Monday, April 24, 2006

Artists need not be legitimized by government

THE LIST OF PEOPLE to be named National Artists came out a few weeks ago. The initial list included five names, only two of which were familiar to me. A familiar sixth name—FPJ—was also added later.

Bienvenido Lumbera is getting the award for literature. I first came across his name when Vincenz Serrano gave us photocopies of his work for English 11 and 12. I was further exposed to his works by my Filipino teachers, namely Michael Coroza and Marco Lopez. I enjoyed his pieces on Philippine literature, which he attacked both from a literary point of view and from a sociological point of view. And besides that, he stands tall in the realm of Philippine writers as someone who is quite happy writing mostly in English, ignoring the irrational voices who hold his minimal use of Filipino against him. In that respect, he’s someone an English-writing Filipino like me can look up to.

The other name is Bencab who is to get the award for visual arts. Unfamiliar as I am with Philippine art, his name I’ve come across many times before when Philippine art is spoken or written about. Little did I know that he was a kabarkada of one of my granduncles during their UP days. Apparently, my granduncle (pinsan ata ng lola ko), an architect, even has a portrait of himself hanging on one of the walls of his Pampanga home which was painted by Bencab. That’s pretty damn cool.

I’m sure the other three in the initial list were trailblazers and greats in their respective fields. I just honestly don’t know enough about them or their fields for me to comment. But much respect to them, nevertheless.

All these artists now await the approval of Malacanang.

Approval from Malacanang?

That’s bullshit. The whole situation just leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Unlike Midas, everything Malacanang touches becomes rust. I immediately develop hatred towards anything they involve themselves in. And now that they’re meddling with the issue of National Artists, I pray that those eligible for the award refuse it. Their legacies shouldn’t be tainted by the moves of the administration.

Why does the list of candidates have to be approved by Malacanang, anyway?

Why? There’s no need.

The candidates have been chosen by committees whose members have the credentials to judge the merits of the initial five individuals. If they say that these five are worthy of being National Artists, then so be it. Why does it have to be approved by the Palace? What do PGMA, Mike Defensor, Ignacio Bunye, or whoever, know about art? What do they know about culture? All they seem to display is a culture of corruption.

Why do these accomplished Filipinos, who have dedicated their lives to their art that enriches our national culture, need the approval of institutions that have dirtied our culture?

It’s a shame.

The legitimacy of these artists is already spoken for by their body of work. Their greatness has already been made manifest. So what’s truly at stake here?

There’s supposedly an allowance (that is widely considered insufficient for its intended purpose of aiding in continuing artistic works) and protection of works (though property rights isn’t exactly a strong suit of ours in this country).

But the true value of being named a National Artist revolves around sentiments and tradition. To be a National Artist puts these individuals in a different class—a class where only the great artisans in our history stand. Through their works, they are true ambassadors of our culture.

That’s what this is all about.

Now to stain such a tradition with a menial affirmation from an administration of low regard is downright shameful—directly disrespectful to the artists that await approval, and an indirect slap-on-the-face to the Filipino, as if to say only Malacanang can determine who best represents the country. And for the administration to add a sixth name—FPJ—as undoubtedly a measured political move to win support is to (1) insult FPJ’s achievements in film, and (2) is sadly politicizing an important honor in our country.

Bienvenido Lumbera once wrote that the peaks of our artistic achievement in literature are in times when we are oppressed—literature serving as a ways of awakening the consciousness to fight oppression. As art is a form of catharsis and a means of emotional cleansing through expression for an artist, it can and has also displayed representative powers of influence upon society. It too can be a form of fighting the oppressors.

That’s what the whole art world is—romantically speaking, it’s an alternative to the system, to the politics, to the rational inhumanities of the real world.

Isn’t it ironic that five—or six—potential representatives of an ideal world are now being subjected to the real world politics of awaiting the word of an oppressor?


Mon 24 April 06


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