By Michael Aaron Gomez
The Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) held a Pakighinabi with Associate Professor at the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) Fine Arts Department and art historian Fr. René B. Javellana, S.J. on the subject “Weaving Cultures: The Invention of Colonial Art and Culture in the Philippines from 1565 to 1850,” last Monday, 25 June 2018, at the Finster Auditorium, Jacinto campus. This Pakighinabi was held in connection to the recent publication of Fr. Javellana’s eponymous book by the ADMU Press, and in accordance with the University’s thrust for interdisciplinary discussions of contemporary subjects.
“Weaving Cultures,” the book, discusses the emergence of a unique art and culture in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era from the optic of communications theory and the emerging theoretical discourse from information design. Through the book, Fr. Javellana also posits that Spanish colonization of the country sparked a mutual exchange of cultural information and influence between the two nations. “I want to reframe the perspective on colonialism and cultural change,” Fr. Javellana said. The book also aims to answer the question posed by Fr. Javellana in the forum, “How do you connect Information Design, the Communication Matrix, and the emergence of colonial art and culture?”
Members of the Ateneo de Davao University community as well as Davao-based artists and cultural workers attended the roundtable discussion and offered their insights on the positions offered by the book. Ms. Arnie Clamor of the AdDU Theology Department assessed the lopsided relationship between the Spanish and the Filipinos during colonization. “The relationship between the colonizer and the colonized is never symmetric, is never equal,” she said. Looking back at the religious aspect of colonization, she also remarked, “Unfortunately, in missionary lands, the cross always comes with a sword.”
Director of the AdDU Publication Office Dr. Macario Tiu also asked a pressing question about the authenticity of culture. “How do we reimagine and recreate our own culture and make it Filipino?” he said. He cites the example of our Malay neighbor Brunei, when he said, “We [Brunei] said, ‘We look at our own core and we select what is good for us from foreign cultures.’” Fr. Ulysses Cabayao, SJ, of the AdDU Anthropology Department also commended Fr. Javellana for avoiding “essentializing and reifying culture,” but also cautioned him against a depiction of colonized Filipinos as cooperating with Spain more than resisting.
“The cooperation between the natives and the Spanish should be qualified as grudging or partial cooperation,” Fr. Javellana answered. He also cited other instances of native resistance, through art, against the imposition of Spanish culture on their cultural belief systems and way of life. Owner of the Art Portal Gallery in Davao City Mr. Alfred Galvez claimed that local artists are already working on creating a truly Filipino art influenced by foreign forms. “There is this quest to make your art identifiably Filipino—the tendency is to extract the colonial aspects to look for the indigenous art beneath,” he said.
“We have to modify what is considered truly national culture,” Fr. Javellana said to close the Pakighinabi. Other participants of the discussion were Fr. Erwin Torres and Mr. Lunar Tan Fayloga of the AdDU Theology Department; Director of the AdDU Mindanawon Initiatives for Cultural Dialogue Ms. Perpevina Tio; Mr. Norman Narciso of the AdDU Humanities and Letters Department; Architect Jim Palma of the AdDU School of Engineering and Architecture; and finally, Director of the AdDU Ignatian Spirituality and Formation Office Mr. Elvi Tamayo. Dr. Anderson Villa, Associate Professor at the AdDU International Studies Department, moderated the discussion.
The Pakighinabi is a conversation series initiated by the Office of the University President of the Ateneo de Davao to provide members of the University community with a platform to discuss multidisciplinary issues and concerns in a more informal and conversational manner. Its goal is to create a structure for conversations in the frame of social justice and the common good in the pursuit of forming AdDU sui generis leaders.