Philippine Stories About the Origin of the Universe in Sansinukob Installation Exhibit

In February 2017, I co-led Salaysayan: K’wentong Bayan, Kaalamang Bayan (Storytelling: Folk Stories, Folk Knowledge), a festival celebrating Philippine folk narratives. The festival was UP Diliman’s participation in the 2017 National Arts Month. The centerpiece was Sansinukob (The Universe), an installation/outdoor exhibit featuring seven Philippine renowned artists.

Together with a colleague from the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy Jem Javier, I also curated the exhibit.

The seven artists featured were, JunYee, Gerry Leonardo, Anton del Castillo, Rita Gudiño, Leeroy New, Leo Abaya, and Reg Yuson.

The exhibit and the festival opened on 1 February 2017 at the open space near the former Faculty Center. Amidst the rain, the opening program did not deter the curatorial and dramaturgical team to falter. The opening ceremony was an original musical/dance theatre about the origin of the Philippine archipelago aptly titled “Arkipelago” devised by Popo Amascual, JC Bautista, Ina Bolivar, Ivy Baggao, Gio Potes, Alice Gonzalez, Jem Javier and yours truly.

Original music was composed by Solaiman Jamisolamin and the performance was directed by Josefina Estrella. UP Filipiniana Dance Group artistic director Peter Alcedo choreographed the piece.

The UP Filipiniana Dance Group during the Opening Ceremony of the Festival and the Exhibit (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
The performers for the Opening Ceremony of Salaysayan Festival (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

Performers included members of the UP Filipiniana Dance Group and members of the UP ConChords and UP Madrigal Singers.

Five of the seven artists were recognized during the ceremony. They were also presented each with a crown and were covered with petals through a traditional crowning-ritual of the pagpuputong (crowning), a cultural performance from the island of Marinduque. The artists feted were Gerry Leonardo, Rita Gudiña, Leo Abaya, Leeroy New and Reg Yuson.

As stated in the project brief/catalog of the exhibit, originally written in Tagalog, each layer of the universe has a story on the origins of men and the world, filled with characters directly (or sometimes indirectly) connected with the culture and destiny of all beings. These were covered in various pieces of folk literature which reflect the culture and appreciation of the community.

The exhibition was envisioned to allow people to explore the corners of the universe in accordance with the k’wentong bayan collected from various ethno-linguistic groups in the Philippines. Through the exhibit, the viewers may realize the richness and significance of the indigenous epistemology and system of beliefs of the Filipinos – the surrounding existence of man and the visible and invisible elements of sansinukob – which will lead to solving the “Great Connection” that will remain and continue.

The map of the exhibition (Photo: Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts, OICA)

Six public arts were installed in selected areas of UP Campus. The public arts were Emptiness by Junyee and Leonardo, Mebuyen sa Idalmunon by Gudiño, Ang Pagbalik sa Lupa by Del Castillo, Agtayabon by New, Ang Kahanginan by Abaya, and Langit-non by Yuson.

Visitors taking a look at Emptiness (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
Visitors experiencing “the void” in the Emptiness (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

Political installation artist JunYee and Philippine High School for the Arts teacher Leonardo’s Emptiness was installed at the UP Lagoon across the former Faculty Center. The work was a “paradox of presenting the concept of “emptiness” through a large-scale structural fabrication, an experience of the intangible, the void of the space, the narrative of nothingness – all through a material form in a site-specific space.”

Mebuyen sa Idalmunon at the UP Lagoon (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
A photoshoot at the Mebuyen sa Idalmunon (Photo: OICA)

Gudiño’s Mebuyen sa Idalmunon was mounted near the Beta Epsilon Theatrum. It took inspiration from the story of Mebuyen from the Bagobo folk narrative/myth. In this story, the universe is called idalmunon. It is located at the edge of the black river where souls of the dead go on a journey by boat. In the Bagobo myth, Mebuyen is the mother of the underworld. She is commonly depicted with many breasts to nurse dead infants until they grow up and return to Gimokudan (heaven) to live peacefully with their dead families. After the exhibition, the public art was donated to UP Diliman. Today, it still stands on the same site where it originally appeared – at the lagoon near the Theatrum.

An obligatory pose with the artist Castillo and a curator-friend Ricky Francisco (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

UP Integrated School’s Anton Del Castillo mounted Ang Pagbabalik sa Lupa  for the exhibit. Based on a Kalinga folk story “The Departure of the Gods,” it featured the separation of gods and people by setting a scenario of three women who were descending from a stairway. Mounted at the University Amphitheater, the stairway was 18 feet high and 5 feet wide. At the end of the stairway were three figures: a woman standing, a woman kneeling and a woman lying on the ground. Del Castillo covered the faces of the women as a symbol of shamelessness (for disobeying the god). In the story, the god asked them not to look back as they descend/go back to the earth. The consequence of the disobedience was the destruction of the only connecting link between the heavens and the earth. But the women looked back, which as the story indicated, the beginning of the separation of humanity from the gods. The installation was also donated to UP Diliman and it is now installed in an open space between the Villamor Hall (University Theater) and the UP Carillon.

Visitors experiencing Atgayabon (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

Contemporary artist New took inspiration from a Bukidon folk story: the Atgayabon, half-bird and half-human creature who mediated between the fighting gods of the sea and the heaven. The story narrates that the as the bird flaps its huge wings, the gods are calmed. Often, when natural disasters strike, folks believe that Atgayabon is tired and begins to rest, hence the fighting continues. New’s public art was installed across the Vargas Museum.

Ang Kahanginan welcomes UP visitors (Photo: SAP Tiatco)
Visitors posing in front of Ang Kahanginan (Photo: SAP Tiatco)

UP College of Fine Arts’s professor and multi-disciplinary artist Abaya created Ang Kahanginan using the Bagobo’s story of Lumabat’s journey to heaven as the take-off point. His concept was a flying visual framework, mimicking the wind. The work was made of windsock and koinobori. The windsock is a flexible cylinder made from cloth and usually seen on airstrips indicated the direction and strength of the wind. Each windsock represented a male torso (representing Lumabat). Koinoboro is a Japanese carp-streamer kite used during the Children’s Day in Japan.

A photoshoot at Langit-non (Photo: OICA)
Visitors experiencing Langit-non (Photo: UP Diliman Information Office)

Finally, Yuson’s Langit-non was adapted from the story “The Abode of the Creator of the Universe” based on the Panay myth of the same title. The work was a raised structure with an installation of a mirror finish or highly reflective surfaces in a circular formation. From below, one could see the reflection of the surroundings the way Tungkang Langit, a hardworking god who fell in love with Alunsina, the virgin goddess of the skies, would see the world from above. The public art is still on loan with UP Diliman. It may still be viewed on the same spot across the UP Tennis Court.

The exhibition was supposed to end on 28 February 2017. However, it was extended until 15 March 2017.

The exhibit aimed to position UP Diliman as a medium to foster a deeper understanding of the k’wentong bayan coming from different socio-historical and socio-cultural milieus. Also, the exhibit was intended to feature k’wentong bayan (particularly, the Philippine stories about the origin of the universe) as important producers of knowledge. Finally, the exhibit wanted to connect these narratives to the different narratives of nation-building and nationalism.

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