HOW do we experience miracles in this age?
Given the past weeks—the extrajudicial killings, the Supreme Court betrayal, the Marcos burial sundering the nation, the vomitous lynching of Leila de Lima—perhaps the question should be: can we still expect miracles?
Miracles are among us.
Scholar Reza Aslan writes in “No god but God” that time and place determine how humanity experiences “the miraculous”.
In the age of Moses, magic was required to change staff to snake or part the Red Sea. Judea tested Jesus by expecting Him to cure the sick and raise the dead.
Then language replaced magic and medicine. Aslan notes that oral societies “believe that the world is continuously recreated through their myths and rituals,” transmitted through words “infused with magical power”.
The Greek bard singing of Odysseus, the Indian poet chanting “Ramayana” verses, and the North American shaman recounting the myths of recreation—they were not mere storytellers but “mouthpieces of gods,” with the “divine authority necessary to express fundamental truths,” writes Aslan.
In these uncertain times, the divine resides in Art’s kernel of courage to bear witness. Last Nov. 14, the link between storytelling and truth-telling was reinforced by writers Richellet Chan and CD Borden during the “Udtong Tutok” series organized by the Creative Writing Program (CWP) of the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu.
Chan discussed how the child Josephine negotiates her neighborhood’s labyrinth of deceits and betrayals in the coming-of-age short story, “Kiyawkiyaw.”
Borden used a hired killer to testify about the execution of a contract in “Abat,” his spare, stark meditation on how Philippine society is a many-chambered pit of the doomed. Emerging voices, Chan and Borden nevertheless are wizened and all-seeing witnesses and truth-tellers.
During martial law, artists were among the few who broke through censorship by spinning fantasies that held a kernel of truth. Yet, despite our debt to them, artists to this day remain among the neglected and persecuted.
To support gifted but financially challenged Fine Arts (FA) students of UP Cebu, 40 FA alumni and faculty contributed works to the “Pamalandong” exhibit.
Running from Nov. 23 to Dec. 14 at the Jose T. Joya Gallery of UP Cebu, the exhibit is also a collective tribute to the program’s backbone, the early mentors of Cebu’s only formal institution for the arts when it was established in 1975.
Remembering professors Martino Abellana, Julian Jumalon, Lucille Agas, Carmelo Tamayo, and Jose Joya, alumnus J. Karl Roque, wrote that, as the exhibit title suggests, the participating artists looked back on their own struggles as students and pledged to contribute a portion of sales to “pay forward” to young aspiring artists.
“We hope to raise funds to pay off student loans or buy art materials,” said the FA professor and Jose T. Joya Gallery director.
Art is an indwelling. In Cebuano, “pamalandong” can mean a “musing,” “meditation (palandong),” or “shade (landong)”.
Art provides the break needed by body and soul. According to CWP coordinator Lilia Tio, “Udtong Tutok” refers to the high noon gaze, which is “to look unflinchingly” during the middle of the day when we take a break, eat with colleagues, or bury our secrets.
Again and again, Art brings us to the peaks of confrontation and the valleys of contemplation.
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s November 27, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”