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Woman both ‘malakas’ and ‘maganda’

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In the 1970s and 1980s, the Philippine creation myth about the first man and woman, Malakas and Maganda, became the subject of jokes and was even satirized in the underground “mosquito press” because of how the Marcoses got themselves portrayed by sycophant artists as the reincarnation of “the strong” (Malakas) and “the beautiful” (Maganda). The excesses of the conjugal dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda were softened through the portrayal of their likenesses in art that drew from myths and legends.

I remember seeing a huge mural that showed the naked Malakas and Maganda about to emerge from two halves of a split bamboo. I don’t remember now where I saw it—in Leyte or in Malacañang, where I was sent on a writing assignment, after the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship. Now I wonder where that mural and versions of it are. Were they destroyed by the angry protestors that stormed Malacañang, or spirited away to some art connoisseur’s collection?

But the “Malakas at Maganda” legend is an enduring one, its desecration notwithstanding, and the mythical couple have been more than rehabilitated and reinstated in their rightful place in Philippine myths and legends. I find our own man-woman creation story more egalitarian than the Bible’s, where Eve just happened to have come from Adam’s rib. (I will get a rain of hate mail from hard-core Bible-thumpers for saying that.) In the case of Malakas and Maganda, they emerged separate but not necessarily equal from a split bamboo.

But can one only be either malakas or maganda? Oh, yes, a woman can be both, according to a group of women artists.

Currently on view at St. Scholastica’s College Museum (at the corner of Leon Guinto and P. Ocampo Streets in Manila) is the “Malakas and Maganda II” exhibit of paintings, sketches, sculptures, computer-generated images and photographs by Kasibulan women artists. The art pieces are representations of women of strength and beauty but not in the stereotypical sense. One can say that every art piece is the artist’s projection of her own beauty and strength, her interpretation of what she has experienced in others.

Several creations seemed to speak directly to me or draw me to look closer—and also farther and deeper—into a realm beyond the visual and tactile, into an inner world whence spring beauty, strength and compassion, but where dwell also pain, fear, joy, fire and daring.  I do not want to single out particular creations but I can sense that no matter the mood a piece conveys, the woman factor is very evident.

The exhibit is not preachy. No anti-Barbie, antipatriarchy statements. As if it is saying, this is not about them, but about us, about what we know that is beautiful and strong.

Kasibulan (Kababaihan sa Sining at Bagong Sibol na Kamalayan) is a sisterhood of women artists in the visual, literary, performance, and new media arts. It aims to provide members with opportunities for creativity, growth, and self-sufficiency, and is working for the development of distinct women’s expression.

The exhibit is for the benefit of St. Scholastica’s Hospital in Pambujan, Northern Samar. The Missionary Benedictine Sisters are raising P100 million for the long-term sustainable operation of the 25-bed hospital for the poor. I wrote about this three months ago (“A mission hospital for the poor,” 4/11/13) and I provided information on how donors could help. The chief fundraiser, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB, texted me then to say that she had received a “tsunami” of inquiries from far and near, but I said, let’s see how these will translate into equipment and salaries. The building has been spoken for.

The art works, their descriptions and prices may be viewed online at Gallery: “Malakas at Maganda II” Benefit and https://www.facebook.com/KASIBULAN.Filipina.Artists.

But more than a fundraiser, the exhibit is St. Scholastica’s College’s way of showing support for women’s advocacies. Its Institute for Women’s Studies is one of the first its kind in the country.

The exhibit is the second leg of Kasibulan’s “Malakas at Maganda” series that showcases the artists’ definitions of women’s power, which includes the power to lead, govern, inspire, encourage, and effect change. Kasibulan hopes to challenge the stereotype in the creation legend that only man is capable of being strong and that woman should only strive to be beautiful. Women can, in fact, claim both beauty and strength—internal as well as external.

“Malakas at Maganda II” features artists Vivian N. Limpin, Brenda V. Fajardo, June Dalisay, Anna Fer, Imelda Cajipe Endaya, Julie Lluch, Baidy Mendoza, Doris G. Rodriguez, Elaine Lopez-Clemente, Charito Bitanga, Aba Lluch Dalena, Susan Fetalvero Roces, Yasmin Almonte, Lea Lim, Eden T. Ocampo, Tinsley Garanchon, Amihan Jumalon, Arlene Villaver, Christine Sioco, Fel R. Plata, Lot Arboleda, Lenore RS Lim, Bernadette R. Reyes, Anne Carmela Rosario, Athena Magcase-Lopez, and Nicole Anne Asis.

Kasibulan will also hold artists’ talks at the exhibit venue: “The Babaylan in the Modern Age,” with Fe Mangahas of the National Historical Commission, Marjorie Evasco and Imelda Cajipe-Endaya on July 12, 10 a.m.-12 noon, and “Traditional Art in the Age of New Media,” with UP Department of Art Studies professor Eileen Legaspi Ramirez, Vivian N. Limpin and Glenda Maye Abad, moderated by Bebang Siy on July 26, 10 a.m.-12 noon. Entrance is free.

The exhibit closes on Aug. 3, with sketching sessions led by Inquirer art and design director Lynett A. Villariba and other women artists.

Send feedback to cerespd@gmail.com or www.ceresdoyo.com


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