Manobo: Images of Heritage
According to ethnographer J. Elkins, “The Manobo belongs to the original stock of proto-Philippine or proto-Austronesian people who came from South China thousands of years ago. He later coined the term Manobo to designate the stock of original, non-negritoid people of Mindanao. They mostly inhabit the hinterlands specifically on the boundaries of Agusan, Bukidnon, Cotabato, Davao, and Misamis Oriental.
Traditional fabric for clothes was abaca or hemp, weaved by the ikat process, but is now cotton cloth obtained through trade. Dyes were acquired from plants and trees. Ginuwatan are inwoven with representational designs such as flowers. If cotton trade cloth is bought, big floral designs are preferred. Typical colors are red, black, yellow, green, blue and white.”
Currently on view at the Galerie Anna is Jun Impas’s homage to the Lumad of Mindanao. The word means indigenous or native. For this exhibition, the artist has distinctly focus on the culture, traditions, and rituals of the Manobo.
This exhibition, however, is imbued by turns with deeper poignancy and with greater significance brought about by two contrasting incidences of present times. The first is the crisis caused by the recent events which involved the killings of the Lumad. Suffice it to quote a Lumad spokesman: “It is a form of ethnocide but it is worse because there are specific characteristics of impunity and killings targeting the Lumad. What is alarming is that it is happening all over Mindanao…The military said they were rebels, but the New Peoples’ Army denied the claim, saying the victims were civilians.”
The second, as we all know since the nation is still caught up in the wake of the turbulent and acrimonious election, is the triumphant victory of having the first Mindanaoan head of state: President Rodrigo Duterte. And of course the question that immediately arise is: how will he solve the Lumad killings?
Only upon the acknowledgment of these two separate events can we begin to celebrate the recent works of Cebuano artist, Jun Impas. Titled “Manobo: Images of Heritage,” the show is an outright jubilation of the culture of the Manobo, and understandably from a purely aesthetic viewpoint, the artist marveled at the pageantry of ceremony and the deeply glowing hues of their fabric and clothing. Indeed, Impas allowed pride of place for a depiction of bands of these exotically woven fabric to enliven and strengthen the design and composition, visual flavor and emotional temper of his artworks. Moreover, when Impas lays out the bolts of Manobo fabric into coiling drapery, the viewer senses the artist has been truly swept by the beauty of the material.
Travelling down to Davao to participate in the Manobo festival, with his trusty camera and an avid spirit, Impas saw for himself the dazzling annual event of music and dance. This act of immersion and participation, imbibing the entire local color and feeling the pulse of the Manobo people, is what drives Impas to visually record the event with a documentary truth as well as a painterly passion. We need only recall that Impas journeyed all over the archipelago, from North to South, to attend the various fiestas in order to produce that epic exhibition of Philippine fiestas, presented by Galerie Anna at the SM Art Center, with no less a distinguished guest than the Secretary of Tourism Ramon Jimenez in attendance. It was a kind of herculean task Impas had imposed on himself, even as he was aware of the time pressure, the physical and the financial demands this challenge would claim from him. Typically, Jun Impas redeemed himself.
In these recent artworks, what is touching is the sight of generations of Manobo: the children and the elderly, all caught up in the activities of the festival. The old Manobo playing the percussive instruments and the infant being held aloft by his mother are both vivid images of history and heritage, the Manobo, aborning and unfurling.
And in the midst of it is the unseen artist Jun Impas, weaving himself in and out of the crowd, as though he were himself being woven into the fabric of the lives of the Manobo.