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Looking Back

The future of history

/ 05:22 AM September 28, 2018

When the Ayala Museum opened its doors in the last century, it was more of a historical than an art museum. It boasted light boxes with 60 scenes from Philippine history painstakingly carved by artisans from Paete. This literally brought history to life from the dry, boring textbooks that tormented many schoolchildren. The dioramas were so cutting-edge in the 1970s that Singapore also commissioned a series on their history from Paete—only to have them taken down decades later, when the interpretation of Singapore history had strayed so much from the dioramas.

Designed by National Artist Leandro V. Locsin, the old Ayala Museum and the aviary behind it were torn down to give rise to the new Greenbelt mall. A modern museum of gleaming stone, steel and glass still houses the old dioramas, which have long served their purpose. These dioramas should now languish in storage, since a more visual and aural generation has come of age who get their entertainment and information from the LCD screens on their cell phones and tablets.

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To my surprise, however, my college students required to visit the museum find the dioramas fascinating. The visual works prod them on what they know of Philippine history and help them interrogate the details. Some are sharp enough to ask what scenes from history were left out from the 60 chosen by the founding curator Carlos Quirino, who later became National Artist for Historical Literature.

While the male students are often attracted to the battle scenes, some would later ask why so much attention was given to the struggles for freedom, as if those were the only important events in our history. Others ask why the execution of Gomburza is missing, when this was a watershed moment impressed upon us by the Nationalist Historian Teodoro A. Agoncillo, who declared in the 1960s that: “There is no Philippine history before 1872!”

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Current student reaction to the dioramas is promising, as it proves there is a change in the way history was understood in the 1970s and in 2018.

Over the years, to supplement the dioramas, primary source texts were introduced onto blank spaces, written guides were published, and an audio guide dramatized the motionless dioramas. We suggested a QR code that could be read by a cell phone or tablet. And then virtual reality (VR)also came along.

VR is not new; I remember endorsing a proposal to recreate the beach of Mactan in the stillborn theme park at the Clark Centennial Expo. Through virtual reality, you would be armed with a virtual sword and, for P50, you could hack Magellan to death! I was so excited about this technology, because it would generate income and provide relief from centuries of anticolonial angst. Unfortunately, the project was shelved through the polite intervention of the Spanish ambassador, who was quoted to have remarked that: “This is not the way to treat a friendly country.”

There was no protest when Ayala Museum rolled out its first VR last year, on the execution of Rizal; it was quite an experience. You are transported via time machine to Bagumbayan on the morning of Dec. 30, 1896, to witness the execution from three viewpoints: the soldier pulling the trigger, an uzisero, and Rizal himself. Wearing VR goggles, you can look up into the sky, look down on the ground at your feet, look left or right at the individuals that make up the crowd, and feel the tension broken by the crack of gunfire. Then Rizal’s blood spurts out in full color as he drops dead.

We all know Rizal was executed by the enemy, but what about Andres Bonifacio, who was killed by fellow Filipinos, a man swallowed by the very revolution he started?

Ayala Museum’s VR Part 2 covers the more complicated, intertwined story of Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo—from the tearing of the cedulas and the Cry of Pugadlawin in August 1896, then to the Tejeros Convention that established a revolutionary government that replaced Bonifacio and the Katipunan; refusing to acknowledge the new government, Bonifacio is then put on trial for treason, and the episode ends with the Declaration of Independence in Kawit on June 12, 1898.

The road to nationhood was not as smooth as we want it to be; the emergence of the nation came at a great price in terms of lives and suffering. Virtual reality brings us back to the past, in the hope that we learn not to repeat history.

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Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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TAGS: Ayala Museum, dioramas, Leandro V. Locson, opinion, Philippines, virtual reality (VR)
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