Of Merrymaking and the Monsters who Make Merry
My exhibit last year was the fulfillment of an almost-forgotten dream to make a series of paintings depicting Philippine festivals. With Revellers, I wanted to take a closer look at local festivals, not just in themselves but also at some festival customs, as well as individual festivalgoers.
I wanted to focus particularly on individuals at the festivals because of the tendency to look at these events as a whole. Festivals are generally this great mass of people, many of whom dance en masse in the street in fancy costumes (or maybe they’re not costumes…), so it’s tough picking just one out of the crowd.
A Party in Himself
If you think about it, it’s individuals coming together that make a festival happen. What kind of person shows up at a festival? Why does he go? What makes him get out of bed—early, as like as not, to get things ready, get all dolled up, and get out there and party? Maybe this person has no real reason to celebrate; a frown would suit his circumstances better than a fiesta. But he puts his gameface on, anyway, and revels with the rest of them.
To me, that shows character, a sort of never-say-die spirit that, as Dumas puts it, chooses to “strike back at fate in retaliation for the blows they receive”, instead of “suffering and swallowing their tears at leisure”. It was this spirit that I hoped to discover beneath the feathers, sequins, and scales, and I figured that it makes more sense to celebrate this spirit with just one person in the picture instead of a whole town.
In celebrating the courage of this individual spirit, each person becomes a party in himself, and when you put all those individual parties together, you get one, big party, which is exactly what a festival is.
A “Fantasy Philippines”
I prefer using the term “person” because of the general association of the term, “human” with the Homo sapiens physiology. I’ve always maintained that it is not the body that makes someone “human”; oftentimes, it’s the people who might appear more or less human who are more human than, well, humans.
Given the possibility that someone who might have blue fur or horns or a tail is also a person, this, to my mind, makes them not just fitting subjects for portraiture, but the subjects of a fantastic, parallel Philippines. I like to think this, “dimension”, if you will, either used to exist or co-exists with the one we live in, now.
And when I say “co-exist”, I don’t mean separately but concurrently—monsters (which is the quick and easy term I prefer to use for non-humans in spite of the term's general connotation) are all around us, I think. Most of us just can’t see them, is all. Maybe someday, we’ll all be able to; maybe we could, even now, if we opened our eyes and our minds wide enough.
Spot My “Sitters”
Here are the 12 festivals and festival customs I’ve featured in this exhibit; see if you can identify the individual festivalgoers I’ve made portraits of in each of them.
- The Kinabayo Festival is celebrated on July 25th in Dapitan, of which Saint James the Great is patron. They re-enact the Spanish-Moorish wars where Saint James himself appeared wielding a sword and riding a white horse.
- The Kabayo Festival is held every February in Mandaue City. They decorate tartanillas and hold a parade and a horse race. I imagine tikbalangs in particular would thoroughly enjoy this festival, or probably have a version of their own.
- The Salubong is an Easter custom practised in several parts of the country. I painted this one from memory, when I saw one in Angono some 20-odd years ago with my grandparents, uncle and aunt. The four great birds that flew outward from the giant “banana flower” in the centre made a distinct impression on me.
- The Apo Duwaling festival in Davao, now the Kadayawan, was named after Mount Apo, the Durian, and the Waling-waling. Carried away by the description of the Durian as “the King of Fruit” and the Waling-waling as the “Queen of Orchids”, I ended up showing how the King went for a walk with the Queen through the rainforests of Mount Apo.
- The Feast of the Holy Cross of Wawa in Bocaue (which is where my beloved step-grandmother’s from) features a fluvial procession in July with a floating pagoda. I’ve featured five, pale reflections of actual pagodas, which are followed round about by swimmers and smaller boats.
- Carrozas in procession are another custom which often features in Philippine festivals. My family and I often walk in procession behind a carroza on certain feast days; I know why we go, but I’m not sure all of the people who watch us go by, do.
- The Flores de Mayo is a festival honouring Our Lady, and holding a Santacruzan is The Custom at that festival. The sagalas in my Santacruzan are dressed in Philippine flowers, as are the little girls who walk to church carrying flowers for the Blessed Virgin Mary.
- It is customary to play Palo-Sebo at fiestas; I hadn’t known before doing this show that the actual climbing starts off as a “group project”. It doesn’t make the climb any less riveting or impressive, though.
- Buntings are customary for festivals pretty much everywhere, but during the Feast of Santa Rita in the town of the same name in Pampanga, they hang umbrellas above the streets, instead—forming an overhead “rainbow road” leading to the Santa Rita Parish Church.
- The Bailes de Luces festival of La Castellana, Negros Occidental is held in thanksgiving for the previous year’s blessings and in the hope of having another good year. This festival will be 20 years old this year.
- The Basket Festival of Antequera in Bohol, on the other hand, is an even newer festival (although the town itself is some 140 years old). My uncle, the lifestyle editor went to cover the festival recently and brought me back a nifty basket, which I used in the painting and still use every day.
- The Butanding Festival of Donsol features a parade where everybody (human or non-) sports spots. I figured it was a great way for land-dwelling monsters like aswangs and bangungots to party with water-dwellers like shokoys and the tambanokano’s descendants on their home turf, as it were, for once.
- Jill Arwen Posadas
July 22nd 2017
> Just thought I'd share the original invite my sister made me, as well as my original exhibit notes, written in my own voice (if not 100% in my own words lol), explaining what this show's about and why I did what I did.
And now I want to say thank you, all in my words, to the people without whom this show would not have been possible:
In Heaven: The Holy Trinity, Mama Mary, my Guardian Angel, Saint Luke, Blessed Fra Angelico, Saint Francis de Sales, Saint Charles Borromeo, Saint Catherine of Bologna, Saint Ephrem, Saint Joseph, Saint Maria Goretti, Saint Dominic Savio, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Lawrence, Saint Benedict, Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Aloysius, Saint Alphonsus, Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint Augustine, Saint Matthias, Saint Catherine of Sienna, Saint Cecilia, Saint John, Saint Jude, Saint Rita, Saint Philomena, Saint Claire, Saint Gabriel, Saint Raphael, The Holy Souls, Saint Matthew, Saint Cajetan
On Earth: My mom. My dad. Mr Mon del Rosario, Mr Ed Chua. My sister. My sister's friends, who sat for me: Isab, Isobel, Krishna, Liz, David, Ivan, JP and Jum (sorry, guys, did my best ^^; ). Daylin, for her unwavering support. Ella for sitting for me, too. My cousin Ands for letting me paint my fairy godchild, Allegra. Sir Vincent. Sir Hendry. Mr Jon for knowing what I was up to outside of office hours but allowing me to get up to it, anyway. Fi and Celine. Rhea. Jovan and Mariel for coming through at crunch time. Fr Saa and Fr Peter Fortin. Jones. And to Mr Mark Shellshear of Galeria de las Islas for his kindness.
Previews will be up shortly at jill-arwen-posadas.weebly.com. And I will be out shortly ~ for how long (for real, this time?), I don't know. But one thing's for sure ~ I will never run out of thanks, or things I want to paint. I just need to rest a little, maybe and do a little thinking.
Thank you, everyone. ^_^;