It appears a glassed-in portion of the lobby of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts is being prepared for “beautification” via indoor landscaping.
Against the walls are mounds of earth on which plant stalks stand intermittently; a spade pierces the soil. On one corner, the air-conditioning unit surrounded by bamboo scaffolding is more than halfway engulfed, and up close one realizes the stems are Palm Sunday fronds, some of them dried brown.
Scattered around are more firearms; a severed wooden horse’s head; the Philippine president’s seal; and a vandalized picture of Emilio Aguinaldo in a display case.
The spread is an art installation by Alwin Reamillo. “Tinubuang Lupa” is in connection with the 150th birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio.
The exhibit, says the curator’s notes, “uses historical records, oral accounts, residual imagery, and popular beliefs in treading the contentious ground of the revolutionary leader’s legacy. Using soil, devotional paraphernalia, and popular imagery, Reamillo plots the shifting terrain in which the vital yield of struggle, revolution, betrayal, heroism and legend germinates.”
“Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa” is derived from the poem of the same title written by Bonifacio. It has been translated as “Love of Country,” but the last two words that serve as Reamillo’s conceptual headline can be translated as “soil/land from which one sprung/grew.”
In the verses, Supremo, as Bonifacio was also called, famously wrote about there being nothing greater than one’s love for nation.
The efforts of the artist are effective because, at first, it is amusing that the show’s title is literally echoed with organic media. Then as the viewer recalls the feats of Bonifacio, what may easily follow is a barrage of recent images of the very same beloved Philippines.
The point is thus brought home, especially when assaulted by the implications of the misplaced weapons, and shreds of what seem to be legal tender, bamboo snakes, and dead greenery.
Flashes of backhoes uncovering dead bodies from the gruesome and yet unresolved Ampatuan massacre; mountains of trash indicative of filth, poverty, over-consumption, and environmental abuse.
Finally, the most recent, with climate change as vestige of the planet’s ravaging, Reamillo’s earth made infertile by social iniquities brings to mind the flotsam-ridden, cadaver-strewn land left by “Yolanda”—completing the metaphor, which is simply the question of whether or not the seed of Bonifacio’s call to arms for the love of country has cultivated desired ideals.
Antares Gomez Bartolome, in his curator’s notes “A Strange and Bitter Crop,” says the zigzagging mounds imply that “the crooked horizon broadens and tinubuan takes on the meaning of ‘exploited,’ of tubo as ‘profit,’ and digs up not only the archipelago’s persistent feudalisms but also the character of its stewards…”
He laments: “For over a century since Bonifacio’s death, the land was blighted by massive corruption, systematic impoverishment and neglect, political killings and enforced disappearances.”
The dredging of earth is then not just a picture of the constant search for bodies; it is also a cry for the exhumation and resurrection of Gat Andres Bonifacio’s creed, because, as Bartolome says, “looking for bodies… is a search that spans the land, sows anger surely, waits but a season.”
The NCCA Gallery is at 633 General Luna St., Intramuros, Manila. Call tel. 5272192 local 512 and 506. Visit www.ncca.gov.ph for more information.