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How to marry contemporary and indigenous arts - the Ilonggo experiment

Late last year in the Phillipines' second oldest city, Iloilo, a defunct indigenous cultural festival was resurrected. The 2001 Ilonggo Arts Festival might have been concerned with ancient and indigenous culture but the methods it used to expose that culture were distinctly contemporary. Performers recited traditional poems on local radio, ritual dances were performed to a backdrop of more than one hundred modern paintings and installations, and the event's key conference explored the impact of globalisation and information technology on indigenous cultures. Hazel P Villa was there and reported on how the 2001 Ilonggo Arts Festival managed to integrate indigenous, folk and modern Ilonggo art in its ten-day program. This feature article was first published in February 2002, and has been reproduced with kind permission of the Phillipines’ National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Features department. ILOILO CITY – Ten consecutive days of free entrance to quality arts exhibits, cultural shows, workshops and conferences this middle of November has left Ilonggos, visitors and the participants themselves appreciating the uniqueness and possibilities of Ilonggo culture. Resurrected from six years of hibernation for lack of financial support, this year’s 'Hublag (Movement): The Ilonggo Arts Festival' saw Panay Bukidnons delivering ambahanons or chants, and aetas performing ritual dances in a huge setting that had more than a hundred modern paintings and installations as backdrops. Cultural performers recited the binalaybay and composo (Ilonggo forms of poetry) that was aired on a local AM radio. Folk ensembles performed at the PNB Multi-Use Hall in downtown Iloilo City. While all this was going on, arts workshops and conferences on West Visayan culture and heritage were held in other venues in the city. The extravaganza of free shows and activities may have been hectic and taxing for the participants, but they were thankful for the revival of interest in Ilonggo arts and culture as the events were organised by the Arts Council of Iloilo Foundation Inc (ACIFI), in co-operation with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). 'When the festival was discontinued [six years ago], it left a void that was sadly felt and bewailed, not only by artists but also by the community, particularly the schools whose students found in the festival to be a rich opportunity for cultural education,' said ACIFI Chair Gaudelia Doromal. A grant from the NCCA was the saving grace that gathered Iloilo’s artists to once again showcase the best of their works and performances, 16-25 November 2001. Experimental Approach 'Hublag 2001' was experimental in its approach to integrated indigenous, folk and modern Ilonggo art. As proof of its media diversity, the roster of activities included film appreciation, through the works of historic Cine Ilonggo, one of the Philippines’ few active groups engaged in the production of regional films, and the activities of the Panay Bukidnons and the Aetas, two of Western Visayas’ biggest cultural minority groups. NCCA Commissioner Romeo de la Cruz, who is an Ilonggo, said in his speech at the opening ceremonies that it was the artists who moved that Hublag be revived with the help of the NCCA. 'NCCA has to think of schemes to help artists and cultural workers. Hublag now is different from other shows and exhibits it did before because it is integrative in approach – there are conferences and dialogues between indigenous peoples and those in the mainstream arts,' said Commissioner de la Cruz. Federico Caballero or Tay Pedring, the 63-year-old Panay Bukidnon awardee of the 2000 Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan gladly delivered a short ambahanon or chant at the opening ceremonies. 'Waay duman ti huya huya mga kaibhanan ko hay ginasapak ka gobyerno amon kultura (My companions are not anymore ashamed because the government has given attention to our culture),' Caballero told this writer in his native kinaray-a after his performance. On the second day of Hublag, it was the Aetas’ turn to show and explain to the public their folk beliefs, dances and even medical practices to the delight of school children and some visitors from the US Embassy. Some members of an Aeta tribe from Hamtic, Antique province performed the Pandang Pandang, which is about the Aetas’ peaceful wanderings around Panay Island. They also did the courtship dance Kuratsa and the ritualistic Samba that called on the spirits to heal a sick person. In the evenings, visitors were treated to performances by Iloilo’s local bands like 'Tingug ni Nanay (Mother’s Voice)' and folk ensembles. This mostly drew in the young set who, on other non-festival days, have to pay considerable entrance fees to watch their favorite bands play. Art enthusiasts, aspiring visual artists and creative writers attended the free workshops of esteemed Ilonggo artists such as Palanca award-winner Peter Solis Nery, terracotta specialist Alan Cabalfin, visual artist Alan Rivera and choreographer/dancer Annie Divinagracia-Sartorio. Fifteen-year-old Hannah de Anas, a dance student of the Iloilo National High School’s Special Program for the Arts said she was elated at the number of activities and the respected Ilonggo artists who did the workshops. Conferences at the Festival The conferences at 'Hublag' tackled prevailing trends related to history and culture as well as the need for the preservation of heritage sites in Iloilo City. The Center for West Visayan Studies of the University of the Philippines in the Visayas organised the 12th Conference on West Visayan History and Culture centering on the theme of 'Arts, Crafts and Information Technology.' The impact of globalisation and information technology on the survival of indigenous arts and culture were discussed. Of particular importance to natives of Iloilo City was the Heritage Talkshop on 'Revitalising the Central Business District' in co-operation with the Iloilo City Cultural Heritage Conservation Council(ICCHC) and the Canadian Urban Institute. Iloilo City, being the Philippines’ second oldest city had the burden of preserving its old buildings, heritage sites and historical landmarks in downtown Iloilo City. Some of the buildings that dated back to the Spanish era and the early American period are in danger of being torn down. At the Heritage Talkshop at the PNB on 20 November 2000, architect Manuel Tingson of the University of San Agustin updated participants on their project of cataloguing the buildings in Mapa, Guanco, Aldeguer, JM Basa and Iznart streets. He said they are in the process of cataloguing 22 buildings. These include the International Hotel that has a neo-classical design, the Antillan-inspired balay nga bato and the Cacho Building, known for its local baroque architecture. Former City Councilor José Junio Jacela who passed an ordinance to preserve the heritage buildings by declaring them as the 'Iloilo Heritage Zone' said it would be tragic if these landmarks bit the dust because they spoke of Iloilo’s cultural influences. The ICCHC said all is not lost for the heritage sites and buildings if they worked fast enough in preserving these. The ICCHC’s job of cataloguing buildings and structures along the old central business district is funded by a 175,000 peso grant from Ford Motor Company. After this has been done, the ICCHC said it would meet with the building owners and discuss ways of preserving their buildings. The series of conferences, workshops, performances and exhibit has made Ilonggos proud of their capacity to appreciate and preserve their heritage. The efforts have not remained unnoticed. 'The festival gave the West Visayan artists a venue to assert their identity as it showcases their talents and most distinctive work. It further promotes unity and co-operation among themselves, to bring about their integration with modern artists as they are brought together in one festival,' wrote veteran Ilongga writer and columnist Dr Vicky S Primero. All may not have been perfect at the 'Hublag 2001' because some schedules and venues were confusing and the venues subject to last minute changes, but it got the Ilonggos excited that 'Hublag' was not only resurrected – it also gave them hope that Ilonggo arts, heritage and culture has regained its lost direction. First published in NCCA features.

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