Winning Essays

FIRST PRIZE:

THE WINDOW CLEANER

MA. CHRISTINA PANGAN, 3rd Year, AB Malikhaing Pagsulat, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines, Diliman

I always believe that the eyes are the window to the soul.  Not that it only matters when someone peeks into our souls, but it is more important when our souls try to peek at the outside world.  With the soul, the very core of our existence which is hardly reached, we try to look at our environs, and our ways and outlook in life will be determined.  Thus, what the soul can see will affect our view of the world.

But nowadays, the eyes of the people are blind to what is happening in our environment.  This blindness has caused people to be indifferent and apathetic; and worse, has contributed to the deterioration of nature.

Some people put tremendous effort in saving the environment like conducting seminars and forums about environmental problems, but these result in cold response from people because all the information and explanation just enter one ear and exit on the other.

The problem is mere words and provocation cannot reach the soul.  The blindness makes the soul numb to all kinds of pleading because it cannot see for itself the true condition of what is outside.  Only when the windows– the eyes – become clear that the soul can see and feel and do what must be done to help solve these environmental issues.

And thus, the role of art comes in.  Art cleans the eyes from all the impurities that blinded it.  Art does not only reveal reality; it makes one ponder on things.  Just like the artworks during the Walong Filipina Exhibit, these do not only reveal the real situation; these make one realize certain sorts of things.

Jojit Solano, Acid Rain

A simple anecdote: When I learned in school about acid rain and the harm it causes, I was afraid.  And after sometime, I totally forgot about it and just accepted it as a natural phenomenon.  I even thought of the impossibility of it causing harm to me.  But when I had the chance to view Jojit Solano’s painting entitled Acid Rain, all my fears came back to me.  Right at this moment, whenever it is raining, I still think of those droplets of bullets that will strike us and the flood of blood that will fill everywhere when acid rain becomes worse.

It is always a mystery that art touches the most unreachable part of the human being.  Art shakes the soul, breaking it from the comfort zone– the darkness– where it stayed.  It disturbs the soul to the extent that it provokes the soul to do something for the problem that requires urgent solution.

The soul needs not words of pleading to stir it to action.  All it needs is art which makes it feel that this issue is really serious and imperative.  Art is the most effective way of communicating because it surpasses other kinds of communication.

Rico Palacio, Buhay

Another anecdote:  The blood-red water and bubbles in the mixed media work Buhay by Rico Palacio still haunts me.  The artwork is about caring for our marine resources but the sight of the water stirs me to take action about the different issues related to marine degradation.  The effect on me is ineffable; I cannot translate it into words, but I know it’s there.

As for me, as a college student specializing in arts and letters, I believe that writing poetry and stories about environmental issues can be my contribution to help cure nature.  Poetry and story, through their mysterious playing of words, can reach the readers.  And like other forms of art, these provoke the action to the souls they have reached.

I do not believe in Aaron Howard when he said that “Art is… a question mark in the minds of those who want to know what’s happening.”  Art has an unexplainable effect on the audience; it does not help create question marks on our lives.  Thus, I believe that art erases instead these question marks, and cleans the windows to the soul.

And this makes me conclude that art is the most powerful window cleaner.  It does not only open the eyes, it lets the soul see for itself the reality and depth of the situation, just like something as vital as environmental problems.

SECOND PRIZE:

HEARING THE UNHEARD

MELANIE JOY GUNIO, 3RD Year, AB English Studies, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines, Diliman

“Healing the earth means healing, not just poverty in the material and economic sense, but the poverty of the imagination and the spirit.” Flaudette Datuin beautifully encapsulated the theme of the Walong Filipina 2010: Sa Ngalan ng Kalikasan III in these words as mentioned in her essay “To Imagine is to Hope.”   After looking at the excellently crafted paintings and reading the essays written about the eight environmentalists to whom the exhibit was attributed, I wondered, how real can art be? How does it function in reality?  If it is said to live in the realm of the imagination and the spirit, how far can it transcend these limits in order to produce something material enough?

Everyday, we are confronted by the prevailing conditions in our environment.  We step on miles of littered walkways, breathe thousands of pollutants suspended in the air, and deal with sudden calamities which often catch us off-guard.  Yet, despite the visibility of these environmental problems, not everyone has responded to the deafening cry of nature.  The destruction experienced by our environment is actually a widespread knowledge, therefore, the dilemma lies not in letting people become aware of these problems, but in soliciting their concern to respond to this perceivable issue at hand.

The world’s unsustainable consumption is lagging behind the exponential increase of the world’s population. According to studies, world population may reach up to seven billion by 2011. “Rapid population growth is usually accompanied by serious environmental degradation…  It can put a region well beyond its economic and natural resource limits or ‘carrying capacity’—threatening its long-term ability to support life”  (Palmer 36).  Behind the advocacies on environmental protection are the ever-increasing threats to the Earth’s resources and to the stability of societies.  Joy Palmer, in her book Environmental Education in the 21st Century mentions theses issues, some of which are the following:

  • Each year, 60-70 million people die from hunger and hunger-related diseases. Around a fifth of the world’s population do not consume sufficient calories for a ‘normal’ active working life. (38)
  • A good half of the world’s original area of tropical forest land is now gone, and each year some further 11 million hectares are destroyed. (39)
  • Around 1.4 million living species have been identified and named… Estimates of the true number of species on the planet range from 5 to over 30 million.  It is estimated that the world may be losing biodiversity at the rate of one species per day.  (41)
  • The world’s consumption of energy has quadrupled in the past five decades.  There has been a very great increase in the use of non-renewable energy resources, notably fossil fuels, yet most energy is used insufficiently,  (46)

In my opinion, one of the primary reasons why environmental degradation is continuously occurring is due to man’s failure to perceive interconnectedness of the world that they are in.  David Abram, in his The Spell of the Sensuous said,

“Without the oxygenating breath of the forest, without the clutch of gravity and the tumbled magic of river rapids, we have no distance from technologies, no way assessing their limitations, no way to keep ourselves from turning into them…  Only in regular contact with the tangible ground and sky can we learn how to orient and navigate in the multiple dimensions that now claim us.” (quoted in Shutkin xiii)

With the advent of technological innovations, man’s identity has been far removed from that of the natural world.  And I believe that it is with the aim of gaining back this damaged identity that the Walong Filipina 2010 artists– aside from the fact of giving tribute to the eight environmentalists– have crafted their works of art in the exhibit, showing that man has always been and will always be part of nature, for “at the heart of environmentalism is the belief in the interconnectedness of all things and life systems… the expression of the inexorable faith in the wholeness of nature.”  (21-22)

Different people have distinct ways of acting on their knowledge.  One of the greatest gifts bestowed upon mankind was our inherent uniqueness amidst our similar humanity.  And it was in the exhibit that I’ve come to appreciate this beautiful reality.  Faced with the issue at hand, the eight Filipinas and the eight artists have each responded according to their own skill and expertise; therefore becoming environmentalists in their own special way.  For that reason, the exhibit proved significant not in asking its viewers to do as they have done, but in inspiring them to do for their environment something they have never done before.

Undeniably, the artists’ passion for beauty and meaning made itself known in the exhibit.  The identity of humanity is tightly intertwined with that of nature’s prevailing conditions.  This was beautifully portrayed in Efren Garcellano’s Evs, which showed us that our existence is highly dependent on the earth’s natural organisms.  The advent of science and technology has created “needs” where once there was none.  Though not at all disadvantageous, still the over-privileging of these technological needs has contributed much to the demeaning of the natural environment’s importance.  In his Hanger Series, Garcellano amusingly revealed the complexities which lie behind the seemingly ordinary matters of everyday life, and in Haze, we were made to ponder on how much of our identity is lost in the losing of nature.

Egai Fernandez, A Forest Lives Forever (detail)

Art is more than just appreciation of beauty and aesthetics; rather, it is an appreciation for meaning and a deeper understanding of significance.  This was skillfully depicted by Rico Palacio in Buhay and Egai Fernandez in Forest Lives Forever.  Their attention to detail and mastery of craft marvelously depicted how life is made possible not by what is around us but by what is in us— the desire for action and the ability to see beyond urgent needs causing us to have a vision for future generations.  I believe that it is in recognizing how fragments are connected to make up a whole that one is able to realize the deeper realities of life and art such as what was portrayed by PG Zuloaga, Mario de Rivera and Mark Salvatus in their works.  More than seemingly apparent images, these works invite people to look beyond mere appearances.  The innocence of the children in Jojit Solano’s Out of the Black and Acid Rain expressed not ignorance but rather desperation.  His work dramatically encapsulated what hopelessness ensues if nature and society is set amidst a background of people living their selfish lives striving to accumulate for their own personal gain.  Set against this disturbing mood of Solano’s paintings were Renato Habulan’s works titled Ugat ng Buhay and Liwanag sa Dilim, which gave people a glimpse of the fruits of passion encapsulated in simple yet profound works of art.

Carolyn Merchant, an environmental historian, argued that “the course of environmental change may be understood through a description of society’s ecology, production, reproduction and forms of consciousness— forms of consciousness being the modes by which societies know and explain the natural world.”  (Shutkin 23-24)  Art, as a reflection of life and the society which it is subsumed in is one of the modes through which nature is better understood and appreciated by mankind.  This interrelation underlines how art as a significant aspect of nature can be directed for greater advocacies such as environmentalism.  Art, in a sense, is a mirror held up to Life.  It merely represents what society presents to it.   Wendell Berry, in one of his seminal works, beautifully described this intricate relation in these words:

“We and our country create one another, depend on one another, are literally part of one another; that our land passes in and out of our bodies just as our bodies pass in and out of our land; that as we and our land are part of one another, so all who are living as neighbors here, human and plant and animal, are part of one another, and so cannot possibly flourish alone; that, therefore, our culture must be our response to our place, our culture and our place are images of each other,  and so neither can be better than the other. “  (quoted in Shutkin 47)

The beauty of art dwells in the realm of the imagination and thrives in the mystery of silence.  True enough, it is through the Walong Filipina Exhibit that I came to realize that healing comes only when the agents of it are ready to take on the work due them.  Indeed, man works in a passion of his own.  The environmentalists, by going beyond the simple have produced the extraordinary.  The artists, in seeing the unseen, have transformed the overlooked facts into glaring realities. And I, in my desire to give my thoughts and my heart a mouth have sought to do so with the passion I could call my own.

Art speaks, and it speaks out loud, but only to those who take time to listen.

_______________________________

Works Cited:

Palmer, Joy A.  Environmental Education in the 21st Century: Theory, practice, progress and              promise. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.  Print.

Shutkin, William A.  The Land that Could Be: Environmentalism and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000. Print.

THIRD PRIZE:

NUMBED SOULS AND ENVIRONMENTAL DISTRESS:

In this year’s Walong Filipina artists, environmentalists and researchers join hands as they pin down the culprit to Nature’s deterioration

LORELI PAMA, 5TH Year Art Studies, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines Diliman

With each pain we humans inflict on Mother Earth, I can only imagine her weeping by the river, not necessarily because of the fact that it hurts, but more so because of the punishments her children had to suffer.  In the past year, we have experienced the wrath of Typhoon Ondoy, which brought about floods that devoured lives by the hundreds.

Ondoy taught us a very important lesson: when typhoons strike, they do not patronize.  True enough; Filipinos from all walks of life were affected by the typhoon.  Accordingly, this tragedy did not only alarm people from environmental science, but spurred those from other disciplines to rethink about their social roles as well, and this includes the art sector.  “The tragic event,” as Professor Flaudette May Datuin puts it, “compelled us to rethink and reflect on our roles as individuals, as teachers, cultural workers, as artists.” [1] This led to the birthing of a Special Problems (Art Studies 198) course in the Department of Art Studies of the University of the Philippines, called “Beyond Relief: Art in the State of Calamity,” as they pondered on these problems:  “How does art help heal the earth?  How do artists help in making the planet more liveable?”[2]

Walong Filipina 2010: Sa Ngalan ng Kalikasan III, a travelling art exhibition which opened at the CCP’s Small Gallery last October 14, 2010, served as the platform through which they “could concretely understand that the crisis we now refer to as “environmental” can be understood, not just as a scientific problem but a cultural one.”[3]

Art for Earth’s sake

Walong Filipina is a project started by Norma Liongoren way back in 1990.  For two decades now, Liongoren Gallery has been presenting annual exhibitions focusing on eight women artists “as part of Liongoren’s efforts to highlight these women’s infinite talents, represented by the number eight’s closed form and infinite loop.”[4] This year’s Walong Filipina takes on a different path, honoring eight women environmentalists as notable artists portray their lifeworks.

The eight Filipina environmentalists honored for their “artful living” include Evelyn Cacha, an anti-mining activist from Mindoro; Margarita dela Cruz, Dean of UP Tacloban who helped establish marine sanctuaries in nine municipalities of Tacloban;  Sister Luz Emmanuel Soriano of Antipolo, whose primary lifework  focused on the greening of Assumption schools; Attorney Ipat Luna, an environmental lawyer whose advocacies include healthy living, breastfeeding, and tobacco control; Dr. Judea Millora, founder of Zero Kalat Para Sa Kaunlaran Foundation, Inc. (ZKKFI); Jurgenne Primavera, an advocate of the preservation of Philippine mangroves; Lydia Robledo, an advocate of butterfly habitat conservation; and Luz Sabas, pioneer of zero-waste management in the Philippines.

Artists who portayed the honorees’ lifeworks include Mario de Rivera, Edgar Talusan Fernandez, Efren Garcellano, Renato Habulan, Rico Palacio, Mark Salvatus, Jojit Solano and PG Zoloaga.  The pool of students under the mentorship of Prof. Datuin who did research work includes Ceres Canilao, Hemerson Dimacale, Aleth Gayosa, Romena Luciano, Virna Odiver, Margarita Saporsantos, and Deborah Virata.   This project is enmeshed with collaboration and camaraderie, involving people from different fields working together for Mother Earth.

Inner poverty

Nature has always been generous in providing humans with its riches for generations.  Unfortunately, most humans, especially the modern breeds, see riches only in the material and economic sense, leaving the soul in immense poverty, or as Jesus puts it, “…to gain the world, but to lose the soul.” [5] I reflect about this in relation to Prof. Datuin when she says, “Healing the earth means healing, not just poverty in the material and economic sense, but the poverty of the imagination and the spirit.”[6] Indeed, the crisis we refer to as “environmental” has its roots in this “inner crisis” which has dampened one’s affection for one’s community, one’s school, one’s neighborhood, one’s dwelling.”[7] It comes as no surprise therefore that, for instance, greedy multinational companies chop down trees without reservation at the expense of forests and forest dwellers. This, and all the other environmental problems are rooted, in the end, in our problem of inner poverty or our deadened affection for Nature, once regarded by our ancestors as abode to all life’s creatures.  Evidently, by the extent of the work our eight honorees have done for Mother Earth, they all must have viewed the “environment” the way our ancestors did, i.e., not just in its physical, superficial sense, but as “habitat,” where people and other creatures dwell, and strive to survive.

Knowing that humans have lost affection for habitat (sometimes referred to as  loss of “sense of place”), it is not surprising to see insensitive souls throw their garbage wherever and whenever they want to, leaving trash-filled spaces especially evident in the urban areas.  Such is the main problem that concerned Luz Sabas, the pioneer of zero-waste management in the country.  Sabas, even at the age of 80, never ceases to go places and educate communities about waste management in simple, understandable terms.

Mark Salvatus, the artist who portrayed Sabas’s advocacy, believes that “the most effective way to understand environmentalism was … seeing Sabas practice what she preached.”[8] Salvatus, upon “seeing objects that looked like “waste” in an organized clutter inside Manang Luz’s car which she would… eventually transform , recycle and re-use,”[9] came up with the idea of creating an artwork out of collected “trash” from his bag which he carries in the city.  Zero is in keeping with Salvatus’s process-oriented artmaking, where the artist brought his “trash” (used tickets, chewing gum foil, receipts and wrappers) back to life in the form of a table stopper.  Zero entices us to believe in reincarnation, and challenges us to turn it into a reality even in the realm of objects, so that in the end, everything comes to life again, in one form or another.

Awakening

It is about time that we break the walls creating the dichotomy of art and science down, and start building bridges instead.  In part, the success of this project lies on the realization that something productive can come out of collaborations of people from different disciplines.  This exhibit provided a venue for dialogue and exchange, or as Liongoren aptly puts it, “This experience opened up more opportunities to network, converge and learn on a deeper level.” [10]

Realizing that the “environmental” crisis we are facing today has its roots in culture and spirit, I am more inspired now to write about art and to continue making art, if we are to bring back beauty and sense of place in our cities and communities.  If art is a tool that makes us more ”aware” and a medium that pokes though the “soul,” then it must have a big role to play in a much deeper problem of indifference.

Art is a viable vehicle through which we can communicate things inhabiting the vast hills of our imagination.  If its is through the use of language that humans spin the web of reality, the language of art then presents us with endless possibilities , and ties those possibilities within the fabric of our physical existence.  Evidently, when we look at paintings of trees interwoven with human faces, as seen in Fernandez’s A Forest Lives On and Garcellano’s Evs, as well as in Zoloaga’s Diwata ng Bakhawan, we do not see trees as inanimate, soul-less objects but as life entities.  Even objects, as we are taught in Salvatus’s Zero, can acquire many lives, where each “life” “becomes a substitute for people’s actions.”[11]

As I learn about each story of advocacy, feelings of amazement and heartsickness intermittently run through me.  I am amazed at how these dedicated women have displayed ingenuity and earnestness in providing solutions to our environmental problems.  At the same time, I feel heartsick about how such great talents are continuously pushed to the margins, if not completely put to naught.  Nonetheless, when so much havoc in the environment had been wreaked, listening to the stories of those dedicated Filipina environmentalists, particularly their small victories amidst their constant struggles, helped sustain a pinpoint of light within me, so as not to stop believing that something can still, and must be, done.

Viewers will exit from the exhibition imparted with a crucial challenge, i.e., to bring those number souls back to life again by striving to embody a compassionate community that we want to create.  To help build a society that welcomes imagination and creativity is another task at hand, if they were, as it were, “the way towards hope and redemption.” [12]


[1] Flaudette May Datuin, “To Imagine is to Hope,” https://walongfilipina.wordpress.com/articles/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Flaudette May Datuin, “Background: Walong Filipina through the Years.” https://walongfilipina.wordpress.com/about/

[5] From the Bible, Mark 8:36

[6] Flaudette May Datuin, “To Imagine is to Hope,” https://walongfilipina.wordpress.com/articles/

[7] Ibid.

[8] Lisa Ito. “Studes work for Mother Earth,” http://services.inquirer.net/print/print.php?articleid=20100417264850

[9] Margarita Saporsantos, “When Zero Means Something,” https://walongfilipina.wordpress.com/features/

[11] Flaudette May Datuin, “Exhibit Notes: Mark Salvatus on Luz Sabas,” https://walongfilipina.wordpress.com/articles/

[12] https://walongfilipina.wordpress.com/articles/

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