“ In art, the hand can never execute anything higher than the heart can imagine.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
It seemed like an unassuming edifice in Manila, but it turned out to be a slice of heaven for art aficionados and a source of inspiration for creativity and design. Established in 1976, the Metropolitan Museum Manila, the primary home of contemporary art in the country, was partially subsidized by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. In 1979, “The Met” was incorporated into a foundation known as the Metropolitan Museum of Manila Foundation, Inc., officially changing its status into an independent, private, non-sectarian, non-political and non-profit cultural foundation. Although it is located in one of the busiest places in the metro, stepping inside the museum yields a stark contrast to the vibe of its external environment. In fact, The Met’s admission area already foreshadows the perfect blend of artistic ambiance.
The Abueva Collection: The Power of Form, an exhibit of sculptures made by National Artist Napoleon Abueva during his creative years from 1951 to 2009, immediately greeted patrons upon entering The Met last February. The Museum featured some of the masterpieces created by this luminary, considered as the Father of Philippine Modern Sculpture.
The second floor, meanwhile, houses the contemporary art works gathered by The Met from a number of national institutions and private collections. Aside from the usual paintings and artworks, multimedia exhibits are also installed, highlighting the diversity of The Met’s collections. The exhibits are arranged according to their respective eras: Horizon (1982); Trajectory (1965-1983); and Latitud (1984-present). The famous works of Fernando Amorsolo, Galo Ocampo and Guillermo Tolentino from1930-1950 can also be found in Galeriya Lor Calma. Interesting installations by various artists occupies the corners of the room. Positioned strategically, the work of Luis “Junyee” Yee Jr. will surely catch an art connoisseur’s attention. “THINGS,” as captioned by its creator, is an artistic marvel made of wood, dried bananas, leaves and banana stock.
All Things Gold
The museum’s basement is literally a pot of gold. The Met features a securely and closely guarded treasure trove of ancient golden jewelry, allowing its viewers a glimpse into the opulence, discipline and style of the country’s pre-colonial craftsmen. The combined stillness of the place and richness of the culture creates an overwhelming experience. A single day is not enough to meticulously examine and appreciate the design and detail of each artifact in the collection. The pieces are precious enough to make even jewelry designers and stylists drool. Given the pricelessness of the exhibits, the security in the area is akin to that of a highly guarded vault.
Some of the pieces delicately placed in glass cases are forearm wraps and arm ornaments that were found in Mindoro. From these, one gets the idea that gold has been one of the main products of the country ever since the ancient times. The exquisite craftsmanship devoted to each item exudes a love for the element.
Originally found in Samar, various sizes and designs of earrings dating back from the 10th up to the 15th century are also included in the exhibit. An exquisite kamagi (necklace), which is 4.9 meters in length and made by the Bagobos in Mindanao, demonstrates the creativity and good taste of our ancestors. The choices of what articles or pieces should be crafted showed that, eons ago, personal vanity and love for finery and prestige were part of the lifestyle and culture of our country’s old inhabitants.
As sources of clothing inspiration, fashion and lifestyle magazines may take a backseat compared to these pieces. Sashes for high royalties, which were worn around the waist by the chieftains and datus, were on display. These not only symbolized the distinction and hierarchy of the rulers in the pre-colonial period, but were also complexly made from 1056 grams of pure gold. In fact, an artist will probably take one year to complete a piece. Detailed illustrations on how a fragment was formed and assembled were also shown. Interestingly, fifteen to eighteen of these sashes were found in Surigao; seven of which were deposited in BSP, while the other eight are in private hands.
Also displayed are gold belt buckles from the 10th to 13th century, which were unearthed in Butuan. If you think bib necklaces are only trendy now, then think again—the old Tausug and Yakans from Sulu were already genius and modish enough to create and design garment appliqués, which have a similar look to contemporary trends. Garment appliqués are gold clothing with details in various accentuating shapes.
A delicate dragonfly choker was also made by the Bagobos of Mindanao, by putting together 6000 to 7000 gold granules that weighed as much as 26 grams. Loop-in-loop chains used as a sacred cord and worn diagonally across the torso, depicts the rituals practiced by our native ancestors. There are also ear ornaments from Mindoro, which are gold formed into square sheets and cut into stylized flowers. The chic drop, chandelier earrings of today are also things of the past since these quaint pieces made its way during the 12th to 15th century, as earrings made of hollow annular rings with dangles of stylized flowers and leaves.
The collections of The Met serve as testaments to the sheer grandiosity of the Filipino heritage. The numerous pieces of art it hosts depicts not only the variety and range of artistic potential in the country, but also the history of skill of Filipinos. A trip to this museum remains a constant reminder that the Philippines is a country abundant with rich and immeasurable talent and creativity, unlike any other in the world.