To Survive, Eat Arts

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This is the talk I delivered at the 40th United Architects of the Philippines National Convention last Saturday, April 12, at the SMX, redacted to be read rather than be heard and seen as I had a lot of visual support.

On my 65th birthday in June this year, I plan to launch my own sensual photography book of women. I love taking pictures and I love women in a universal sense, so I thought I could combine the two loves by coming up with a third love, books. There are sixteen women featured in the book, from age 17 to 62. All of them are personal friends, including my wife. Except for one, none of them are professional models. These are strong, lovely independent-minded women who discovered more of their power through the exercise.

Why Nude Women?

Now, if your question to me is how did I convince women friends to shed their inhibition and show some skin, you are out. I think the most essential question at this point is why am I coming out with this book at all. And I say to you: why not? It is a dream. It is a fantasy. So why not go for it?

Less than ten years ago, I was telling people, I would be okay just to live up to 60 years old. But then, I thought, that would be a self-fulfilling prophecy, considering that when we visualize strongly enough, scenes do come true. So when I was about to reach 60, I said, Lord erase, erase, erase! I want to live up to 100.

Climb Your Mountain

I keep seeing and admiring photos of Mt. Pulag, the second highest mountain in the Philippines. They show clouds dancing with the orange burst of dawn. I told myself, I’d want to take such photos myself. Of course, the only way was to climb Mt. Pulag. So I did. It was February and very cold, the air rarified. I was the oldest person in that horde that ascended that day. I wasn’t easy. I have asthma classified as COPD. I almost died. But I got one item on the list, checked.

The questions that beg to be asked are: how safe or how risky are those things-to-do in our list? How far would we dare venture out of our comfort zone? How much pain are we willing to take in for a moment of joy? Having built our career, would we raze it down and rebuild it? Could we be like children? We may patiently construct a Lego castle only for them to kick it down soon after, with laughter. We are born free, curious and expansive. Those of you who have small children or apos in their house will remember how we ourselves acted.

One of my grandchildren, named Jaiichi, is deeply fascinated by keys. He observes how a key is inserted into a knob and a panel opens. He observes how a key is inserted into a slot, and a car starts. It is magic. So he demands for a key and tries them in holes. We had to buy plastic outlet covers to prevent further accident. Because he got jolted by electricity before that and he just gave a sheepish smile. Only for him to try inserting the key again!

That is how we are as children, we explore. We are full of wonderment.

To Be A Child

But as we grow up, we get clamped down by norms and conventions. We start to create our bubble – to protect ourselves from the pain, the embarrassment, the rejection, the disappointments in life. Sometimes we measure our worth by how people rate us, or by the number of likes on Facebook. Sus ginoo. Can’t we be carefree or stupid sometimes? In the creative industry, brainstorming is one of the most liberating exercises. Here, there is no such thing as a stupid idea. A stupid idea could lead to a brilliant concept.

I asked the guests not give any gift but to donate cash instead to an advocacy that I was starting. In the same year, I was gripped by a vision, a vision that obsesses me up to now. And this is: the creative content industry could be a substantial contributor to our economic growth as well as to a robust culture.

Together with some colleagues in the comics and animation sectors, we planned a festival. We had exhibits, drawing competitions, workshops, foreign guests, recognition rights, talks and lectures, the works. But these cost a lot of money and we were working against negative factors. One, we represented two moribund sectors. There used to be a Golden Age of comics and the Philippines was the choice of animation producers. But now these are neglected, exploited sectors. Who would support losers like those?

Walk the Talk

I had to put my foot where my mouth is. So, with the consent and support of my wife, I borrowed money against my insurances. Plus, we mortgaged our property and borrowed from individuals. For something that was non-profit and non-stock – if you are a banker or a finance officer – that was pure madness. What makes the position of creative people in the Philippines difficult is the establishment bias and stereotyping, and not just apathy, against the arts.

We have forgotten that it is innate for man to draw. The caveman not only wanted to record his world and the events that occurred herein, but he needed to comprehend and even beautify his world. So, while he hunted for food and sought protection from the elements, he drew his apprehension and aspiration on the wall. He probably invented primitive pencils first way before the wheel.

But what do we hear? Hoy, ano ba yang pa-art arts mo dyan, makakain ba yan? Early on we curtail the natural tendency of our children to express, which is what art is all about. We try to subdue his right brain and impose the preference for logic over intuition even when management schools teach that when all approaches fail, use your intuition. Blink!

Defining Who We Are

These grown-ups become heads of government and custodians of institutions. That is why we do not have a Department of Culture or a Department of Creative Content, unlike other countries in the world. Our adults think that art is some esoteric pursuit, meant only for street dancing and external beautification, when art is a continuous process of defining who we are as a people. When nurturing art feeds our own rationale for being.

It is a nagging thing. Today, I have called on a larger circle of friends, from television, film, animation, comics, fashion, graphic design, photography, the academe, and yes architecture, to form an organized, united constituency. The ASEAN Economic Integration remains a serious concern. More than the threat to livelihood, what to us is critical is the onslaught of cultural influences. For a nation with a rich reservoir of artists but uncaring supra structure, that is scary. We are in danger of losing our soul, because we have reduced our survival to just our stomach.

To me this is a battle worth waging. If we are given to have one last shot at life, what would be your choice? When said I almost died climbing Mount Pulag. I was not dramatizing. I think I was the first individual to head for the summit of Pulag that early morning. But the oxygen was so thin, My heart was pumping hard and my vision was getting dim. I was gasping for life, my lungs were not expanding, I defecated. It was sheer will that pushed me to reach the summit, the last guy to do so. I was thinking that if it was really time for me to go, it would be comforting that I went trying to realize one of my dreams.

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