Busy, busy, busy!
Yes, I haven’t been able to post lately since I have had practically no time, at all, to jot down my ideas and blog. However, after a week of thesis requirements, long tests, a family turmoil and a hosting stint, it’s time to sit down again and have some dose of history and culture.
Well, ideally, a good respite for a person like me would be a visit to a museum. Museums, generally speaking, enthrall me. Although the Smithsonian might not interest me because of its type of collection, the majority of museums, especially the arts, religious and anthropology types, are of particular interest. The quiet corridors, the artifacts frozen in time and the wealth of new knowledge one accumulates in a museum are sources of joy and even, hope for a person like me. It may sound weird, but my love for museums is based on the fact that I’m hopeful in man’s continuous expression and showcase of spirit and passion.
My experiences in countless museums here and abroad never disappoint me. Whether it’s the Louvre or some family’s private collection in their ancestral home in Vigan, the world of museums is a world close to my heart. I’ve been to so many museums since I was a little child that I can no longer recall when my first museum visit was.
Well, what is a museum?
A museum is that social institution that takes it upon itself of collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting tangible evidence as well as related information for the public’s evidence.
Tangible evidence of what?
Well, of many things!
In the Museum of Arts and Sciences of the University of Santo Tomás, the oldest museum in the Philippines, the Dominicans were able to collect priceless pieces of artifacts spanning four centuries. These artifacts are pieces of evidence that would attest the Philippines’ progress and relatively more-advanced positioning in relation to other Asian countries in centuries past. When I visited the university’s Lumina Pandit exhibit on rare and old books, I was full of national pride. Those original artifacts featured actually compose our country’s cultural capital. Do other Southeast Asian countries have original copies of the books featured there such as the Biblica Sacra or even the printed poems and stories by Filipino ilustrados? Were they able to print books as early as those printed in the UST in the 16th century? I think not. Those books there as well as other cultural treasures we have in different museums are our cultural capital because they are proof of the economic as well as intellectual activities taking place in the country during those “dark years” those books and documents were being printed. It is also a sign of prestige and can showcase the relative advanced position of the Philippines as compared to its neighboring countries in the realm of Western literature and thought. These are national possessions that attest to the cultural sensibilities of those dwelling in the islands.
In the Museo de San Agustín too, many works of art and religious artifacts can prove to many the wealth, color and vibrancy of Filipino Catholicism as well as folk piety. The church itself can be a reminder of the artistic taste and temperament that hovered in Manila and in other major cities in the archipelago: a distinct love for Baroque and Rococo and a passion of small, intricate details. The pre-Hispanic gold collection of the Ayala Musuem can also speak of the Filipinos’ love-affair with gold and fine, intricate filigree décor.
Museums have had a long history. During the Greco-Roman period, “museums” were places where the inteligencia gathered and where aspiring students listened to lectures. It was also here where important documents and artifacts were kept for easy access to the learned class. After the fall of the Roman empire, museums became virtually absent on the face of the earth. Luckily, Catholic monasteries and abbeys full of monks and nuns began collecting and re-collecting pieces from the Greco-Roman tradition, keeping them and storing them safely in their complexes.
By the time of the Renaissance, there was a renewed interest in keeping things, particularly “exotic looking” ones. The voyages from the New World have brought to Europe many so-called oddities that were reserved for the kings and queens’ pleasure. Reserved only as a folly of royalty, former palaces and castles became the first museums of modern Europe when the monarchies slowly disappeared.
By the time the trade routes were established, the nobles too began collecting things brought in from the New World such as spears, elephant heads, ivory tusks and the like.
In the Philippines, the first museums were the private collections of the five pioneer religious orders, namely the Augustinians, the Franciscans, the Jesuits, the Dominicans and the Recollects. They collected the pagan statues of the natives, compiled the ethnic languages in books and surveyed the local tropical plants that were abundant. These were documented and kept in large cabinets as seen in the Museo de San Agustín. Thus, this is one important lesson that can be learned from a museum: the friars didn’t destroy local dialects; in fact, they made sure these were preserved and put into writing.
By the 19th century, the rich ilustrado families began having their own private collections. These collections were filled with items and souvenirs from Europe and abroad while at the same time exhibiting local art such as ivory saints and gold rosaries.
However, the Second War, particularly the Japanese and the Americans, destroyed so many of these cultural treasures found in the former National Museum as well in other museums and private collections. The museums, for example, found in schools like the Ateneo were completely burned during the war, thus erasing from memory so many rich sources of national pride and identity. Private homes that boasted the best local and international furniture of those years were lost forever.
Right after the War, up until the 80s, there was minimal, if not, no interest whatsoever, among Filipinos to visit museums. It was as if the War was successfully able to erase in the consciousness and interest of Filipinos to visit museums. Likewise, many museums, like the UST museum, gained infamy because of poor lighting and sloppy cataloging and storage of collections. Museums became feared and turned into symbols of archaic pleasure and a mere exhibition of dusty things.
Now though, there is an acknowledged renewed and youthful interest for museums. Well, partially because many Filipinos are in fact taking up Tourism as college courses, and that’s why many are being required. There is also the fact that many history teachers and professors today require their students to pay museums a visit. Museums too are upgrading their facilities in an attempt to lure in more interested visitors and keep up with the time. But more importantly, many Filipinos, I hope to believe, are already becoming more interested and curious about our identity as a people. I mean, the country is aging and there are more and more Filipinos, young and old alike, searching for what is our country’s past, present and future. More Filipinos are becoming curious and critical of who Filipinos really are.
But just as when the museum industry in the Philippines is gaining momentum, so too has the internet made itself a force to reckon with. The option of Googling something instead of visiting a museum to see and read about it Is a big, big challenge. It is a difficult and mind-boggling preoccupation for museum managers to settle and fight this technology. There are efforts of actually engaging the internet as a means of luring in people to the museums. This author is hoping that after this blog entry, more youths do pay museums a visit.
One thing is certain though: in the campaign for museums, experts, professors, cultural workers and museum personnel are working their heads off just to make a museum visit a fun and learning one. They’re in the thick of researching, marketing, preserving, exhibiting and even writing just so museums can always have people inside their hallowed walls.
It’s a busy, busy, busy industry apparently, far from being quiet and lonely bastions of culture, art and heritage. It is absolutely the defender of things hecho ayer.