Art: Window to National Identity

April is a very busy month for Filipino art. To top the long list of events, April is celebrated as the National Literature Month which aims to promote local literature, through a series of events such as writing camps and book fairs that feature local titles from established authors and young aspiring writers. The National Book Development Fund together with the Commission on Filipino Language encourages the younger generation to read local literature and support our own artists

The Philippine government also awarded last 19th of April the newest batch of National Artists, the highest honor conferred to Filipinos who have made significant contributions to the development of art. Nine honorees were formally awarded as National Artists in a ceremony held at the Malacañan Palace. The ceremony was then followed by a celebration at the Cultural Center of the Philippines; the event was filled by performances from the country’s best artists such as the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, Philippine Madrigal Singers and Ballet Philippines. It was certainly a night of a celebration for Philippine art and Filipino’s creativity.

Speaking of National Artists, the world renowned painter and National Artist for Visual Arts, Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera, who celebrated his birthday last April 10, is celebrating his fifty year career through a series of exhibits which showcase his ever-brilliant creativity that made him the best-selling Filipino painter of his generation. BenCab was best known for his Larawan Series that portrayed the life of Filipino’s during the Spanish Colonial rule. He was given the National Artist Award for Visual Arts on 2006.

It is undeniable that Filipinos have a great gift of creativity; I just discovered that the Jungle Book’s poster was designed by two Filipino artists.  This is not surprising especially in a country whose national hero, Jose Rizal, is also an artist. Rizal’s two novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, played a significant role in stirring up the nation’s uprising against the colonial rule. Juan Luna, a contemporary of Rizal, also made a name for Filipinos through his paintings. Luna’s Spoliarium was a winner of a gold medal in the Madrid Exposition of 1884.

This led me to realize that art in all forms is very important not only for Filipinos but for every nation in the world. Art plays a vital role in a society, an abstract and often unseen and unappreciated role.

Art perpetuates a culture and a tradition. Art preserves the legacy of a generation. Just imagine a world without the classic Ancient Greco-Roman art; Percy Jackson could have not existed. Just recently, a Filipino tribe member named Apo Whang Od gained fame from tattoo enthusiasts around the world. Many tourists, local and foreign, visit Whang Od in Mt. Province, a place located in northern Philippines, to get a tattoo from her. Apo Whang Od uses a traditional way of making tattoos called “batok”. However Whang Od is the last surviving mambabatok, tattoo maker, in the tribe, so many people are trying to get a tattoo from her before the old tradition become “extinct”. Art indeed serves as a footprint of every generation that lived in the world thus it should be preserved with admiration and utmost appreciation.

Art also helps creating a national identity. It is the reflection of every society. Take William Faulkner’s illustration of pre-civil rights movement Southern United States through his novels and short stories. In visual arts, another Filipino National Artist, Fernando Amorsolo, had created a collection of landscape paintings that portrayed the Philippine country side (the featured photo is Amorsolo’s “Planting Rice”). But in this respect, the art form that best reflect a country is its Culinary Art. Every place in the world has its unique cuisine and every food tells a unique story about the place and the people living there. Filipino cuisine which is typically a fusion of Spanish, Chinese and local cuisine has a very diverse menu. Filipinos also took influence from other Western and Oriental cuisines but made some tweaks to adapt to its own taste. This reflects the ability of Filipinos to easily adapt to any culture and lifestyle. Adobo which is a trademark Filipino food is gaining popularity in foreign countries, making the favorite Filipino dish a representative of the Filipino nation to the world. Truly that art is a window to a nation’s soul.

These unseen and unappreciated roles of Art in our society only tell us that we should give all our efforts in preserving and promoting our own Arts, may it be Filipino, Oriental or Western art. But not only it is a footprint of a generation, and a window to our national identity, Art has another role in our society, and perhaps its most important role— it is also a medium to advocate change. Therefore, Art should be preserved and promoted with admiration and utmost appreciation.


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