Ka(tha)wan” is the theme of UP Diliman’s Art Month this year, with a flurry of activities—art exhibits, cultural performances, symposiums—that will last throughout February. In a new twist, some of the exhibits will go beyond the month and blend in with art installations, still around “Ka(tha)wan,” from April onward and lead into a Diliman Science and Technology Month, the first ever, in October.
The theme is a play on the words “katha” (to create) and “katawan” (body), emphasizing the importance of the body. Our bodies, through our senses, are our portals into the world. Watch a child exploring the world by looking, listening, smelling, tasting, touching. It isn’t learning only about things in the world, but also about people, some of whom are special, the ones who will become significant others.
As the film “Inside Others” captured so well, childhood and adolescence are also a time to learn about all those strange feelings in our bodies. Language allows us to tag, and to tap into, those emotions, and to learn to let go.
Our bodies are us. We name the parts, and the parts come together to name, and to be, us. At times we don’t have names for certain parts of the body, especially the internal ones, because we don’t even know they exist! The prostate, now a troublemaker for so many older men, has no equivalent in Philippine languages and is a real challenge for physicians trying to explain what it is, and why it has to be checked. The manual examination can also be embarrassing for many men.
Naming “it” is most difficult with the private parts. Societies come up with all kinds of euphemisms, some downright funny. The irony is that while we accept curses that insult mothers, we censor the names of reproductive organs.
Language captures the power of society in creating, and recreating, our bodies. One of the exhibits in “Ka(tha)wan” names body parts in English, Filipino (formal and slang), and Chinese, to show the vast differences in what is named, as well as what is unnamed. Think of terms unique to Filipinos: “alak-alakan” (weakly translated into the back of the knee, or in medical jargon, the popliteal fossa), and the infamous “burnik” (bluntly, but it sounds almost cute in Filipino, anal hair).
Body language is not just about speech but about the body as language, something that has to be learned when growing up in a particular culture. Non-Filipinos are baffled, and amazed, at how we give directions with our nose, the term for the act itself renaming the nose into a snout (“nguso”). Ever reluctant to express negative feelings or say no, we have evolved ways of configuring our faces, our bodies, to gently get the message across.
Some of you may be thinking: That’s all good to know, but is it useful? Is it something to be taught in schools?
I will say, emphatically, that the body is vital for our survival, and I don’t mean just biologically. In our “Ka(tha)wan” activities, we will show how businesses thrive because they capitalize on the body. Just think of how the number of skin-whiteners has proliferated through the years, taking off from the premium we put on fair skin, something that goes back to the precolonial era.
“Ka(tha)wan” is about how we define beauty, and beautiful bodies, and how Pinoy and Pinay bodies are targets for the marketing of hundreds of products with promises of a brighter future being dangled… if you buy our products for your hair, your face, your hands, your underarms, your under-underwear (and we have products now for both women and men), your legs, your feet, your toes, and I’m sure I’ve missed out on other parts of the body.
We will be premiering a film on how supplements are being promoted indiscriminately and unethically, capitalizing again on promises of healthier bodies. The film shows sachets of supplements, containing mostly sugar, being sold at P30 each to poor farmers, including poor sick farmers hoping for cures that will never come.
We also hope to help people—not just young students but also their older teachers—be more conscious of social (not sosyal) bodies. We spend so much to present an alluring, sometimes unreal, image of ourselves, and yet are unable to rein in our feelings, surrendering to anger, bitterness, spite. It is not
surprising that people, the young especially, turn to self-harm, including laslas (slashing), when they feel they are no longer able to communicate, with others and, even more frustrating, with themselves.
I am particularly concerned about a generation whose social interactions are on social, or unsocial, media. We need face-to-face interactions to learn the nuances of body language, which varies with gender, class, even ethnicity (compare the stoic Ilocano with the gregarious Bisaya).
Think, too, of the many cases of inappropriate sexual conduct that emerge because of a lack of understanding of body language, an inability to understand that even without a “huwag” or an “ayaw,” much is said through the body.
Forever 81 and Gilda
At the opening of Diliman Arts Month today, 6 p.m., at the Lagoon—and this is an invitation to all of you—we will honor Gilda Cordero-Fernando, whose “Forever 81” column in the Inquirer counts fans aged 8 to 81 and beyond, for having started it all. It was Gilda’s “The Body Book” that made us more conscious of the Filipino body, a book that inspired our anthropology department in UP Diliman to start a course, Anthro 10 on Bodies, Senses and Humanity.
Accompanying “The Body Book” was “The Soul Book,” the two books teaching us that you cannot understand the body without understanding the soul, and vice versa. We tend to swing like a pendulum here, on one hand the extreme view that the body is sinful, the source of all evil, and therefore one that needs to be punished, literally flagellated, and starved, and on the other hand the equally extreme view that a body’s only value is pleasure, and therefore to be indulged and spoiled.
We have no prescriptions in our “Ka(tha)wan.” Instead we present glimpses into what’s happening today, accompanied by questions that only bodies with minds more attuned to society and the world around us can answer. All said, bodies fit into schools because we want students to become body-wise.
Download the full schedule for “Ka(tha)wan” at https://upd.edu.ph/ugnayan-pebrero-2018/.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.