Making Art Public

Angono, Rizal (29 kms. north of Manila) is a town famous for its rich cultural tradition. It is home to no less than two National Artists: painter Carlos “Botong” Francisco and composer Lucio San Pedro, who were cousins. There are galleries and art schools in almost every corner of Angono, and the town is home to a multitude of artists’ groups. I got a feel of Angono as an artists’ haven last Nov. 21 and 22.

BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Bulatlat.com

Angono, Rizal (29 kms. north of Manila) is a town famous for its rich cultural tradition. It is home to no less than two National Artists: painter Carlos “Botong” Francisco and composer Lucio San Pedro, who were cousins. There are galleries and art schools in almost every corner of Angono, and the town is home to a multitude of artists’ groups.

I got a feel of Angono as an artists’ haven last Nov. 21 and 22. Award-winning poet Richard Gappi, who is also the president of the Neo-Angono artists’ collective, had invited me as a member of the poets’ group Kilometer 64 to their organization’s 2nd Public Art Festival, held Nov. 21-23.

Neo-Angono – composed of visual artists, writers, and other cultural workers based in Angono – describes itself as a group that “strives to render modernist visual and artistic language and explore the possibilities of art by articulating and invigorating contemporary Angono experience, sensibility and consciousness.”

The Public Art festival, which Neo-Angono hopes to hold every year, consciously aims to bring art closer to the people, Gappi said. This, he said, is what makes Neo-Angono unique, aside from the fact that it includes writers, theater artists, and filmmakers in its membership unlike what has been the tradition among Angono’s older artists’ groups which are focused on visual arts and music.

I arrived in Angono in the late afternoon of Nov. 21, the second day of the Public Art Festival. Gappi and poet-sculptor Tata Raul Funilas, who is also the president of the Linangan ng Imahen, Retorika at Anyo (LIRA)- met me at the Nemiranda Art Cafe, where they let me rest briefly. Tata Raul went out for a while to photocopy a few poems I had brought for the festival.

When Tata Raul returned, Gappi and I went with him around town, posting the photocopies of our poems – as well as a good number from LIRA – on waiting sheds, the marketplace, the fences of houses and schools, and even trees. Tata Raul would tell me that normally, the barangay tanods (village watchmen) in Angono would “interrogate” people posting materials in public places there, but that didn’t happen when we were posting our poems.

Early that night, there was a public showing of short films. It was really public, as it was done outdoors. Someone had mounted a huge white canvas screen at the corner of one of Angono’s main thoroughfares, and the residents and passers-by were treated to a free showing of short films by Roxlee, Rem Vocalan, Mes de Guzman, and other “indie” filmmakers. One of the films shown was a cinematic account of Botong entering an unfinished painting into a contest – and winning first prize for it – which catapulted him to national fame. The films were enthusiastically received by the impromptu audience.

The latter part of the night was devoted to a poetry reading at the Banana Hemp Republic, a new watering hole there. It was the first poetry reading to be held there, so Gappi told me. The neighborhood’s residents started trooping to the place as the first reader’s voice boomed, and most of the audience stayed on until the program’s ending, which was way beyond midnight.

The next day, I spent most of the afternoon in painting exhibits at the Angono gymnasium and the house of Carlos “Totong” Francisco III, who is also a Neo-Angono member.

At early evening Gappi, Tata Raul, and a few members of the Manila-based performance art group New World Disorder went to the carnival (it was by the way the eve of the town feast) and surprised the carnival-goers with performance pieces.

Tata Raul went there dressed like a priest, pretending to taunt the bingo players for gambling so they could have, so he said, “money to buy spouses.” Gappi, on the other hand, had on a clown mask and a shirt like those of Angono’s famous higantes (giants). They rode the ferris wheel, from where a New World Disorder member named Tina repeatedly dropped confetti.

But it was Boyet de Mesa of New World Disorder who blew the crowd away, as he walked around the carnival dressed like a warlock. From the long broomstick he carried hung a sign on which was drawn a skull wearing an American hat: below it were the words “No. 1 terrorist.” On the back of his costume was a screaming “Stop the Killings,” referring to the spate of killings of activists and journalists under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration. The people followed him around.

We then all went to the front of the Mhajica bar, where the Manila-based visual artists’ group Ugatlahi had brought a vulture-like effigy of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. As Ugatlahi burned the effigy, I and Tata Raul recited poems to the sound of bongo drums played by a Neo-Angono member. Meanwhile De Mesa painted a white cross on the street with his bare feet.

Later that night Neo-Angono concluded its 2nd Public Art Festival with a free concert inside the Mhajica bar, where among the performers were Manila-based bands Brownbeat All Stars and The Brockas.

Before I arrived, so Gappi said, there had been artists’ talks as well as art installations in select points in the town. (Bulatlat.com)

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