyard. Anything that doesn’t smell of the status quo is rejected posthaste; anyone who disturbs the status quo is suspect; and the stranger who doesn’t do what the well-mannered guest is supposed to do—pat the horses, walk through the park, socialize—is marked for the butcher’s block.
“There is, among many, this pathetic ache to belong socially, to be counted as one in the elegant circle, to say and do only what will not bring one social disgrace, to speak softly and walk gently around and about the rich and the powerful, lest they shake their coattails at you. It matters little if the rich are rapacious, and the powerful are conscienceless: if they run for congress and are elected, they are ‘vindicated’ enough.”
Ouch. But I love this glorious, no-holds-barred read. It’s fundamental in our seeing this city in another light.
I’d like to quote another writer who also grappled with the same love/hate relationship with Dumaguete. The fictionist Timothy Montes, who hails from Eastern Samar, lived in Dumaguete in his youth, studying Biology at Silliman University, began pursuing his literary career here, and taught for sometime here as well—until he bolted for Davao City in the late 1990s. For the Sillimanian Magazine, he wrote an essay about why he “hated” Silliman—but in my quote, I’m going to replace “Silliman” here with “Dumaguete,” because the impression is really the same:
“[Dumaguete] is a beautiful place—so silent, so profound, so…dull. I hate [Dumaguete] for this poetic beauty, which so distracts us from intellectual verve and dampens our spirits into slothful dreariness as we watch each leaf twirl to the ground; listen to God in the silence of trees; and abstract the reality of our lives as we grapple with the historicity of each tree bark. Every day has a dramatic atmosphere of sad farewells. Lovers thrive on these farewells, and we listen to the dull echoes of our laughter in the cocoons of our rooms…
“Nothing happens. The [newspaper] can’t find enough dogs bitten by men, everybody knows everybody, and one resorts to gossip in the face of the uneventfulness of leaves falling to the ground. / Still, when one says goodbye, one never really leaves the place. The mild sadness grows within you and when you ask yourself what makes you hang around this place transfixed in time, you realize the irony of leaves falling to the ground.
“I love [Dumaguete]; that’s why I hate it. Like leaves falling to the ground, we are suspended in mid-air, and never quite reach the ground until we learn to despise it.”
Do you despise Dumaguete? How much?
Labels: dumaguete, life, writers
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Thursday, July 28, 2022
11:22 PM |
In Dumaguete, The Arts Flourish Part 8: Two Artists
It is not like art-making in Dumaguete has only now began to stir.
The thread of this series on Dumaguete art has always been about how it has thrived, despite the raging pandemic that continues to bedevil and challenge us to this day. The series has followed the string of openings of local galleries that found remarkable footing in the pandemic, and which have now come to shape how much Dumaguete makes, appreciates, and consumes art.
Young Dumaguete artists are coming into their own with astonishing fervency, more in control of the direction they want their art to take—making crucial professional stakes that, upon close scrutiny, were often brought about by realizations they have made about themselves during the lockdown.
Exhibits and performances outside of the academic ghetto, which used to control our cultural calendar, have now become staple fare for culture-hungry Dumagueteños, with new avenues opening up to replace the shuttered spaces the city’s universities used to provide. This is a seismic development, truth to tell.
And new cultural rituals are now being fostered among the locals: gallery-hopping, for example, has suddenly become a “thing,” even my 89-year-old mother is now doing it, much to my surprise and delight when I found about it.
Suddenly, our younger cohorts of visual artists—who have driven this surge, more or less—are now becoming more well-known locally, and gaining traction in terms of recognition nationally, earning not just plaudits but also patrons. This is important.
But for every Hersley-Ven Casero, Xteve Abanto, Jomir Tabudlong, Alta Jia, Iris Tirambulo, Totem Yap Saa, Flomil Rey Labarento, Gerabelle Rea, Faye Mandi, Deadlocks, Paul Benzi Florendo, Mikoo Cataylo, Sara Jean Ruales, Rianne Salvarita, Dan Dvran, and Cil Flores who are now revolutionizing local art not just with the flair of their vision but also the energy of their youth, we also have the Dumaguete visual artists who have come before them, many of whom continue to make great work, and who must be acknowledged.
The OGs of Dumaguete and Oriental Negrense visual arts across several generations—counting among them Albert Faurot [†], Jose Laspiñas [†], Paul Pfeiffer, Kristoffer Ardeña, Maria Taniguchi, Edmund Bendijo, Brenda Fajardo, Sharon Dadang, Babbu Wenceslao, Danni Sollesta, Francisco Villanueva, Hemrod Duran, Jana Jumalon, Razcel Jan Salvarita, Michael Teves, Mark Valenzuela, Susan Canoy, Jutze Pamate, Muffet Dolar Villegas [†], Kennedy Rubias [†], and Kitty Taniguchi—were instrumental in putting Dumaguete on the art map. They made the city the incubator of [and inspiration for] their art at the start of their careers, and many would later go on to make names for themselves in the national and international art world. They paved the way, so to speak. This meant many things:  defining [and redefining] what was “local” art,  founding [and sometimes detonating] artistic organizations and collaborations [and refining along the way what made for a “Dumaguete art community”], and  exploring various avenues of artistic execution and exhibition—mapping the successes and the failures along the way which became, more or less, the current template on which the contemporary art scene has finally developed.
This essay aims to explore the now and the then in that regard, to present two artists culled from these two sets of cohorts of Dumaguete art—Cristina Taniguchi and Cil Flores—to mark their generational differences and similarities, to note the convergences, and to find out how exactly how Dumaguete art has developed over the years in the light of the lives of two local artists.
* * *
Cil Flores is 28 years old, and the world is still all exciting possibilities—even if sometimes the doubts can still sting. On Facebook, she recently posted a screenshot of a quote, which served as a reminder: “Stop ignoring when your talents have been validated in multiple spaces. It’s not a gimmick, it’s not luck, it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. You are good at this thing. The proof is there. Accept it and act accordingly.” The quote had been culled from musician and writer Kaya Nova, and Cil annotated it with sad emojis.
The self-doubt is understandable—all artists worth their salt have lingering bouts of imposter syndrome—but as of the moment, Ms. Flores really has no cause for concern. Of late, she has been invited to become a participating artist for the Modern and Contemporary Art Festival (MoCAF), a new art festival in Manila that aims for a measure of dynamism in its curation, “to reflect the fast-developing modern and contemporary art scene in the Philippines.” She has been part of various group exhibitions since devoting fully to her art in 2018 as well—and has found herself becoming prolific in the pandemic, establishing relationships with patrons who now collect her art.
That has always been the dream, ever since she was young, although it never became apparent until the last four years. “I started drawing when I was in kindergarten,” she told me. “My sister and I did doodles a lot, and we’d make comic strips of the cartoons and anime we’d see on TV.” That love for doodling, for being creative, didn’t stop in childhood: “I continued drawing on cheap sketchbooks in high school and college, but I never saw art as a career option for me. I was sort of bound to pursue my psychology degree after graduating from college.” But then, a realization: “I somehow made a decision to pursue the path of becoming a professional artist.”
That path started in 2018, with pen and ink on paper as her main medium. It is a path that has only really begun—and to observe Cil Flores now is to see an artist slowly coming into her own, slowly maturing into her craft, slowly finding her voice and her style. It is exciting to take stock of what she has done so far, and to feel the great art that has yet to come. For one thing, she knows her influences—Filipino urban street artists such as SYN, Yeo Kaa, Froilan Calayag, Mister Sasquatch, and TRNZ, to name a few Manila-based artists, as well as international artists like Kim Jung Gi and Lauren Tsai. “I guess I could describe my art style as close to pop and street art, and I usually feature subjects like roots- and rock-like details, in bright red and yellow colors,” she said. “I don’t consider myself as a professional artist yet—just an emerging one. But I want be known as the artist who has passion and grit.”
She has a character she keeps depicting in her works of late—the avatar, if you will, of what she wants to express given her experiences and feelings. Its name is Clae. “Through Clae, I’ve been producing paintings, illustrations, and drawings that feature feelings and situations like hope, grief, frustration, letting go, healing, and even addiction,” she said.
One such piece featuring Clae is a painting titled “Today’s Best,” her entry for this year’s Graphika Manila art book, and the art work that marks the first appearance of this original character. “The work portrays hope in the form of a tiny spark amidst the anxiety, the bad days, the depressive episodes, the days when I feel like giving up. But no matter how tiny the spark is, it is still enough to motivate me to continue living, to keep making art, and to chase my dreams,” Ms. Flores said. “This is why this piece is very personal to me, and why it perfectly describes me as an artist who is determined and passionate about art, despite the struggles.”
What she ultimately hopes to achieve with her is the ability to connect with people. “That’s one of my main goals. If my art means a lot to people, and if I can somehow connect with them and give them inspiration or just simply produce art about situations which they can relate to, then that for me is success,” she said. “I’ve been receiving messages from aspiring creative—and even regular people—who tell me how my art means so much to them because it inspires them, and I have never felt so fulfilled.”
She usually stays up late at night to work as a part-time marketing VA. “But when I’m done working, I proceed to paint, to draw, or to do digital art, until 4 or 5 AM,” she said. “I paint or do art at night because it is the most peaceful time of my day for me. Then I wake up around noontime, have lunch, and proceed to do art again in the afternoon. I usually spend my afternoons doing brainstorming on new ideas for future art pieces. Sometimes I do art studies on paper, or digitally. Sometimes I watch videos of artist interviews.”
She surprised herself by becoming very productive during the pandemic. “I stayed home most of the time,” she remembered. “Although I had an 8-to-5 remote job back then, I was still able to make both traditional and digital art pieces. The quarantine and pandemic anxiety took a toll on me, but the art provided me with comfort. It was basically my refuge, my escape. I remembered making a digital artwork for Graphika Manila titled ‘Pandemic Blues,’ which portrayed what everyone was feeling and doing during the coronavirus crisis.”
What she hopes to do in the immediate future is to help lead the growth of street/urban/pop art in Dumaguete. “I’m also working on extending my reach outside of Dumaguete since I have goals to exhibit in galleries outside the city, especially in top galleries around Luzon.” To her surprise, she had recently received opportunities to exhibit in Manila this year. “That gave me hope, that it was entirely possible for a self-taught young artist from the province like me to gain traction in the Metro art scene. That’s why I’m motivated to work more on my art and my growth as an artist so I can be able to achieve those goals.”
Cil Flores, young artist on the verge.
* * *
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Cristina Taniguchi, the artist that has very much defined how we have known Dumaguete art for years and years. She has become its veritable synonym, and the art gallery she established has been the city’s solitary light in art exhibitions, more or less, for two decades. But a quick look at her story, especially her beginnings, reveals similarities to Cil Flores’ journey of becoming.
“It’s in my spirit. My direction has always been geared towards something creative,” Cristina Sollesta Taniguchi, Kitty to friends, once remarked in a 2013 interview, when she was asked to define the very start of her artistic journey. The creative spark she spoke of had always been inclined to the literary and the visual even in childhood, primarily as a means to establish camaraderie with others. “When I was little,” she would later tell me, “I used to entertain my cousins in Manila with stories and line drawings.”
Art as story.
That was the impulse. And she would carry that impulse further from her childhood in Manila, where she was born in 1952, to Dumaguete where she would grow up.
“In elementary school and in high school, I was always chosen as the class artist,” Ms. Taniguchi recalled. “In college, I won first prize in an on-the-spot painting contest, and after college, I started exhibiting my art works with my brother. I had my first solo show in Manila in the 1990s. This was how I started my artistic career.”
But to expand that nutshell of an artistic beginning, we need to know that the first instance of national recognition she received as a visual artist was an honorable mention she garnered at the 1994 Philip Morris Philippine Art Awards. She would continue participating in the competition in the next few years, and in 2000 and 2003, her works were declared finalists. Meanwhile, she enrolled at Silliman University, finishing her bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication in 1978 and her MA in English Literature in 1985. She wanted to tell stories by writing. She was also a faculty member at Silliman’s Department of English, Literature, and Creative Writing from 1984 to 1989. And then, after an exhibit with her brother Danni Sollesta at the Silliman Library in 1989, she realized this was what she really wanted to focus on—a career in the visual arts.
By the time the 1990s rolled around, she was becoming known in the national art scene for her paintings of luminous women surrounded by totems of mythological beings—sphinxes, angels, winged rams—mixed in with cheetahs and lions and flamingos. You could see traces of Chagall and Kahlo here and there, but the signature is most definitely and uniquely Cristina Taniguchi. Asked what particular piece by her defined her best as an artist, she said: ”Every piece of art that I produced is relevant to me. These are products of different times and periods in my art making, and each moment and effort I have dedicated to the finishing of each piece has its own narrative to tell, as well as theoretical knowledge to digest.”
“I began to take my art-making seriously as a career in the 1990s,” Ms. Taniguchi continued. ”I was intrigued by the new art concepts that were popping up at that time, things like neo-conceptualism and neo-expressionism.” She began to take note of the works of Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and began to study their approaches to art-making. Around her, local artists were subscribing to tenets of feminism and social realism, which also influenced her—“but I was also looking for my own personal kind of aesthetics and approach to art making,” she said. “From the very beginning, I knew that my art would be based on the concept of personal mythology. I was, and still I am, interested in the fundamentals of human existence and the universality of human life, more especially with regards the status quo of women.”
She began exhibiting in solo shows, including ones at the De La Salle University and at the Ayala Museum in Makati. Still, she could not entirely turn away from her literary beginnings. In 2002, she became a special fellow for poetry at the famous Dumaguete National Writers Workshop [now the Silliman University National Writers Workshop], especially handpicked by the late Edith L. Tiempo. [Two of her poems from that workshop, “I Went to Tokyo to Know Its Crows” and “Blue Space for the Crows Painted White,” were later published in 2006 in the now defunct the Philippines Free Press.] Those poems were also accompanied by artworks she made depicting crows, but the experience also made her realize that her creative force now primarily involved holding paintbrushes and clay, more than the pen. The need to tell stories now occupied primarily the visual.
Together with her daughter Maria Taniguchi, she was invited to do an exhibition for the centennial celebration of Silliman University in 2001, which became Pag-usbong Kalangitan. That same year, she exhibited Who Owns Women’s Bodies at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. In 2005, she was invited to her first international show, as an exhibit participant at the 2nd Beijing International Art Biennale Exhibit at the Millennium Center in Beijing, China—a feat she would repeat in the next two years. In 2010, she was one of the participating artists for The Sculpture Creative Camp at the 11th Asian Arts International Festival in Beijing, China. In 2012, she joined the 5th Luxor International Painting Symposium in Egypt.
Through it all, Dumaguete was home, her preferred base. “This place is my artistic nest,” she said. “I’ve produced most of my works in Dumaguete, and there’s no denying that this place has a lot of bearing in the making of my art. This place provides me the cosmic space and the time for the making of my art—this is where I digest everything.”
“Digesting” means staying put at Mariyah Gallery [a working gallery in Bogo that she established in 1992], dividing her days between doing domestic work in the morning and her art in the afternoon, and then “take care of matters pertaining to the gallery mostly in the evenings.”
Mariyah Gallery began on a lark—carved out of an existing house that sits on 7,000 square meters of property in the western fringe of Dumaguete City. It started out as a complement to a small restaurant she designed to be an alternative culinary experience from the eating establishments that dotted the Rizal Boulevard at that time. “Some good friends in Cebu City assisted me in putting up the place, from mere idea into materialization. The restaurant was honestly a bit out of the way—but the art gallery was really my main prerogative. I was already deep into the arts the year we opened the restaurant/gallery, and my aim was to see art and culture moving in the city when practically there was nothing happening at all.”
She realized even then, especially with the lack of a proper art scene in Dumaguete, the challenges involved in sustaining the venture. “It was hard to operate an art gallery in a place where the art market had not yet fully developed. This was a real challenge. I knew that the gallery couldn’t survive without other financial sources—but to be honest, I was not so concerned about that,” she admitted. “It was enough that I was able to make good use of the little space that we have. Even today, I feel the same.”
The specific challenges she faced in 1992 are the reasons why Mariyah Gallery does not have a regular monthly changing exhibition to this day. “Mariyah Gallery is not really a commercial gallery,” Ms. Taniguchi said. “Every time we organize art events with exhibitions, we have to shell out huge amounts for the expenses.” These are resources they do not readily have, so they have learned to do things in their own particular ways: “Over the years the gallery has undertaken many art and cultural activities, with partners. For example, we are advocates of terracotta art, so the gallery initiated—with the assistance and partnership of the Dumaguete City LGU—the first and second terracotta art festivals in 2006 and 2007, which landed full coverage in a national newspaper, a boon to city tourism.” The gallery has also served as conduit for other cultural organizations. In May 2008, for example, it collaborated with the Filipino Heritage Foundation to host the nationwide closing ceremony of the National Heritage Month.
“What Mariyah Gallery is,” Ms. Taniguchi continued, “is a working art gallery. What I mean is, our prime objective is not to show and sell. We partner with other organizations to move culture, and to undertake things for the sake of art alone. One very important event that we worked on was the Visayas Visual Artists Exhibit and Conference, or ViVA-ExCon. This was in 1992, and ViVA ExCon was still in its infancy. The event we initiated was actually just a small program of activities for Visayan artists, and our participation in it was just incidental—but it was good. Mariyah Gallery was able to open its space to wider horizons in the arts, and we were able get to know many of the significant art personalities in the Visayas, as well as from other parts of the country. To my mind, this event was instrumental in forging the present connectivity among artists in the Visayas specifically. Mariyah Gallery has historically grown with ViVA ExCon. The second ViVA-ExCon, held in Dumaguete in 1994, was the deciding point for the event to continue and mature—and we were a huge part in that undertaking.”
The pandemic was not disruptive in the flow she had already established in her daily routine as a working artist. “Except for the cancellation of some trips related to art activities and limited movement for the gallery, art life went—goes—on,” she admitted. “I was able to produce work that showed my response to the pandemic, as well as to some adverse events in our country, like the eruption of Taal in 2020.”
Mariyah Gallery, too, is surviving the pandemic. “We were able to hold two art exhibits in 2020 at the height of the pandemic,” Ms. Taniguchi said. “And in 2022, the gallery started welcoming visitors again, but limiting entry to around five people at a time. In 2021 we were able send works to Cebu to participate in the First Visayas Art Fair at Montebello Hotel. We were also able to participate in the online art sales of Art in the Park.” And Mariyah Gallery will continue to hold art activities, she said. Its art residency program will soon open again, with one Manila artist scheduled to take up residence soon; a preview art exhibit is already in the works.
And what of the future of her vocation?
“I am in the summit of my life,” Ms. Taniguchi said. “I don’t think about the future of my art anymore. It is just natural for me to do art every day, since it has become my way of life and career. The matter of the future of my art—I leave that to time. My art undergoes evolution as life goes on.”
[To be continued…]
Labels: art, art and culture, artists, dumaguete, gallries
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
7:00 AM |
Poetry Wednesday, No. 95.
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Saturday, July 23, 2022
12:13 AM |
On Launching Buglas Writers Journal
I recently went live with a project I’ve been meaning to do for the longest time—launching an online literary journal devoted to writers and writings from Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, and Siquijor. It’s called Buglas Literary Journal, and you can catch its maiden issue at this link.
The idea for this journal was conceived in 2017, right around the time K-12 was at the height of being implemented by the Department of Education, and there was a sudden clamor by educators for literary materials that came from their specific regions, especially those written in the Mother Tongue. It was a good time to introduce an online literary magazine that focused on the literary works of local authors—but it took five more years before the idea would finally come to fruition. The pandemic and its uncertainties certainly helped in the eventual realization of this effort, but it was the desire to showcase the works of writers from Negros and Siquijor that was the biggest force. It was a much-needed corrective to the lack of local literary publications.
I’ve always been fascinated with literature that comes from my region of ethe Philippines, specifically both provinces of Negros Island [and also Siquijor, which used to be part of Negros Oriental]. In 2003, when Vicente Garcia Groyon came out with his first novel The Sky Over Dimas [which won the 2002 Palanca Grand Prize], and Rosario Cruz Lucero followed suit by publishing her astounding sophomore collection of award-winning short stories under the title Feasts and Famine: Stories of Negros, I found myself wondering what exactly it was about Negros Island that attracted and stirred so much imaginative storytelling.
Barring the [almost] hegemonic boundary-setting to the geography of the Filipino imagination as something concentrated only around the slums, business districts, and posh subdivisions of Manila, Negros [I think] comes in as good alternative as the place by which we have come to situate the creative Filipino. In films alone, Peque Gallaga [of Bacolod] have given us the quintessential Filipino epic Oro Plata Mata , a cinematic masterpiece about Negrense hacenderos during the Japanese occupation in World War II. That film is still arguably unequalled in terms of scale and ambition—except perhaps by Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Ngayon , directed by National Artist for Film Eddie Romero, which as a film makes a conceit of trying to define what it means to be a “Filipino.” Although Ganito Kami Noon is not set in Negros, Romero [of Dumaguete] has also given us other homebound masterpieces, such as The Passionate Strangers , a film noir set in Dumaguete, and Kamakalawa , an epic tale of prehistoric Philippines which people say is set in old Negros [or the pre-Hispanic Buglas]. But even if it was not Buglas, Kamakalawa was filmed in Negros Oriental anyway, employing locals as supporting players and extras, and employing Oriental Negrense backdrops to flesh out pre-colonial Philippines—from the rolling plains of Bundo in Siaton to the green niches and rivers of Amlan.
These are films. Literary titles about Negros, on the other hand, constitute a small sub-genre of Philippine literature. There are so many novels, short stories, poems, essays, and plays set in Dumaguete, Bacolod, and the towns and cities of both provinces, as well as Siquijor—and not just those written by local writers. It also includes literary pieces written by other writers not native to the region who have somehow been smitten by our specific Visayan airs, entranced or curious enough about our lives here to put their impressions down on paper. [Not always in the positive light, of course, but that’s part of the fascination.] Which is why tackling this very fascination makes for a great theme to constitute the very first issue of Buglas Writers Journal.
So what is it about Negros that tickles our fancy? Perhaps it is the Tropical Gothic [Nick Joaquin’s term] nature of the place—all these haciendas, old acacia trees, old churches, and old Spanish and American colonial houses quickly serving as beacons to ghosts of a very write-able past. Perhaps it is the intricate codes and manners of the Negrense social hierarchy—all those sugar aristocrats with their beautiful sons and daughters, and their mad, eccentric lives, and all the hungry hangers-on and downtrodden masa that surround them. Perhaps it is the sheer beauty of the place—think Silay City, for example, with its gilded mansions, or think the Rizal Boulevard of Dumaguete with its “sugar houses.” Perhaps it is Dumaguete’s intellectual air, and Bacolod’s snobbish appeal. Or perhaps it is the exquisite blend of the urban and the rural which Negros shares only with a handful of other places in the Philippines.
Whatever it is, the Negros in our minds has always proven to be intoxicating … and readable.
As previously mentioned, in literature, the list of stories, poems, and plays about Negros runs long, and for this maiden issue of Buglas Writers Journal, I have chosen a sampling of literary pieces which, for me, provide a rich enough tapestry of life in [and history of] the Island. Consider the selection a sampler—a meager one at that, since there are many other pieces not included which could also very well do the job of providing a map of the imagination of Negros.
The fiction, poetry, drama, and essay in this issue of Buglas Writers Journal are beguiling for the stories they tell, but I’ve also chosen them because they also provide the reader a great sense of place—virtually providing us a survey to the Negrense world in all its varied colors and textures, its smells and airs, its idea of joy and dread.
One of the short stories that do this best is Bobby Flores Villasis‘ “Menandro’s Boulevard,” which, beyond its story of a fragile friendship between two unlikely people, gives us a literal and emotional map with which to understand the stretch along the Dumaguete shores known as the Rizal Boulevard, and the denizens who live there in their so-called “sugar houses.” Villasis, who has written extensively about Negros Oriental in his many award-winning stories and plays, is probably Dumaguete’s James Joyce: his Suite Bergamasque, where our story is collected, is the city’s version of Dubliners, but concentrated on a single city street.
There are also pieces that sometimes go beyond the literal in their rendering of place, and make that place a stand-in for the symbolic. Such is Marianne Villanueva‘s “Dumaguete.” Here, the famed Bacolod writer trains her eyes on the capital city on the other side of the Island, and makes it emblematic of a family’s unraveling: for a mother and son pair “on the run” from Bacolod, their self-imposed exile to Dumaguete becomes it a dark, claustrophobic place that threatens with [perhaps imagined] dangers. The thrill of the story is delicious, and I love seeing Dumaguete rendered this way.
The National Artist for Literature Edith Lopez Tiempo also regularly sets her stories and novels in familiar places from her very rich life—sometimes some small generic town in Mindanao, and sometimes the Nueva Ecija of her childhood. But in many of her stories, the spirit of Dumaguete is endlessly evoked, even if they are camouflaged by some other name. In her last novel The Builder, however, she drops all pretense of cover-up, and states clearly that her murder mystery is set in Dumaguete, with ample mentions of nearby towns of Sibulan and Valencia. By the story’s end, we find the protagonist in the middle of Tañon Strait, battling both revelation and spiritual horror. But my favorite Edith Tiempo story is the wartime tale, “The Black Monkey,” which won third prize in the first ever Palanca Awards held in 1950. In this story, a housewife—on the run from war-ravaged Dumaguete—is forced to fend for herself in the jungles of Negros Oriental because of an injury that makes her a liability in their small community of evacuees in the foothills of Valencia. Even while the Japanese occupation forces advance deeper into the jungles in search of their like, her husband builds her a little hut by a cliff where she could stay and be away from the rest of the camp—with only a gun her husband has given her promising her a semblance of protection. And then the black monkeys come to disturb her.
Edith Tiempo’s husband, the equally legendary Edilberto K. Tiempo, also set many of his stories in Negros Oriental, but for this issue, I’ve chosen the title story from his 1992 book Snake Twin and Other Stories, simply because it weaves a magical blend of scholarly pursuit and folk superstition common in the region, while making quick stops not just in Dumaguete, but in the nearby town of Sibulan, as well as Siquijor. Is the folk belief of people born with snake twins true? The story explores the anthropological meanings of that belief, and finds itself delving even deeper—including a malevolent political reality.
Their daughter Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas’s harrowing domestic chronicle in “The Fruit of the Vine” is also a fine example of a Negros tale, which involves the domestic [and financial] travails of local sugar planters — a commonality the story shares with Vicente Garcia Groyon‘s “Justo and My Father’s Car” [a delicious, Whartonian exploration of the foibles of Bacolod high society] and Rosario Cruz Lucero‘s “Good Husbands and Obedient Wives” [a delicious, Jamesian exploration of the misdemeanors of the Bacolod middle class].
In “Valencia Drive,” the late Tanjay writer Ernesto Superal Yee renders the story of a young writer driving from Dumaguete to the hills of Valencia—and the whole ride becomes a tribute to the Tiempos who are the author’s mentors. It lends this truth: sometimes Negros is not just place; it’s also the people—especially if those people are as accomplished as the Tiempos.
There’s more to that Negrense world-building in the poems, essay, and play featured in this issue. In Augurio M. Abeto‘s Hiligaynon poem “Panay kang Negros,” we get an exercise of the historical and sociological kind as the poet examines the pre-Spanish migration of Panay people into the island then known as Buglas, and the culture and community building that soon followed. In Elsa Martinez Coscolluela‘s “Cuernos de Negros,” we get an ode to the mountain range that separates Negros Island into its two component provinces—this time rendered as a memory piece of harvest days and remembrances of family. In Myrna Peña-Reyes‘s “At Camp Lookout,” we get a mournful confessional of a Dumaguete denizen away from the hubbub of city life while enjoying a break in the famed spot high up in the hills of Valencia, which overlooks the entire city. In Anthony Tan‘s “To a Tree Near a Boulevard,” we get an ode to the nature that defines the Dumaguete shoreline. In National Artist for Literature Gemino H. Abad‘s “Casaroro Falls,” we get the story of a family hike to the famous waterfalls in Valencia, which becomes an examination of youth, ageing, the rejuvenation made possible by nature, and the waning search for adventure as we grow older. In my own essay, “A Field Guide to Burning the Town Red,” I examine the night life in Dumaguete, and how it has evolved over the decades. And in Mike Gomez‘s “Tirador ng Tinago,” we get an excerpt from his Palanca-winning play which satirises Filipino action films in its take of small-time hoodlums in the Tinago slum of Dumaguete.
I hope that by the time you finish reading every piece in this issue, you will come to understand how each of them somehow give light to what it means to live in Negros Island [and Siquijor]—and why this place, home to most of the writers featured here, is the wellspring of much of our literary imagination. Log on to buglaswritersjournal.com and enjoy your visit to Negros and Siquijor in this issue, and welcome to the Buglas Writers Journal!
Labels: buglas literary journal, negros, philippine literature, siquijor, writers, writing
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Thursday, July 21, 2022
11:32 PM |
Introducing the Buglas Writers Journal
After more than five years of false starts, we're finally launching the new online literary journal of the Buglas Writers Guild! Enjoy the maiden issue of the Buglas Writers Journal, which aims to be the online publication of writers from Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, and Siquijor. Featuring the works of Edilberto K. Tiempo, Rosario Cruz Lucero, Edith Lopez Tiempo, Bobby Flores Villasis, Marianne Villanueva, Vicente Garcia Groyon, Ernesto Superal Yee, Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas, Augurio M. Abeto, Elsa Martinez Coscolluela, Myrna Peña-Reyes, Anthony Tan, Gémino H. Abad, Ian Rosales Casocot, and Michael Aaron Gomez. Click here for the link!
Labels: negros, philippine literature, siquijor, writers, writing
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Wednesday, July 20, 2022
7:54 AM |
Poetry Wednesday, No. 94.
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
4:00 AM |
New Personal Website!
I finally got around to making a personal website. I'm applying for something, and they were requiring one. So I made one from Squarespace from scratch last night.
What do you think?
Labels: life, projects, web and tech
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Wednesday, July 13, 2022
7:00 AM |
Poetry Wednesday, No. 93.
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Tuesday, July 12, 2022
6:07 PM |
In Dumaguete, The Arts Flourish Part 7: The NFT Nirvana of Meditating Cats
I know nothing about NFT art, but like many things, this is a perfectly good way to begin.
This is therefore an attempt at definition, and a scrutiny into what it has meant of late in the wider world, and finally an examination of how far Dumaguete art has taken to the trend, for better or for worse. It will also touch into meditating cats, but I’m getting ahead of my story.
To begin to know what NFT art is all about, one must start with untangling its acronym to its essentials. NFT means “non-fungible token,” and to get a clear picture of what that is, one needs to even go deeper and find exactly what its opposite—“fungible”—means.
Something is “fungible” if it is mutually interchangeable with another thing—in other word, it is still what it is when you replace it with another identical item, with the value remaining the same. For example, a fifty-peso bill is fungible with five pieces of ten-peso coins, and vice versa. A fifty-peso bill, therefore, is a “fungible token.”
Something however becomes “non-fungible” when there is a value added to an item, a value that remains undeterminable, because it can rise or fall depending on specific circumstances. Let’s take the same five pieces of ten-peso coins from the example above, for instance. Let’s say that these coins have been painstakingly glued together and transformed into an elegant small sculpture by the great modernist Ramon Orlina, and signed by the great artist himself. As a set of coins transformed into art, it is no longer the same five pieces of ten-peso coins that they were before. They have become a unique piece, and the value of this piece of art is no longer the old equivalent of fifty-pesos, so it cannot be interchanged with a monetary exchange of that value. If you are an avid collector of Ramon Orlina’s art, and if this art is truly unique among his creations, you will likely purchase this set of coins with a higher value—again, depending on circumstances. The piece therefore has become a “non-fungible token.”
This is the first thing one needs to know about NFTs.
Closer scrutiny will make you realize that NFTs as a whole, especially when it comes to art, truly reveals its province as one of “speculation,” and one that is tied to the idea of “investments.” The most avid collectors of NFT art essentially buy a nebulous promise that the pieces they have purchased will increase in value in the future. The market therefore is driven by speculation on crypto-currency.
This is the second thing one needs to know about NFTs.
Even closer scrutiny will reveal that when one owns NFT art, one only really owns its digital presence. It is therefore a completely digital asset, which is backed and authenticated by a unique digital footprint called a blockchain. A “blockchain” is a record of transactions made in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency [NFTs mostly use something called Ethereum, or ETH], which are maintained across several computers that are linked in a peer-to-peer network. A blockchain is a record that cannot be tampered with [or at least very difficult to], and thus guarantees authenticity. So when one buys NFT art, one really buys its digital presence, which can be authenticated by its connected blockchain. Other people may have copies of the same digital file of the art, may even own a physical iteration of it—but you alone is guaranteed to own its digital certificate of authenticity.
This is the third thing one needs to know about NFTs.
This third one is also the very heart with which I have always come to regard, for the longest time, NFT art with a good deal of suspicion. I just could not fathom being a collector and owning what seems to be just the “shadow” of the art I’m buying. For example, one of the biggest success stories being banded about regarding NFT art has been the sale of the popular meme, “Disaster Girl”—that piece of Internet curiosity showing a young girl smirking in front of a burning house—which garnered a record price of five hundred thousand dollars. The owner of that NFT art now has bragging rights to its digital authenticity—but the image itself is available to download and use by anyone who has an Internet connection.
When I first heard this, I shook my head at the seeming ridiculousness of it all—until I was reminded that most of the art world actually traffic in these “authenticity guarantees” and never usually with the physical art itself. You can, for example, cry yourself hoarse with declaring that a painting you own is an original, if obscure, Picasso. But unless you can have it authenticated as real—and the provenance of that painting well-documented—your “Picasso” might as well be a painting by your neighborhood artist who has no discernable claim to fame. If you think about it, the certificate that claims authenticity of a painting seems to have higher value compared to the painting itself.
This point was even driven deeper to me when I heard about the controversial banana and duct-tape installation by the Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan. His piece, titled “Comedian,” became an object of major scrutiny when it was exhibited in 2019 as part of Art Basel Miami—and then co-opted by Georgian performance artist David Datuna who walked up to the exhibit, detached the banana from its duct-tape, and proceeded to eat it. The whole drama ignited debates about the value of art and the meaning of art.
Truth to tell, anyone can actually “own” this piece by Cattelan, which the Guggenheim Museum in New York actually did in 2020. Anyone can also very well install “Comedian” by buying any banana from any grocery store and any duct-tape from any hardware store. But for the “value” to be “properly transferred,” it must come with a certificate from the artist himself asserting authenticity of the artwork; it also contains specific instructions regarding its installation, including that the banana—according to The Conversation’s Jo Adetunji—“should be hung 175 cm above ground and that it should be replaced every seven to ten days.” Again, it is not the physicality of the art that matters; it is the certification of authenticity. This is the art world that we live in right now.
And so, when it comes to NFT art, who says they have no value when you very well own the digital certificate asserting their authenticity and your ownership of it?
You can consider NFT art as a revolution, or as a disruptor to the old ways of art selling, and its current novelty has powered its surge of popularity in recent years. The surge can be traced to “Bored Ape Yacht Club” or BAYC, a collection of 10,000 unique, algorithm-generated variations of a cartoon image of an ape, developed by Yuga Labs LLC. When the collection went on sale in April 2021, it promised owners of the NFTs access to a private online club, exclusive in-person events, and intellectual property rights for the image. By 2022, sales of the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs totalled over $1 billion—with owners including Justin Bieber, Jimmy Fallon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stephen Curry, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Paris Hilton, and Timbaland. [Madonna reportedly paid for one BAYC image for $500,000.] And of course, where celebrities are, aspirational wannabes with money to spare will go—even when it just means sharing a virtual space with them. This partly explains the surge to buy BAYC NFTs.
Since then, other artists have followed Yuga Labs’ lead—including American musician Grimes, who garnered $6 million for his fantasy art. The Kings of Leon released an entire album as NFT art. And Paris Hilton entered ETH-space with pink animals and clouds. According to 99design’s Elena Fitzsimons, “NFT art is a totally new way of categorizing digital artworks that enables designers to monetize their work. It’s supposed to be a quicker process and a more accessible way for designers to produce work and reap the rewards for their creativity. There’s no chasing clients for payment, there’s no preparing files for print, and there’s no waiting to hear feedback or changing and editing your work to suit a client’s needs.”
This includes paving the way for artists to get royalties for their work, especially in future sales, and dismantling the old tyranny of physical spaces [read: galleries] selling physical art by moving the whole platform of selling art into a digital space and thus guaranteeing a global, unfettered, reach. It’s the art trade democratized: anyone, therefore, who has access to the Internet can mint their own NFT art.
But it’s not all roses. With competition now tight among designers and artists hoping to make a quick buck over this novelty, there’s really no guarantee one’s NFT art will sell, not even if you’re a celebrity. Wrestler and actor John Cena considers his own attempt at selling a collection he put together with the WWE as a “catastrophic failure.” Skater Tony Hawk was widely mocked, even by fans, when he announced he was selling NFTs of his “best skating moves.” There are also unexplored legal ramifications. When director Quentin Tarantino announced he was going to sell NFTs based on his screenplay of Pulp Fiction, he was sued by Miramax, the studio that distributed and funded the 1994 film.
Minting NFTs is also very expensive. According to Fitzsimons, “Designers must outbid each other to get their artwork ‘minted’ on Blockchain. Prices fluctuate, depending on time and network, but it ranges from anywhere between $80 to $1000. This fee doesn’t guarantee sales for designers, but without paying it they cannot list their artwork on the market.”
NFTs, like crypto-curreny, has also been under attack of late for extracting a huge environmental cost. Because the blockchain has to be minted and maintained by a network of computers, the ecological footprint of NFT art in terms of energy costs can be greater than its real-life alternative of maintaining a physical studio or gallery.
But as one friend once reacted to my initial suspicions about NFT art as a whole, “This is the future, my friend.” And there is no denying that this revolution has come, and will most likely stay—changing how we do art from now on.
In Dumaguete, the first instance we get of NFT art is “Meditating Cats” by Evgeniya Spiridonova, a Russian graphic artist and entrepreneur who has made Dumaguete her home for the past thirteen years. She has admittedly fallen for both the city’s low-key charms and artistic potential that she has founded the creative enterprise Pinspired Philippines to showcase what it has to offer, creativity-wise. [I have written extensively about Pinspired in a previous installment of this arts series, “From Russia with Love.”]
Ms. Spiridonova, or Jane as she is referred to more popularly by friends and associates in Dumaguete, once worked as graphic designer for a toy company in China for five years—a phase in her life that was soon interrupted by a series of personal challenges, including a breakup with a boyfriend and the death of her father. This plunged her into a vortex of depression, which she knew needed healing. She aimed for India, hoping to traverse the entire subcontinent for six months, and hoping that the sensory overload of this ancient world would somehow provide the necessary distractions that would initiate a deep discovery of self—which she hoped could also lead to healing. One particular experience she would remember most during that trip is an immersion into a particular meditative practice called Vipassana. It required the most extensive discipline—for ten straight days, she meditated but could not speak to anyone. The experience blew her mind, and she realized the importance of meditation in the practice of everyday life.
But for all the excitement she elicited from India, the trip did not completely heal her. What did heal her was finally coming home to Russia, where she would throw herself into her first solo exhibition dedicated to her late father. That was also when she made another realization: she wanted to make the creation of art the focus of her life.
These two elements—meditation and art—perfectly explain the genesis of her NFT creation, except for the specificity of cats. Why cats? I once asked her. “Why not cats?” she responded. And why did I even have to ask. Because why not cats? As a cat person myself, I knew the answer perfectly well: cats are adorable, they rule the Internet, and their very existence as pets is defined by the fact that they seemed almost undisturbed by everything around them. Very Zen-like, very meditative.
Meditating Cats exhibit in Salaya Beach Houses, May 2022
Meditation led by Ms. Betita-Tan at the closing of the Meditating Cats exhibit in Salaya
Some of the Meditating Cats
Jane and her Meditating Cats at the 6200 PopUp at Robinsons Place Dumaguete
“Every Meditating Cat NFT can be a talisman or a reminder for us to be calm and peaceful in any unknown situation,” Jane writes in her website for the project, which she developed with three other friends. “Our Meditation Cats bring positive mood and fun experience with catchy art ideas. Every Meditation Cat NFT can tell a story, as we have multiple and complex layers which create different situations where we can recognize ourselves.” Indeed, for “Meditating Cats,” Jane prepared extensively the layers that would go into the mix of the algorithm that would create a specific NFT cat. There are about nine of them—which determine the eyes, the mouth, the fur, the clothes, the necklace, the platform the cat is meditating on, the background, and the various interstitials the cat happens to be juggling. From the various combinations of these, one gets a unique cat in meditation pose in various arrays of stories—6,000 images in total. All handpicked, all triple-distilled, each one designed to appeal to a specific story you have about yourself. You like sushi? There’s a Meditating Cat that reflects that. You like chess? You like dreaming on a cloud? You see yourself as a punk? You see yourself as a ghost-hunter with a penchant for tea? You see yourself as a Christmas Ghostbuster with a love for sunflowers? The individual stories are strangely unique, and endlessly appealing.
She opened the sale of her NFT art last December 2021, offering each piece at 0,021 ETH [or the equivalent of PhP1,300 as of 12 July 2022] on the OpenSea platform. [OpenSea is the preferred marketplace for NFT artists.] By late May, she opened an exhibition of prints of handpicked physical iterations of some of these cats at Salaya Beach Houses in Dauin, completing the show in June with a meditation session with friends with Samyama Studio’s Paola Luisa Betita Tan in the lead. During the 6200 PopUp initiated by DTI Negros Oriental at Robinsons Place Dumaguete, which ran from July 1 to 7, she gave a talk on embarking in this new frontier for making and selling art, and exhibited some more of her Meditating Cats alongside another Dumaguete artist, Angelo Delos Santos, who has followed Jane’s lead by creating “Bored Baboons.”
NFT art is a gamble and an adventure, and is still largely a puzzle to many, but Jane feels like the right person in Dumaguete to take the lead. Her explorer’s foray into this digital jungle of art-making and art-trading is certainly interesting to watch, and perhaps to emulate. This is the future, after all, and we have no other recourse but to yield to it sooner or later.
[To be continued…]
Labels: art and culture, artists, dumaguete, nft art
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Friday, July 08, 2022
11:27 AM |
My body just wanted to rest. Tried waking up early yesterday to work, just to stave off the depression I knew was coming after staging two big events. But by noontime, while at Bricks trying to do things, I was a wreck — my body giving out, not even a brief nap right on my table could help. I decided to go for a two-hour massage, and that invigorated me for a bit. I met my mother for snacks at the new Nip & Nosh at Rob. I went briefly to the closing program of 6200 PopUp. I tried to pamper myself by having dinner with Renz and his mom at Mang Kaloy and then watching Thor: Love and Thunder, which I found fun but slight — my least favorite Taika Waititi project. And then the malaise returned in full vengeance. By the time I went to bed at around 10:00 PM, which was so early for me, my body was ready. I slept the moment my head touched the pillow. After more than two months of endlessly doing things, my body just wanted to rest.
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Thursday, July 07, 2022
I've been busy doing very intensive events since April. [My book launch and related events, Pride Month, 6200 PopUp, etc.] Today is the first day I can truly say I have no immediate commitments of that nature ahead of me, so I'm eager to get some much-needed rest. [A massage is in order!] But knowing how ADHD can treat that sudden inactivity as depression, I know I can't be that restful, so I'll be attending to some other commitments later today. And I can't wait to get back to the writing!
Labels: life, mental health
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Wednesday, July 06, 2022
12:00 PM |
Poetry Wednesday, No. 92.
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
4:51 AM |
Reuben R. Canoy, 1929~2022
Reuben Rabe Canoy was a fictionist, poet, screenwriter, film producer, radio host, lawyer, politician, and staunch advocate for Mindanao independence and federalism. He was born on 6 June 1929 in Cagayan de Oro City. He graduated with an AA degree from Silliman University in 1952, after spending his collegiate years in Dumaguete City pursuing the literary life: he was a huge part of Silliman's post-World War II generation of writers who went on to great critical acclaim in the mid-1950s, together with Edilberto Tiempo, Edith Tiempo, Aida Rivera Ford, Ricaredo Demetillo, Eddie Romero, and Cesar Jalandoni Amigo. He was editor-in-chief of the 1952 edition of 𝑆𝑎𝑛𝑑𝑠 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝐶𝑜𝑟𝑎𝑙, the university's literary journal, for which he was also known for contributing its now iconic emblem of a nude figure swimming underwater and gathering sand in their hands, which he designed in 1948. He published his fiction and poetry widely in national papers and magazines as well. In 1981, Leopoldo Y. Yabes would include his short story "Deep River" in the landmark anthology, 𝑃ℎ𝑖𝑙𝑖𝑝𝑝𝑖𝑛𝑒 𝑆ℎ𝑜𝑟𝑡 𝑆𝑡𝑜𝑟𝑖𝑒𝑠 1941-1955, published by the University of the Philippines Press.
After graduating with a law degree from UP, he dabbled in two different worlds: cinema and politics. In 1966, he was appointed Undersecretary for the Department of Public Information under the Presidency of Ferdinand E. Marcos, and also provided the story for fellow Sillimanian Eddie Romero's 𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑃𝑎𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑜𝑛𝑎𝑡𝑒 𝑆𝑡𝑟𝑎𝑛𝑔𝑒𝑟𝑠, which is a film noir set in Dumaguete. He would later write the screenplay for Romero's B-movie horror film 𝑀𝑎𝑑 𝐷𝑜𝑐𝑡𝑜𝑟 𝑜𝑓 𝐵𝑙𝑜𝑜𝑑 𝐼𝑠𝑙𝑎𝑛𝑑 , where he was billed as Ruben Canoy, and for Amigo's 𝐵𝑎𝑏𝑎𝑒 𝑠𝑎 𝐿𝑖𝑘𝑜𝑑 𝑛𝑔 𝑆𝑎𝑙𝑎𝑚𝑖𝑛 , which he also produced under his film outfit Ruben Canoy Productions. He also went on to write and produce Amigo's 𝑆𝑎 𝐷𝑢𝑙𝑜 𝑛𝑔 𝐾𝑟𝑖𝑠 .
While making headway into local film, he would become a member of the Marcos-era Batasan Pambansa. He would later run for mayor of Cagayan de Oro City, a position he held from 1971 to 1976. Together with fellow Mindanaoan politicians Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Homobono Adaza, he formed the Mindanao Alliance during the Marcos years, and the three became known for being outspoken critics of the Martial Law regime. Of the three, it was Canoy who first hogged the national limelight when he emerged as the lone opposition candidate in Northern Mindanao to win in the 1978 Batasan polls. [At that time, Batasan members were elected on a regional basis.] In 1981, however, the three allies parted ways because of political differences, and Canoy would go on to form the Social Democratic Party of the Philippines with 14 members of various opposition groups, hoping to begin building a unified opposition to the then 16-year-old rule of Marcos.
He used his knowledge from his early association with Marcos to write a book on Martial Law, titled 𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝐶𝑜𝑢𝑛𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑓𝑒𝑖𝑡 𝑅𝑒𝑣𝑜𝑙𝑢𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛: 𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑃ℎ𝑖𝑙𝑖𝑝𝑝𝑖𝑛𝑒𝑠 𝑓𝑟𝑜𝑚 𝑀𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑎𝑙 𝐿𝑎𝑤 𝑡𝑜 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐴𝑞𝑢𝑖𝑛𝑜 𝐴𝑠𝑠𝑎𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑛𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 , which many took as Canoy's diatribe against 𝑅𝑒𝑣𝑜𝑙𝑢𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑓𝑟𝑜𝑚 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐶𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑒𝑟 , a book in which Marcos touted the ideological foundation of his authoritarian rule. Of this tome, the late National Artist F. Sionil Jose noted: "Canoy ... has first-hand knowledge of the Marcos regime because he was Undersecretary of Information, Presidential Action Officer, and Chairman of the Southern Philippines Development Authority. As a writer in the early days of the Martial Law regime, Canoy was privy to the machinations and backdoor dealings in the Palace. His book is not only authoritative but also illustrates how power operates and how it also fails. He called the Marcos dictatorship a counterfeit revolution because like most intellectuals in the fringes of power he realized soon enough the shortcomings of a presidency surrounded by relatives and cronies who profited from that dictatorship."
Canoy also wrote 𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑄𝑢𝑒𝑠𝑡 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑀𝑖𝑛𝑑𝑎𝑛𝑎𝑜 𝐼𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑝𝑒𝑛𝑑𝑒𝑛𝑐𝑒 , where he began touting his dream for that island's political independence from the Philippines. He would also turn his attention to the issue of federalism, and once described the current unitary government as “a legacy of colonialism, whose centralized power suppresses democratic governance, thwarts local development and impedes nationalist progress.”
Canoy would continue writing even when he was deeply enmeshed in politics. He had a regular column for 𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑃ℎ𝑖𝑙𝑖𝑝𝑝𝑖𝑛𝑒𝑠 𝐻𝑒𝑟𝑎𝑙𝑑. He also wrote two novels: 𝐼𝑠𝑙𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑜𝑓 𝐹𝑒𝑎𝑟 , which is about an armed band roaming the countryside, posing as communist guerillas and terrorizing the rural folk, who are in reality members of an operation supported by American agents, high-ranking military officials, and right-wing businessmen; and 𝑇𝑒𝑟𝑟𝑜𝑟 𝑖𝑛 𝑃𝑎𝑟𝑎𝑑𝑖𝑠𝑒 [2006, co-written with his brother Nestor R. Canoy], which is about a good American caught in the webs of deceit by a dictator and the nefarious activities of the CIA.
He would run for President against Marcos in 1986, and in 1990 he was arrested and detained without warrant by the military for his alleged involvement in a coup staged in Northern Mindanao led by Col. Alexander Noble.
He was also a long-time radio personality. In 1952, he convinced his brother Henry to turn his fledgling radio station in CDO into a more powerful network. This became Radio Mindanao Network. Until his later years, Canoy would host an early morning radio program, “Perspective,” which ran for 64 years on RMN. In 1971, for his contributions to mass media, he would be conferred the Outstanding Sillimanian Award.
In 2013, he made a brief return to film when he was announced as one of the winners of the Genre Film Scriptwriting Competition organized by the Film Development Council of the Philippines, for his unproduced screenplay “The Unbelievers.”
He married Solona Torralba in 1953, with whom he had four children, Rhona, Chet, Marc, and Don.
He died on 5 July 2022.
For many of his avid radio listeners, he was known for his trademark sign-off: "Ang lungsod nga nasayod maoy makahatag og kusog sa demokrasya. Apan ang lungsod nga mapasagaron, maoy makapukan sa atong kagawasan. [The city that values knowledge is what gives strength to democracy. But the city that is foolhardy is what will destroy our freedom.]"
Labels: obituary, philippine literature, politics, radio, silliman, writers
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Tuesday, July 05, 2022
12:08 AM |
Hating Other People
We were having drinks at Tempat Raya Malaysian Kitchen a few nights ago, and a visiting writer/friend from Laguna dropped by. He had been prowling the streets of Dumaguete all day, looking for places to write and drink—which, according to him, fueled his creativity, and which he needed now because he was in the middle of writing his next novel. “I’m the Charles Bukowski of Philippine literature,” he told us, and we laughed.
“Oh, by the way,” he told me. “I was with this guy earlier tonight, and when I mentioned that I was joining you for a drink and wondered if he could join us, he demurred. ‘Ian hates me,’ he said.”
That sent my mind reeling.
“Can I have his name?” I asked—because the first instinct is to know “why.”
My friend gave me a name but he didn’t know the surname. The person was just somebody he had randomly met that day. I racked my brain for the name, and came up short. I knew no one by that name, or at least not as far as I could remember in that moment.
To say that it unsettled me would be an exaggeration. But it was a grain of irritation that persisted all throughout that night, and when I woke up the next morning, I turned to Facebook and searched for that name. Only one person came up in my search—a name from a very distant past. I sent his profile to my friend over Messenger, and asked, “Is this him?”
I laughed so hard.
Because I didn’t hate this guy at all. That realization was a relief. But if it wasn’t hate, it was something else: a memory of an awkward one-night stand when I was so much younger—this was in the mid-2000s!—which became a bit too clingy for comfort. So I ghosted him, way before the word “ghosting” was even invented, and thought no more about the person. But hate? No.
Hate is such a visceral word, one I don’t readily use to describe my feelings about other people—and if I have to make an honest accounting of the people I truly hate, I can only come up with three names. One is an artist who once defamed me. Another one is a former communications administrator who had such an uncanny talent for people manipulation. And the last one is an insecure wannabe who has no talent but has all the airs and the pretensions of a fourth-rate social climber. [To be honest, I don’t even really hate the last one. I’m more annoyed than hateful.]
But I will use the word “hate” to describe them because I cannot deny the physiological manifestations in me when I see their faces. I feel a creeping coldness that spreads from my hands to the core of my body, and then there is the sudden breathlessness that occurs. What it feels like is that of time stopping, and my body racing in self-preservation mode even if I am just standing still, pretending that all is right in the world.
I will use the word “hate” because in my darkest fantasies, I see a scenario of them lying by the roadside and in pain, and in my dark imaginings, I go up to them—and kick them instead. I would probably help them up in real life, but in my imagination I am the paragon of cold-heartedness. I know for sure I am not the only one who has this vengeance fantasy, if we must be honest.
Why do we hate?
Using the three people I mentioned above as parameters, I succumb to “hate” because:
 I was hurt, and the blow was unexpected. I thought we were friends, and then she defamed me online so thoroughly that the action left me bewildered I actually stopped doing art reviews for more than two years.
 I was witness to a horrible instance of inhumanity—because the last time I saw this person do her terrible magic in people manipulation, it was in a boardroom meeting and what she did filled me with such terrible awe that I couldn’t help but tell myself: “I have just seen a demonstration of evil, and I am paralyzed in its presence.” I wasn’t just paralyzed; I was stupefied. I could not believe that I was hearing this woman pronounce lies with so much nonchalance, and that the people around me were nodding their heads.
 I was victim of this person’s eternal pettiness, which I know springs from deep insecurity in his part. I probably would not mind him too much, but I would often catch him stealing my work and my research without acknowledging me and passing them off as his own—and then badmouthing me to other people on top of that. But, to be honest, this is more annoyance than hate.
I am annoyed with many people, but I rarely hate.
Hate, as an emotion, is so loaded, you confer it only to people who—in a weird way—truly deserve all that investment of emotion. We cannot bring ourselves to admit hate, because it is difficult. To admit hate is to acknowledge the actions of people we would rather ignore. To admit hate is to acknowledge that we have been moved—at least in a negative way—by them, which is a tacit recognition of their power. To admit hate is to bear a dark badge on our souls, negating the idea of ourselves as good people who manage to stay above the fray.
Which is why when I asked some of my friends about people they have truly hated in their lives—to the point that their blood would boil when they saw the faces of these people—most of them demurred from using the word. A musician friend would rather use the word “immensely dislike.” A psychologist friend would rather use the word “resentment.” A friend who’s a travel advocate would rather use the word “distrust.” My teacher friend, on the other hand, had no compunction over using the word.
My travel advocate friend told me: “There are three people I can think of—but I don’t use the word hate, because I do not want to hate. I extremely dislike them for their attempts to hurt me or my family, so this emotion really stems from distrust. Their intentions to be near me or us will always be hinged on malice. So I do not want to be near them. In fact, I just steer clear of them. I ignore them.”
I asked her to describe that feeling of distrust, and she told me: “When I do see them or when someone mentions their names, my palms get cold, my chest feels tight, and my heart beats faster. Naay mura’g sensation—I would describe it like an electrical current—mag-dagan-dagan sa akong arms, from my hands up to my shoulder and then back down again. But mentally, I feel calm and I know I am capable of doing just about anything if provoked.”
My psychologist friend told me: “There are three people I can think of—but I don’t really hate anyone. I can be angry at someone, I think. Or disappointed. But not hate. Let’s just say, extreme anger or disappointment na lang. But every time I see their posts on social media, saputon ko. Mo-sakit akong tiyan then lami i-syagit. Then I imagine myself telling the person how angry I am at them. It’s deeper than dislike. There are days I really feel resentment—and I think resentment is stronger than hate.”
There was somebody in our shared past who had done so much wrong to my psychologist friend, and also to me. Somebody we used to love immensely, but had become a distant object we never talked about anymore. I asked my psychologist friend about him, and she said: “I was never angry at him. I don’t hate him. I pity him. We knew him that much that we totally understood why he was the way he was. He wasn’t happy at all! There was severe pain and misery behind that famous laughter and charm.” I agreed. I don’t hate him either—although he gave me one of the most intense episodes in my life where I finally had to seek legal counsel. I can admit that what I feel now about him is mostly pity. He was, is, a broken man. I don’t hate him—but I also cannot imagine sharing the same breathing space with him anymore.
My teacher friend told me: “There are three people I can think of, to be honest. In recent years, more and more—and perhaps this is due to age—I’ve come to realize that the intensity of my hatred towards other people has to do more with what they represent and do, rather than for who they are as people. So even if I hate the person for who they are [because they generally are unlikable], the intensity of my hatred toward them is increased because of what they do or represent. Like unfair labor practice, or being a gun rights advocate, or being a Christian homophobe or heterosexist fascist. I really hate people who are actively making themselves insensitive to the plight of ordinary people. For whatever reasons they have, they make me seethe in anger. While I can control this anger in a way that still make me appear respectable, its residual deposits build over time that I can feel its weight, even so lightly, whenever I see or encounter the person again, in the same situation.”
He continued: “But such situation is not only a trigger but is also a magnifier. I especially notice that certain situations intensify my hatred against a person. In my line of work and commitment, for example, a situation might be a CBA negotiation, or a labor arbitration. In such a situation, my hatred against a person is more pronounced and I become more demonstrative of it. My hands become active and animated, and my voice becomes agitated. I am sure my eyes speak loud, too!”
He qualified all of that as a summation of his experience: “At this stage in my life, hatred for me has become more of an indicator of theological, social, and political pathologies. It is an emotion that tells me that I am in a situation of injustice or exploitation or exclusion or oppression. And spiritually, this allows me to feel the situation more deeply and closely. I am attuned to the complaints and cries of those around me. In this sense, this hatred of other people makes me more human and humane. So I embrace it fully.”
My singer friend told me: “There are three people that I can think of—but I don’t hate people man uy, I just extremely dislike,” and then he laughed. He continued: “I dislike people when they are a source of injustice. This is why I extremely dislike many politicians. And I don’t know where this is coming from—and maybe this is coming from my Christian background—but I also somehow believe in redemption. People are human, and they have reasons for doing things. But I do judge people.”
When pressed, he admitted: “Honestly, I used to be really hateful. I was a hateful kid growing up. But there was a turning point for me, especially when I studied psychology. I was in a class on trauma healing, and I asked myself—if ever I will meet the person who killed my father face-to-face, will I be able to forgive? When I was able to really tackle that issue within myself, I started to also hate less generally, and I began to be more understanding of people, I guess. But dili pud ko mag-plinastik. I still do judge people, and I do still feel anger when I see their faces, especially when I associate their faces with injustice. If ever I meet them, I think I would still be civil, and I can still talk to them—but I do judge them.”
I also asked my friends what their reaction had been when they found out that certain people do not, in fact, like them. My travel advocate friend told me: “My first thought is: ‘Why?’ But it does not trouble me. I care very much for all my friends, even my acquaintances. I have trained my mind, and my heart, to set aside na lang those who dislike me.”
My psychologist friend told me: “My first thought is: ‘What did I do?’ When I was younger, I used to ask: ‘What is wrong with me, or what do I lack?’ At this age, I just say: ‘Okay.’ But primary I still assess myself if I did anything wrong to the person—and kung wala, I just acknowledge that’s just how things are. And then I think: ‘Maybe they’re threatened by me.’ Based on my experiences, they lash out because they are unhappy and they need a target for their frustrations.”
This insight on insecurity as source of resentment was also echoed by my singer friend: “This is normal! As artists and as leaders, people will always see our flaws because we are always at the forefront of things. When I started one major music project in Dumaguete, I heard people grumble about me. They raised their eyebrows. They didn’t like me. They didn’t like the way I organized things. They didn’t like the way I performed. But what I did was, I just tried to be nice to them. That whatever they said about me, I was fine with that. And then it turned out, some years later, they also participated in the project I was doing!”
He continued: “There was another instance when, in an artistic group I was part of, I was totally hated by certain people. People cancelled me because of something I did. I started to also dislike, even hate, people. But you know what I did? I genuinely learned to forgive. I was in church in Davao and I was singing ‘The Lord’s Prayer’—and in that part where we sing ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,’ I was crying so hard. And then I learned to forgive those people who had judged me, and it turned out many of them later on became my closest friends now. I hated them—but I gave them a chance to understand my situation, where I was coming from. I think it was because I began to believe in becoming more empathetic, more compassionate, more understanding—and this is really the surest way to end hate.”
“There is one thing I learned from a mentor,” he continued. “That when things go wrong, or when people do not like you or when they question you, there is always dignity in silence. Not only to protect yourself, but also to give yourself time to reflect. You can give yourself time to evaluate your thoughts and your feelings. Why do you not like this person? What can you do to reconcile with this person? What can I learn about them that will change my mind regarding who they are to me?”
I asked him if reconciliation was necessary, and he immediately answered: “No!” and he laughed. “But when possible, make it possible. For inner peace.”
I asked my friends if they could ever forgive the people they … umm, immensely dislike / resent / distrust. My travel advocate friend answered: “Yes, if they apologize.” My psychologist friend answered: “Maybe more like ‘move on’ from them. But forgive? Only when apology is given.” My teacher friend answered: “F***k them. This gives intensity, and clarifies for me the reason why I hate them.”
I, on the other hand, forgive too easily—often to my own detriment.
As with regards being disliked, I can think of two very recent encounters that qualified for me what I have come to understand being an object of “hate” myself. In May, I was the object of a social media firestorm related to the elections. I know that this made me lose acquaintances, even people I thought were close friends. One of the latter in fact publicly posted on her Facebook page: “Go cancel yourself!”—and I thought of all our years of close camaraderie [even family history], and it made me very sad. But I was strangely calm throughout that ordeal, telling friends who were concerned for my welfare [some of them were even offering legal help], that it was all perfectly fine. That we would weather all of that. The calmness felt so grownup. As a meme once put it succinctly: “It’s okay not to be liked by everyone. You don’t even like everyone.”
Not too long ago, I had come to a meeting over lunch at Mister Saigon with a fellow LGBTQ activist who I found myself sparring with online. Over chat, she had accused me of “flexing my patriarchal muscles” when it came to planning Pride Month events last June, and I said equally hurtful things to her as well. But, minutes later, we both calmed down—and we agreed to meet face-to-face the very next day. We poured out our feelings and our frustrations over that lunch, knowing that the contention sprang from miscommunication, and we came away from that meeting feeling reassured about our common goals. But one other person in that meeting also told me this: “There are people in Dumaguete who don’t like working with you, Sir Ian. They don’t like you.”
I remembered my response—which I think echoes what my singer friend also realized: “Being liked is overrated. You don’t get to where you are without people hating or undermining you.” I truly meant it—and I found some form of inner peace when I articulated that. I was finally fine with being disliked! It was such a good realization, especially after spending most of my life doing unbearable people-pleasing—apparently an ADHD trait.
I also remembered what a visual artist friend told me when he visited Dumaguete early in June to attend the opening of MUGNA Gallery in Valencia. He was wary about encountering some artists who were instrumental in him leaving Dumaguete for good and settling to do his studio work somewhere else instead. He hated these people—who counted, among them, the very artist who defamed me. [Apparently, this is not an uncommon situation.] But he stayed on anyway for the opening party. And when we were going home, he told me: “We actually need these people in our lives.”
“How so?” I asked.
“Well, if they didn’t make me leave Dumaguete, I wouldn’t have gone on to make a more significant mark in the art world. My anger fuels me.”
I thought about that, and I replied: “You may be on to something there. If that person didn’t defame me, I wouldn’t be writing this much about the Dumaguete art world.”
“We need them. They keep us on our toes. They make me want to succeed even more,” my friend said. “But, nonetheless, f***k them.”
Labels: life, psychology
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
Saturday, July 02, 2022
4:27 PM |
Letting Things Flow
It’s not at all like riding a bike. You remember the proverbial promise, of course: that once you get on one after years of not doing it all, all the memories of biking will come running back to you. The skill was dormant—it only needed awakening.
It’s not at all like that, I’ve found.
There I was at the very beginning of June—or more truthfully, the end of May—and I was surveying the landscape of things-to-do for Pride Month. With some familiar trepidation I set about making the blueprint of activities, consulting certain trusted people I knew on what they wished for to happen for 2022’s return of Pride Month—and ascertaining how to set about making things actually happen. The trepidation was par for the course. When you try to reach for the moon, as all plan-making eventually is, the fear of not being able to leap towards luna-tic goals is a normal by-product of the process.
But then something else happened. I found myself seized by doubt and fear. This double-whammy was beyond the scope of mere trepidation. Trepidation is just normal nervousness as you embark on a journey—but you nonetheless make the first step. Doubt and fear are something else entirely. They are dark shadows that whisper to your ears, “You will never be able to do this”—an insidious pair that can paralyze you if you let them overwhelm you.
What struck me was that what I was about to do was something I have always done before, often to great success. For all my years of doing events and cultural shows in Dumaguete, I realized that the pandemic had extracted a terrible cost: it made me forget the instincts and the muscle memory I used to rely on when I went about organizing things.
I didn’t know what to do anymore, and I panicked.
It was not at all like riding a bike.
For our first event for Pride Month, I had planned to do a screening of the gay films directed by Jay Altarejos. I’ve always wanted to do this, as far back as 2018—but there were always circumstances that prevented their proper implementation. This time around, I was determined to make this screening work. I knew how to program it: I wanted to do two screenings, plus a little lecture sandwiched between. I found the most appealing venue to hold it: the first time I saw the screening room of Mugna Gallery in Bong-ao, Valencia sometime last April [way before the gallery opened], I wanted to do screenings in its perfectly appointed space. And I knew I could get the films to screen: the director is one of my closest friends—and I knew he’d be more than willing to help. [In fact, he flew in to Dumaguete from Manila on his own volition, just to help out and be present during the screening—which I found very touching. I love the generosity of good friends.]
Nonetheless, I was so panicked about the logistics that I found myself gasping for air. Will people be patient enough to stay for five hours, to do two screenings and a lecture? Will people find Valencia too far away to bother going? Will I have the time and energy to prepare the lecture I wanted to do? Will we do chairs, or will benches do?
The questions suffocated me.
On the day itself, while we set about prepping the venue for the eventual activity, Mugna Gallery’s Vince Lopez noticed my shallow breathing and my nervous ticks, and quickly read what was going on in my head. He told me: “Don’t surrender to the fear. Worry and work, but don’t fret. Let things flow.”
He was right. The event was a success, despite all my doubts and fears! People came, people stayed, people took part in a rigorous Q and A with the director himself. Why was I worried?
It took me a while to fully grasp Vince’s advice though. As I moved on to tackle the next event in my list, the doubts and the fears returned, gnawing at me—sometimes paralyzing. It worsened when I was locked out of Facebook, and could not properly facilitate all the things I needed to do. But Vince’s words eventually cut through my own paralysis—what people with ADHD call “the wall of awful”—and I realized I could do one thing: work as hard as I can, and as best I can—but then just let things flow. There is no reward for fretting over things beyond our control. When the challenges come, be creative [and brave] with your solutions—but just let things flow.
My biggest challenge was holding the panel on same-sex civil unions. It was happening at the tail-end of the week when I was totally cut off from communicating with the necessary people involved in the program—I had lost my cellphone and I had been locked out of social media. When my means of communication returned, I was faced with an immediate challenge: the host had an important work-related event he had to attend to and thus could not be present during the live-stream of the panel. I thought, Fine, I’ll do the hosting. Luckily enough, we got a good venue, and a good set of guests to talk about the issue—although one of them would be joining us from Manila through Zoom. Something I have never ever done before in all my years of curating and presenting panels. [I actively avoided Zoom events during the pandemic. The format just did not make sense to me.] And an hour before the event, we found out that the tech guy who was going to handle the livestream would not be coming—but he did leave us with a video camera. I immediately nixed the idea of the livestream, and settled for a taping we could edit later for uploading as a video. And then the Zoom. The terrible Zoom ordeal. We had two premium accounts at our disposal to use—but the first one needed a code which was sent to the owner’s email [and the owner was apparently napping and could not be reached], and the standby one just could not be accessed via normal channels [and our repeated attempts at log-in eventually had Zoom suspending the account temporarily]. I made the choice to use my free Zoom account with its dreaded 45-minute limit—and because we were frantic for time, we started the panel, with the camera filming us and banking on Zoom to record the video participation of our esteemed Manila guest. It was a fantastic panel. The guests were very forthcoming and articulate, and the audience was firmly with us all throughout the discussion. We wrapped up the event with a bang—interrupted only by having our Manila guest log-in twice because of free Zoom’s time limit. And then I discover that in the haste of starting the program, I had forgotten to press Zoom’s record button.
By then I had begun to rely on Vince’s advice: Don’t fret. Let things flow.
And this was my take: the meat of the panel was the scintillating conversation between the panelists and the audience. It was an enjoyable talk, and we learned a lot. But the technical side was all snafus. Do I consider the event a success or a failure? I chose success. It did what it set out to do—engaging people in a conversation about same-sex civil unions. We couldn’t share that conversation outside our room in Bethel Guest House, of course—but why fret over things beyond our control?
For the rest of the month, despite all the obstacles and challenges [and occasional skirmishes with people], I found the mantra—Don’t fret. Let things flow.—to be a source of comfort. I began to relax. And I began to see how things just fall into place when you just try to handle them with creativity [and bravery]. For Pride Pechakucha, for example, we only managed to book our venue for sure five days before the event because of unforeseen circumstances—but we got it. Then we lost our provider of the LCD projector and screen—but managed to tap the help of friends who lent their own equipment. [I was especially touched by Mayor Ipe Remollo’s generosity. We could not find anyone to lend us an LCD projector, but the City Tourism Office told us that the only machine that was not attached to a wall at City Hall was the one at the Mayor’s Office—but no one was allowed to take it out or borrow it. So I sought out Mayor Ipe that very day, luckily found him right in front of the Presidencia, and when I made my case—he immediately released the machine for us to use. And then Silliman University Culture and Arts Council’s Diomar Abrio contacted me, providing me another machine to use. So we had another LCD projector on standby! Which was eventually helpful, because the cords of the LCD projector from the Mayor’s Office was incompatible with my laptop, which we discovered an hour before the event—so I used the cords of the CAC machine instead. Talk about serendipity.]
Don’t fret. Let things flow.
Part of my reprieve was finally allowing myself to think of all the events as experiments in post-pandemic behavior. We used them as gauges to measure participation and interest. Let’s see if people are ready to mingle and to partake of events despite pandemic fears. Let’s see if people will come on their own accord, without having to be urged by a teacher requiring classes to attend such and such [hahaha]. Let’s see if people are willing to go to not-so-accessible venues for an activity. Let’s see if people will care. Let’s see if an intimate set-up, following COVID-19 protocols, is enough to conjure magic. All these among other things. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised, again and again, by how things turned out, given the challenges of the times. We even had devoted attendees who tried to go to all our events—and some of them even turned out to be tourists in Dumaguete and were just visiting! It was amazing.
So, don’t fret. Let things flow.
Labels: dumaguete, life, organizing events, Pride
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
6:42 AM |
In Dumaguete, The Arts Flourish Part 6: The Joy is in the Process
It is Thursday, the 2nd of June, and Vince Lopez has not slept.
He has not slept fitfully in the past two or three months, and more so in recent days, because of work. There is work to be done in the daylight hours as he sets about preparing for the opening of the new MUGNA Gallery and the exhibit that comes with that fact. And then, when night falls, there’s work to be done with his regular job as a data and systems engineer for a major entertainment company back in the U.S.—remote work, for sure, but the pressure and the workload remain the same. He has learned to contend with the deft juggling of both, but right now, rest feels like a luxury he can barely afford. There’s so much work to be done.
Still, to the observant eye, he looks unflustered by all of these—although one can spy a hint of a tiredness around the eyes, which even he admits to having: “When Saturday comes and goes,” Mr. Lopez says, “I’ll be getting a three-hour massage.”
By Saturday, he means 4 June 2022—the scheduled opening of MUGNA Gallery, arguably the first of its kind to exist in ages in Dumaguete, although technically speaking it is situated in Bong-ao, Valencia, just right outside the poblacion, along the Jose E. Romero Road that connects Dumaguete to its hilly neighbor in the mountainous west.
Together with his husband George Kuhn, a retired American Airlines pilot, Mr. Lopez has set about this almost herculean task of finding exhibition space to celebrate local artists, and the buzz in town has been tremendous. Everyone wants to see how MUGNA Gallery comes to be, in a mixture of celebration and curiosity. Everyone is also eager to see Jana Jumalon-Alano’s first solo exhibition in many years. [Disclosure: I curated her first solo show, Everything About This Girl, for the Silliman University Culture and Arts Council in 2015.] And the local art world—including artists and patrons from as far away as Bacolod and Cebu—are trooping in to celebrate and to examine, clearly a respite for everyone from pandemic anxieties and isolation.
“It’s tiring, of course, this whole business of opening a gallery and throwing a party for everyone—but I’m actually enjoying the process,” Mr. Lopez says.
It must feel like a new adventure for him, a New Yorker by way of Manila, who never imagined himself becoming a gallerist. Mr. Lopez comes from a family of bankers and accountants, and given that, his choice of a career—his interest growing up was in computer science—proved an anomaly. He studied at the De La Salle University, and later on, attended the University of Santo Tomas, where he earned a degree in electronics and communications engineering. When he was eight, his mother relocated to the U.S., and he stayed behind with his father and one of his brothers to finish his schooling.
“But America has always been the dream,” he admits. And so, when the opportunity came for him to migrate as well, he took it. This was right after college, when he turned 22. It was not a hard change because he was already looking forward to it—although admittedly the hardest part of the move was leaving his friends, who had become his family in Manila, behind. “The good part was my reunion with family,” he says. His mother lived in Queens, New York—and the diversity of its neighborhoods [composed of many Latinos and Filipinos] somehow made him feel at home.
He took his new American life as an adventure, replete with challenges he willed himself to conquer slowly and with determination—a personality trait that would define for the most part his career, and later his life as a gallerist in Dumaguete. Even though he had gone to the U.S. before on regular holidays, this time around he knew things would be a bit different, because this was now about an opportunity to build a life. “It was not entirely easy, because I did not have the work experience I needed to start that life, so it was hard for me to find a job,” he says. He started as a clerk, then began climbing the corporate ladder for a few years.
But he soon left the corporate world to pursue a passion: photography. He decided to study it full time, and then practiced it for a couple of years. The advent of digital photography, however, sideswiped him; he did not find the transition easy. He decided to go back to corporate work.
By then Mr. Lopez had amassed a wide experience in data management, and he landed a job at a popular entertainment conglomerate in 2012, eventually becoming its systems architect. The conglomerate was spinning off one of its companies, and they took him in to design their technology workflow and data flow. He found himself enjoying the business, especially given that the company was part of the entertainment industry—and he found its challenges very dynamic and creative.
This creativity in the work satisfied him: he knew he had always gravitated towards it. Aside from his brief foray into photography, his artistic side involved an abiding love of gallery and museum hunting, which became one of his favorite hobbies in New York. His workplace was just a fifteen-minute walk to the Chelsea Galleries, and he’d find himself seeing its various collections and exhibits during his lunch break. It was a passion that he shared with Mr. Kuhn. They loved art. For them, going to museums and galleries was an escape from the humdrum, almost a necessity.
And then, after his retirement as pilot, Mr. Kuhn made the decision to live in Negros Oriental. He soon found a place in Valencia—and for the next ten years, Vince would find himself coming over to Dumaguete regularly to visit his husband on extended vacations, although New York was still home and workplace. The visits became longer and more regular—until finally Mr. Lopez himself made the decision to move to Dumaguete as well.
They now live in Sagbang in the foothills of Valencia, in a sprawling property that has a fantastic view overlooking Dumaguete and the sea beyond. “I love it there. I chose to live there because it’s quiet peaceful,” he says. “And the view is breathtaking, and it is away from the hustle and bustle of Dumaguete and far away from the chaos and intense energy of New York.” Plus the couple now keeps a handful of dogs, and adopted beautiful stray cat named Tiger.
The house in Sagbang, and the property that surrounds it, remains a work in progress—and by design. “We realized that the construction and landscaping work we were doing was helping find work in the immediate community, helping local people in their livelihood,” Mr. Lopez says. “But this is not charity, I must say. We’re also getting good work out of it.”
It’s a local way of doing things that he has come to appreciate, because it provides a stark contrast to doing work in the U.S. “There, everything is in black-and-white, pure business, pure transaction,” he says. “Here, every project we undertake seems to be about building things together—even building a community, helping each other in many levels.” [It is that idea of community he responds to the most, and which has led to his newest project.]
Mr. Lopez has come to love Dumaguete, which for him is a “modernized probinsya.” The city has been a nice surprise. “It is a weird blend of country and city, a place in between,” he says—and says that its charms are incomparable to many other cities in the Philippines. He heard before of Dumaguete’s famous art scene—but it was not quite apparent to him in the beginning. There was his timing. He had only settled for good in Dumaguete just as the pandemic hit, and that reputed “thriving cultural scene” went largely missing or transferred to Zoom.
Once in a while, before COVID-19 made the world lock down, he would visit Subida in Valencia to shop for souvenirs to take back to the U.S., and that was when he met the artist Jana Jumalon. He discovered her paintings on the second floor of a shop, and the magnificence of her work surprised him. He bought one of her older paintings. Then he began getting introduced by Ms. Alano to other local artists—among them, Hersley-Ven Casero and Iris Tirambulo-Armogenia. For Mr. Lopez, he found the new conversations he was having with local artists interesting and eye-opening. “For me, there is no better way to observe how an art community evolves other than through the eyes of its artists, and through their works,” he says.
He was introduced to their works, which he appreciated—but whenever he’d ask them where he could find more of their art, he was dismayed to know there were virtually no galleries in town that showcased them. Mariyah Gallery, yes. The Ariniego, yes. Restaurants, yes. But each one had peculiarities that made them as art spaces somewhat challenging.
The kernel of an idea started forming.
“There was just so much talent around. And George and I felt that talent was deserving of being given a spotlight through a dedicated exhibition space,” Mr. Lopez says. “We felt the need. And we were also excited about sharing the experience of the community, and supporting the local artists. That was the inspiration. If we did not see the potential, or see the talent that existed, creating a gallery would have been farthest from our minds.”
And then the pandemic hit, and the idea was subsequently abandoned while most people—the Lopez-Kuhn couple included—lived the next two years in isolation like the rest of the world. But the world stopping did not stop them from supporting artists who needed their help, and that was when they realized that the pandemic was also instrumental in making them return to the idea of creating a gallery. “Maybe it was the energy we felt. Good energy. The fire within the local artists became much stronger because of the pandemic. There was an explosion, a need to create,” Mr. Lopez says. Responding to that energy, they retrieved their business plan. By November 2021, things started rolling for sure.
They started with the name: “Mugna” seemed like the best bet. They wanted a Bisaya word, and a meaningful word that was also easy to the ear of the international art market they wanted to penetrate. “Using a meaningful word from the local language allows a potential audience to learn a new word and also the meaning of it—and then promotes the place where it’s coming from.” He actually started with “Mugna-on,” but liked its abbreviated version. He also liked that mugna meant “creativity.” I also quickly reminded him that mugna also meant “to start,” or “to rush into the challenge of creating and doing,” as in: “Mag-mugna ‘ta!”
Finding the space was the easy part. The space had always been there. They were already renting, for some years, the unit in a building, which fronted the Uypitching property in Valencia. In fact, they made it their residence while they were building their house in Sagbang. When their house was completed, they turned the Bong-ao unit into a storage place.
“The way it was laid out, I always felt the unit would work as a gallery,” Mr. Lopez says. “But the logistics of renovating the space was a bigger undertaking. We had to remove beams from the walls to go for a seamless look.” There were myriad challenges as well, like lighting up the space appropriate for exhibiting art, and for that they consulted a lighting engineer. This was one among many stories Mr. Lopez had about sourcing materials and equipment as well, but they found local partners who worked hard to find what he needed. “I was very hands-on, because I really wanted a proper set-up for the pieces we were going to exhibit,” he says.
Mr. Lopez is also hands-on with the path he wants the gallery to take. Starting with the exhibitions, he wants to position MUGNA as a gallery of consequence, putting a spotlight on local artists at least for 2022. Then shortly after that, MUGNA will undertake programs and workshops to bring in the larger community, to allow groups within that community to take part in the exhibitions, and to take part in the creation of art. The mural outside the exhibition space is the first project in that community program--a work of bayanihan effort by selected artists in the community. “Murals challenge the notion that walls are merely functional,” Mr. Lopez says. “Walls become platforms for the imagination and can raise the conversation on community values.”
In the future, MUGNA Gallery will start bringing in artists from outside Negros Oriental or even the Philippines. It will take part in national and international art fairs. It will continue to do workshops and other artistic programs—including opening their Sagbang property as a potential retreat and residency for artists.
Mr. Lopez and Mr. Kuhn know there will be challenges. They love art, but they also know they are not business people entrenched the art world, and this is completely new territory for them. “But it’s our passion that drives us, and in a way, that’s an advantage,” Mr. Lopez says. “Because we are not doing this based on the norms of the business, or based on what is expected. We’re doing this the way we want to do it. Still, the challenges remain. Setting up a business like this, you have to know the best practices. But we’re figuring it out, and we do have good support, from friends primarily, here and in the U.S.”
The challenge is considerable, but that does not perturb Mr. Lopez.
“I’m actually not scared about where this could go,” he admits. “I’m very realistic about things. This could go up, or this could go down.” For him, however, the effort is the clincher: “What’s most important for us is that we try. Because even if it doesn’t work out, we’ve gotten so much out of it already—just the whole experience of this, and the people that we’ve worked with. Our mission already started even way before MUGNA opened its doors: we enjoy supporting artists, and we appreciate the give-and-take. And so we are here to enjoy the process.”
That enjoyment of the process is quite palpable in the way Mr. Lopez has curated Ms. Alano’s exhibition—which is done in beautiful simplicity, chosen with a nose for personal and national history, edited with flair to a few specific pieces [and also proves remarkable for what it leaves out], and arranged with respect to the evolutions of Ms. Alano’s work as an artist.
Tierra Quemada, which has extended its run until July 10, essentially showcases Ms. Alano’s prowess as a sculptor and ceramic artist—and for that we get an exhibit that is incredibly tactile in their power, and moving for their significations, which can only be thoroughly gleaned if viewers look closer, and in some cases, feel more intently with their hands. It is an exhibit that intends—given its title [which means “scorched earth”]—to burn you with the anger of its story.
There are assorted sculptures and ceramic pieces that make up the exhibit, but the two main pieces that feels most immediate are the towering works titled “Fortress” and “Fuego”—the first one a work in papier-mâché and found objects which Ms. Alana first exhibited in 2014 for the 13th VIVA ExCon Biennale of the Visayan Islands, and the second one of a more recent vintage that mirrors the height, the images, and the stylistic ambition of the first, but this time made of clay. Between them, you have almost a decade of Ms. Alano’s work and evolution as an artist—in a sense making this exhibit a kind of a retrospective, except that it has cannily omitted the paintings from the artist’s oeuvre.
I have always found “Fortress” such a compelling work ever since I set eyes on it in 2015. Part of what makes it compelling is the story behind it, given Ms. Alano’s roots as a Zamboangueño. After the siege of Zamboanga in 2013, which saw many houses burned to the ground, Ms. Alano went to the site of the conflagration and started gathering objects from it—and assembled them into this tragic watch tower which, according to Stephanie Frondoso in her copy for the exhibit catalogue, is a symbol “intended to illuminate tragedies that occurred and act as a space for memories of what has been lost.” There are small windows in it that invite you to look closer, but the things we behold in them and around them are kind of tricky, because they denote nostalgia, but they also denote destruction.
With “Fuego,” Ms. Alano streamlines everything by turning the tower of mementos of the 2015 work into a demonstrable towering inferno—a clay blaze on top of several clay boxes stacked on each other, imprinted with almost hieroglyphic swirls and shapes that recall, in a way that invites rethinking, the found objects from “Fortress.” The artist means the work to be an exorcism of sorts.
That Ms. Alano’s work has provided the birthing pieces inaugurating MUGNA Gallery as an artistic space feels very much like a collaboration of the highest order, and one that informs the other in significant ways. MUGNA has given a local artist her due after years of showcasing extraordinary work in various group exhibitions, and the artist has given the gallery an imprint of significance—that it is a place that recognizes fantastic talent, and will strive hard to showcase that talent in the best way possible, in the most exacting of processes.
It is a process of the most joyful kind. [To be continued…]
Labels: art and culture, dumaguete, gallries, painting
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
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