Three takeaways from Kidlat Tahimik’s art installation in Madrid, Spain (29 October 2021- 6 March 2022)

Written by Yvonne Kay-an Belen on .

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During my student days at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City in the early 1960s, I had already heard of Eric de Guia. He was then running for the presidency of the UP Student Council. And he won. 

Sometime in the 1980s or 1990s, I heard of Kidlat Tahimik, a.k.a. Eric de Guia. This time, he was a filmmaker and actor. 

Fast forward to October 2021 and he has an art installation entitled, “Magellan, Marilyn, Mickey, and Fr. Damaso: 500 years of Conquistador Stars” at the Palacio de Cristal in Retiro Park, Madrid, Spain from 29 October 2021 through 6 March 2022. It is sponsored by the Reina Sofia Museum.  

   

Episode 2 Indigenous Peoples (IP) Talks

As part of the activities of MABIKAs Foundation-The Netherlands (MABIKAs) in 2022, Kidlat Tahimik (Tahimik) was invited as guest speaker for the virtual Episode 2 Indigenous Peoples (IP) Talks held on the 28th of February 2022. The episode’s theme was, “How Art & Culture Articulate our History and Indigenous Identity.” 

Before the meeting, there was a short chit-chat with Tahimik. When he saw the rice terraces as the background of my profile, he said that they are similar to what he overlooks when he stays in his hut in Hapao, Banaue, Ifugao.  

Towards the end of the meeting, I asked him, “If there are three exhibits of your art installation at Palacio de Cristal that you would like people to remember, what would they be and why?”

Dap-ay in the Sky

Tahimik replied, “The first would be Dap-ay in the Sky.” 

He added, “What I am showing, those are the forefathers, the spirits. They know. They’re looking down, they’re watching what’s happening in 1521, in 1887. They are watching from up there but they know. Yes, you can do it. The culture will survive even if it’s the name of Marilyn Monroe and their technology.”      

For those unfamiliar with the dap-ay, it is a place in the Igorot village where elders gather to discuss community issues. It is a form of traditional governance. The dap-ay is arranged in a circular form with big flat stones that serve as seats. 

In the article, “Philippine History according to Kidlat Tahimik” by Claude Tayag (The Philippine Star, November 1, 2021), he says, “Dap-ay in the Sky– a  seven-meter-diameter woven ring – hangs above the middle section of the Palacio. It holds together the three main components of the installation, depicting three periods in Philippine history, namely 1521, 1887 and 2021.” 

As shown in videos, the Dap-ay in the Sky is made of woven baskets and with some people, also made of woven materials, sitting atop the baskets. 

For the three above-mentioned years in Philippine history, Filipinos were taught that Magellan “discovered” the Philippines in 1521. Among the Igorot Cordillerans, they are learning that in 1887, Spain had an Exposition in Madrid where they displayed some 47 Filipinos and among them were eight Igorots. And for many of us who are fortunate to be around in 2021, it is 500 years after Spain’s colonization of the Philippines. Whereas before, Spanish colonizers wrote Philippine history; now, we have Tahimik, a Filipino artist, who is encouraging us to write Philippine history from our perspective.   

Jose Rizal in his “bahag” (loincloth)

“The second would be Jose Rizal wearing his “bahag,” according to Tahimik.

He said, “If we know that our real strength is coming from the experience and world view of our forefathers and not just try to be with the latest.”   

Our usual image of Jose Rizal is him in a coat with trousers. In Tahimik’s art installation, he presented a miniature wooden statue of Jose Rizal in coat and loincloth, “bahag.” 

According to Vincent Cabrera, who wrote “Rizal in ‘bahag’: Pushback vs racial put-down,” (Cebudailynews.inquirer.net, July 2021), he says:

“It was Tahimik’s way of echoing for today’s generation the national hero’s strong disapproval of the way Filipinos were portrayed–or racially caricatured–at an international event held during that time.” 

In Cabrera’s last two paragraphs, he says:

“Archival records describe the 1887 Madrid Expo as an event meant to foster commercial ties between Span and its far-flung Asian colony.

But, as Tahimik saw it, the exposition also displayed the Philippines’ indigenous people and their artifacts to suggest that they were inferior to Western-educated Filipinos.”

Battle of Mactan

The third, said Tahimik, is the “Battle of Mactan.” 

He said, “I forgot the last part of the story. Fighting with the cannon is finished. The arnis is being brought out. Bulakna is looking at Magellan in full armor from head to toe. No arrow or bullet could enter. Regarding the armor of Europeans, although the person is covered, there is one vulnerable spot. When you are on the battlefield and you are in full armor and feel the urge to urinate, there is one hole where you relieve yourself. Bulakna knew this. The last blow was right below the belt. It is a bit of a naughty version. But I decided to show gender equality, that women were as much a part of the battle as the macho guys.”  

Earlier, Tahimik said that he decided to make three narratives of his art installation. On one side of Palacio de Cristal is 1521 when Magellan came and there was the Battle of Mactan. In this exhibit, Magellan is in the middle, in his armor. He is already falling. Lapu-Lapu is on the right side, standing with a shield. However, Tahimik’s narrative is about Bulakna, the wife of Lapu-Lapu. He said that we don’t read about Bulakna in Western books. But in Cebu folklore, the wife of Lapu-Lapu was Princess Bulakna. Tahimik describes Bulakna as an IP, a leader, warrior, beauty, babaylan (a spiritual leader) and poet. He said that Bulakna combines everything that he thinks you would find in an ideal holistic human being. He also said that in the final part of the battle aimed at protecting one’s culture and one’s way of life, the whole community comes in. Bulakna is also carrying a stick since arnis was a pre-colonial martial art. Before the Spaniards came, people were already good in arnis. When the main battle of Mactan was finished, when cannons were fired from the ship and when the bullets and crossbows were used up, the playing field was equal. Using the arnis, Bulakna dealt the fatal blow to Magellan.   

Goddesses of the wind

An exhibit I would like to briefly write about is the two goddesses of the wind. Tahimik featured Hollywood’s Marilyn Monroe and the Igorot goddess of the wind, Inhabian. Inhabian is blowing away Marilyn Monroe. Shoo! Shoo! When I mentioned this narrative to a relative, she said, “That is a gentle way of doing it.” Very feminine indeed. ykb09march2022. 

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