We all know Juan Luna - that guy who painted the famous "Spoliarium" back when we were not born yet, not even our parents nor our grandparents I guess. If you haven't heard about it well the actual painting is inside the National Museum in Manila City. Last October 20, 2012, I was invited for the annual Luna Walk. I have learned that it is the 155th birth anniversary of the most famous painter in the country - Juan Luna.
|as much as I want to join every year... this might be the last :(|
I heard about the GSIS Museo ng Sining back in College. We needed to find a museum, gallery or art space that we could apply our knowledge and experience on what we have been studying for 3 years in the On-the-job training program. We all wanted to apply what we learned about Arts Management, Curatorship and Collections Management - yeah, I was that nerd. Well that was in 2003. My group scouted the Manila area and found ourselves in the GSIS Main Office in Pasay (just a stone throw's away from the Senate). I didn't realize that such government agency would have its own museum.
Apparently, Winston Garcia (the former president and general manager of the agency) is really passionate about culture and the arts. I thought that the collection would include the past machines and equipment that was used in GSIS before and after the war but I was so amazed on its wide collection of artworks in all media and forms. Sculpture, Painting, Photography to name a few. It was vast.
And we were surprised when the museum manager directed us to the infamous painting "The Parisian Life" by Juan Luna. We were in awe on how the museum dedicated a room just for this piece. There were so much controversy on the amount that have been paid just to purchase the painting in an auction - roughly about 46 million pesos. The GSIS pensioners flocked outside the agency and protested on how could they bought a certain painting. Well, we can't blame them 'coz 46 million pesos is really a huge amount of money. To end the story, we weren't able to get the job but got to see the painting. The painting that brought numerous reactions from all walks of life.
Fast forward 2008, I went into the teaching profession and got an official invite from the GSIS Museum to participate in a seminar/workshop for Art teachers and some selected students. I really love to go to such activities because my heart is really into the Arts. And for 4 years now, I have been a loyal participant in almost all of their symposia, workshops, seminars and the like. What I love most about them is that all of that were for free and with refreshments (I especially love the ensaymada and palabok snacks :)
Moving on, I got the official invite for the 2-day seminar/walk. I was so glad that it suited my schedule perfectly - Friday afternoon and the whole day of Saturday. I also got the permission to bring in Jay with me on the second day. The first day was a very concise backgrounder on Juan Luna. The talk was entitled "Parisian Life: Reflections on the Images of Ariston Bautista Lin, Jose Rizal and Juan Luna". Later on, I would learn that those three personas were very important in our rich history and even in the "Parisian Life" painting.
The speakers were great especially Professor Santiago Albano Pilar from the University of the Philippines-College of Fine Arts (also an author of a book about Juan Luna) and Ms. Gemma Cruz-Araneta who is the Chairperson of the Heritage Conservation Society (and also grew up with the painting on the house of her stepdad). They unveiled a very important hero in the name of Dr. Ariston Bautista Lin who served as a major financier and supported the movement against the Spanish regime back then. They established the close relationship between the three heroes that were the rockstars of the talk.
First stop was the Bahay Nakpil-Bautista in Quiapo. It was the house where the "Parisian Life" painting was originally housed. The house is located in A. Bautista street in Quiapo. You can go to the Quiapo church, cross the road via the underpass and look for the LBC branch along the road and then make a right turn on the street adjacent to it and you would find the house with a Philippine flag and a KKK flag - that's it. It was a century-old house in the heart of Quiapo. There are no fees but there is a donation box somewhere there.
We had a brief tour and a talk from a history buff Professor Xiao Chua (you can catch him on "The Bottomline with Boy Abunda on Saturdays). He showed us where the original room and wall where the painting was hung for the longest time until the descendants decided to sell the painting in an auction in Hong Kong.
Next stop was the National Museum. We went there to see and learn more about the most famous work of Juan Luna - the "Spoliarium". If you haven't been to the museum and haven't seen the artwork then you might wanna go there and learn more about your own heritage as a Filipino as depicted in the artworks. As I was always telling my students, the painting is huge. Much bigger than their classroom (and the oohhhs and aahhhs will go on for a minute as I was describing how big it is). It was that grand.
We all know that it won a gold medal in Exposicion Nacional de Bellas Artes in Madrid, Spain in 1884. He was 27 years old back then (and I am 28 and what have I done THAT great? hmmm...). It shows a scene where the dead gladiators were dragged for their families to collect them (think about Gladiator the movie). We all have our own interpretations on what the piece might be all about but who knows what Juan Luna was thinking right? Whether it's about depicting a gladiator scene or the symbolism of how the Filipinos were dragged by the Spaniards into the "darkness" at the end of the day it is how Juan Luna and the Philippines were recognized by the world from the piece (they thought that Filipinos were "uncivilized" and "unschooled" in their own standards). We went to other areas where his other paintings were displayed. Just a little reminder - no flash photography inside the museum 'coz you know why right? :)
Next was the Juan Luna Monument. I was glad to know that he has his own monument but the question I have was where? And then we went across the street to what they call the "Roundtable" near an entrance to the Intramuros and the Pamantasan ng Lungson ng Maynila. The monument is there standing on the yield part. I have been in that same place a few times and never did I know that it was Luna (I thought it was another Rizal). We offered some flowers there and greeted him a happy birthday - ok it was just me.
|my weapon of choice - paint palette and brush!|
And then we went to San Agustin Museum just beside the San Agustin church. I was puzzled on why we were there and then I heard from someone that an ossuary/crypt is there inside that houses the remains (bones actually because his original resting place was at Hong Kong) of Juan Luna. We prayed silently and offered some flowers on the 76th hole. Yes, he was with a number. It was so sad to hear that no efforts have been made by the former administrations for his remains to be exiled for a burial fitted for a hero. It was ironic how he is resting beside the Spanish friars and the pensionados.
Next was the Metropolitan Museum or The Met at Roxas Boulevard. It's just right beside the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. Our purpose there was to visit Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo's paintings that were in a special room inside the museum (and then you learned about the person behind the famous photography haven in Quiapo). They were friends and they shared so much about each other's works and ideals on their beloved country.
Cameras and taking photos are not allowed inside the museum (but I took some and I was reprimanded and was even told that there are lotsa CCTVs around the museum). We were also given the chance to tour on the basement where the gold collection of our ancestors were housed.
|it was tiny and so am I|
He started with Luna's childhood and up until he died to the day when the infamous "Parisian Life" painting was bought by the GSIS. I learned so much about Luna and our own heritage in his talk. I learned that he was really a "serious" type of guy and almost all of his photos are dark. And that he is really good friends with Jose Rizal after Rizal learned about his winning in the competition in Madrid.
I learned that they were also human beings that were also capable of doing some funny stuff (as shown on some photos where they were goofing around with some friends). I learned about the murder of his wife and his mother-in-law and the rumors behind it (you should buy me a coffee or a beer before i tell you the "secret" **winks**). And then I learned about the price of our heritage. Yes, the price.
|Where is Rizal? No not the guy on the upper left.|
Rizal was the one playing the flute
|acting like drunkards|
|the first photo I saw where Rizal is smiling - ang bongga lang ng cheekbones!|
The painting shows coffee shop wherein some men (three men) were at the far left side of the cafe and were engaging in a conversation. On the foreground you will see a young lady sitting in a weird position and it seems like she was with someone because of the cups on the table, an overcoat on the bench and the hat on top of it. As simple as that.
So to get to the point, there are 3 interpretations that are prevalent up to now. The first one is the literal translation. There is a young lady who seemed to be an escort or a prostitute accompanied by a man. That's it. The second interpretation was very personal to Luna. They consider the young lady as Luna's wife with someone other than her husband (third party thingy). Well that was the time when the murder of the wife had happened. And the last interpretation by the UP College of Fine Arts students (dunno what year it was) was the most plausible according to almost all of the speakers.
If you have been schooled to be a visual artist (just like Juan Luna) you would practically study about anatomy and the basic things such as fundamentals on right positions. You wouldn't put a window post on top of someone's head. You wouldn't put your subject into a position wherein it looks uncomfortable (unless it's purposely done). Is Juan Luna just a deviant in doing such things or is he really making an underlying statement for the piece?
Look at the newspaper, the corner of the table, the chair and the overcoat. Look on how they are pointing to the lady. Look at the window post which is black and the choker of the lady which is black (looks like she's being strangled eh?). Look at the weird position of the lady. And look at the three men. According to the third interpretation, the lady is our motherland - the Philippines but in an inverted way (sidewards). The strangling somewhat felt like how the state of the country at that time with the Spaniards ruling over it. The pointed stuff were somewhat a call to focus on the motherland to free it from being strangled. And the three men were Juan Luna, Dr. Ariston Bautista Lin and Jose Rizal (at his back) talking about how to free their beloved country. Whew! Nice interpretations from the youngsters eh? So how about you? Which of the three are you leaning to? Or do you have your own interpretations?
I felt like a little more interested about the history. I felt like engaging in that 1 and 1/2 days of in-your-face chismis about the lives and works of our heroes sparked that very little interest in me to learn more about history. Or maybe I can do it backwards just like how they do it - interpreting the painting first before learning about the story behind it. It's more fun right?
|Manila Yacht Club|
Special thanks to Ricky Ramos for the undying effort to contact me everytime. And good job to all the staff and employees in the museum! Let's hope and pray that the GSIS Museum will not be transferred anywhere.
GSIS Museo ng Sining
Level 2, Core I GSIS Building,
Financial Center, Pasay City
Contact Numbers: (+63) 2.859.0395 | (+63) 929.171.4091
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Museum Hours Tuesdays-Saturdays
9:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
you can take the orange jeepney from Vito Cruz or the free GSIS shuttle bus from Gil Puyat.