The artist as historian
The arts in order to be relevant should mimic life, so it is said. The literary and visual arts are bound by this dictum and often they become historians for that particular time or time past. Such is the view of the current exhibit of Patric Palasi, “Under Northern Skies”, at the Ugnayan Gallery of Tam-awan Village.
The images in his exhibit are mostly of old Benguet lifeways that highlight the cañao and the scene. The ‘tayao’ or dance is an integral part of a thanksgiving feast where the male and female dance as a pair using blankets as significant articles that are passed on to all the relatives or some visitors to take part in the ritual dance.
The numerous artworks show the different elements of the dance. There is one that deliberately shows the rice wine or ‘tapuy’ being given to the dancers. This is done twice where the last is the sign for the next dancers to take the blankets. In one of the paintings, the audience is given more details. There are the happy ones and those watching from a distance because they are busy with other domestic tasks.
In another painting, the musicians are complete, and the instruments are detailed in terms of gongs, the metal sticks, and the solibaos or conical drums. Capturing the antics of one gong player who flips his gong is an amusing detail.
The “Storyteller” illustrates the age and wisdom of those who play the role. The tobacco shows the element that is required by these elders perhaps as token. In old communities, when an elder is engaged in a conversation, one gives a token of a pack of cigarettes and a box of matches. This is getting to be a rare event because the elders have acceded to the education of the young as wisdom.
The dog and cat in the work entitled, “Whitey”, is humorous. The breastfeeding mother surrounded by pets is part of the household scene. The proximity of the pets to the masters in the home are found all over Benguet.
The babysitter with the baby wrapped in a blanket sling that is tied around her body is found everywhere in these parts. The older sister is often the one who is expected to take this function. Today, she no longer wears the striped wrap around skirt but wears everyday clothes.
“Morning Light” depicts the practice of pounding rice for the whole day’s consumption at daybreak. This shows how two women take the task for the whole family. This sends a rhythmic thud to surrounding homes until the job is done in the remote villages. This is no longer a practice with the availability of milled rice. Even the old wooden homes have long been replaced with the sturdy cemented ones.
The two women holding a kayabang or carrying basket and a square winnower are also dated. These parts of the material culture are no longer used because of the plastic bags or eco bags and rice available in sacks. The kayabangs are now used as planters and the winnowers as wall decors. These elements in the material culture will soon disappear because the utility no longer exists.
Palasi has made a name as the only artist using coffee as a medium. In these paintings he has mixed acrylic with some of the coffee to retain the medium in most of his paintings. The old lifeways have been stored in his works of 2022.