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A soulful month

By: Radel Paredes March 03,2018 - 10:03 PM


Question: If February is the month of love and art, what goes on for the rest of the year? Answer: Hate and barbarity.

This is a joke, of course. But the fact that, in the Philippines, we extend the celebration of Valentine’s Day to the rest of February and also mark it as the National Arts Month, there must be a need for us as a nation to be able to take a break from the usual lack of romance and creativity in our daily lives that we have to appoint a whole month just for that.

So in February, schools, offices, restaurants and (of course) motels spruce up with cut-out cupids, paper roses, and heart-shaped balloons to mark the love season. And, parallel to the love fever is the frenzy of art-related events sponsored by government cultural institutions, art organizations, and even business establishments that promote arts and culture as corporate advocacy or are merely jumping into the bandwagon that could still turn into a lucrative enterprise.

For artists, it’s the reverse. They don’t need an arts month as art is actually their daily grind. And yet, ironically, it’s in February when they also get the busiest. The various arts month events give them opportunities to show and share their talents in exhibits, performances, workshops, and art talks being held here and there.

Although I have not been active in the local arts scene lately, I was still able to catch up in the arts month celebrations here in Cebu at the close of February. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts, through its regional committees led by Dr. Hope Yu, held a two-day celebration entitled “Maartext” on February 26 and 27 at the Robinsons Galleria mall.

It was a festival showcasing the different arts, featuring stage performances, poetry readings (particularly what young people call “spoken word”), short film screenings, and a small exhibit where paintings and drawings are placed side by side poems inspired by them.

The two-day celebration also included displays of books on local arts and culture, workshops, lectures, and a moderated conversation on the current state of the visual arts in Cebu. Among those displaying books was my former student Johanna Michelle Lim, whose “What Distance Tells Us,” her first collection of travel essays, was launched just a few days before at Qube Gallery.

Aside from being invited to show our work in the art-poetry exhibit, I joined the panel discussion with fellow artists Raymund Fernandez and Geraldine Ocampo. Raymund, who also writes a column here in Cebu Daily News, is a professor at the University of the Philippines Fine Arts Program. Geraldine “Gigi” Ocampo is my colleague in the faculty of the University of San Carlos Department of Fine Arts.

Our talks focused on the rapid development and diverse trajectories of contemporary art here in Cebu as well as the problems and challenges that it faces, such as the lack of galleries and art spaces that would host or promote it and the need for criticism, curatorship, and publication on local art. Also tackled is the impact of social media, digital technology, and the global trend of populism in the work of local artists.

As the arts compete with all the more banal distractions of contemporary life, the shopping mall became just the right venue or rather battle ground to showcase their power. It was indeed a celebration of Cebuano creativity and imagination. And, paralleled with the monthlong promotion of romantic love, the celebration of the arts in February makes it a triumph of the human spirit, if only for a short moment. This twin celebrations of love and art in February makes it a month filled with expressions of the human soul. Indeed, it is a soulful month that helps to alleviate the despair brought about by so much hate and barbarity which we experience whole year round.

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