Yesterday, I went on a field trip with my good friend, Johara. Since the National Museum is celebrating Museum and Galleries month for the whole month of October, we got in for free. One of the things that Johara and I share is this deep interest in history and art, and because it’s been a month since the last time we went on an excursion (I’ll squeeze this trip in some other time), we decided to go and visit this museum for the first time.
The museum was designed by Antonio Toledo in the Amercian colonial period. And has since featured great works of Filipino masters of art and important archaeological finds.
At first, we entered the building where it featured old artifacts and a lot of stuff related to the origin of the Filipinos.
One of my favorite displays here was the imitation of the traditional Ifugao house called Fale or Bale complete with its pyramidal, hipped roof and a hagabi bench which indicates the prominence of the family living in the house.
Yup, that already got me excited. So when we passed the courtyard, I couldn’t already contain myself. They actually built a life size prototype of the house! If I’m not mistaken, people still use this kind of house in Sagada in the Cordillera region of the Philippines. Ooooh, that’s a great idea for a summer trip.
The display that kept on popping out were artifacts from the ruins of the ship called San Diego found in Nasugbu, Batangas. I didn’t actually understand its significance until Johara read the info displayed which said the this ship was one of those used to sail during the galleon trade and was hastily converted into a warship. With the added weight of its canons which it was not originally designed for, the sinking of this galleon was indeed inevitable.
Goods such as earthenware, swords, and old coins were found in the 1990s among other things such as blue and white ceramics from China.
Next up is a gallery of stuff excavated from the Tabon caves in Palawan. They were mainly burial vessels and masks for the dead prehistoric Filipinos. The picture below shows the Manuggul Jar which is the oldest dated jar in the Philippines and the first indication of life after death even before the Spaniards brought Christianity into the Philippines.
After 4 storeys and an hour and a half later, we toured the whole building already and we were so confused that we haven’t seen a single artwork yet. So we went back down to the ground floor and asked the guard where the paintings are. We found out we were in a different wing and had to walk across the street to the gallery of art, which is another big building. All our fatigue was vanquished though and we came in thankful that the museum was still open with ten-tenenenn… AIR CONDITIONING!
Upon entry, the first gallery that we visited housed only 2 paintings, one of Hidalgo and the ever famous Spoliarium of Juan Luna. I felt strange and awed and saddened at the same time while the song of Eraserheads also titled Spoliarium was playing in my head. Here’s a link of the Imago cover if you’re interested (After hearing the Pepsi Paloma story, I can’t imagine it being sung by a guy anymore). Anyway, I knew the painting was big but man, this was beyond my expectations.
For those who don’t know, the term “Spoliarium” was originally the name of the room inside the Flavian Ampitheater or most commonly known as the Colosseum where the dead gladiators are dragged after bloody matches or what ancient Romans casually call as “games”. Juan Luna painted this as an indirect way to show the oppression against Filipinos during the Spanish colonial period.
I recently watched a TED video featuring Tracy Chevalier, author of The Girl with a Pearl Earring, wherein she talks about how she walks out of a gallery show feeling disappointed with herself because she couldn’t relate to most of the things displayed. I have to admit, as much as I want to deny it, I felt the same “gallery fatigue”. The only works of interest for me was of course the Spoliarium, the sketch study of Fernando Amorsolo which could most likely be one of his Dalagang Bukid series, and the chalk pastel portrait of a woman by Vicente Dizon. Other than that, I can’t really say I connected to everything else.
By closing time, I told my friend that we should already go back to the ground floor. It turns out the place was just so big that I didn’t realize that we didn’t even get to go to the other floors! We were just in the ground floor the whole time! WHAT. There will be a next time, for sure. I have to explore the other areas of the museum and go back and visit my favorites. And when I go back there, I’ll make sure I’ll be wearing more comfortable shoes. Wedges killed my feet after, I don’t know, 5 kilometers of walking? Fortunately, I can walk again now but my legs are still a bit sore. Boo.
We went home happy and satisfied with a beautiful coastal sunset to greet us on the way home. I love Manila.