Arts & Leisure

Mañara: beyond the ‘Instagrammable’

Posted on May 10, 2017

ARTWORKS are avenues for reflection and expression, but thanks to social media, some art has been relegated to simply serving as a backdrop for selfies. Ayala Museum’s latest art installation is not just another pretty prop for photos. Featuring Moro cultural items like golden gongs, the exhibit, Mañara, encourages dialogue and introspection -- and, okay, some selfies and videos, too.

On view at the plaza in front of the museum until May 30, Mañara is a project of the Ayala Foundation. “We see this interactive exhibit as an opportunity to promote awareness and further educate people about the rich and inspiring culture of Mindanao communities and the significant role the Moro culture plays in our country’s history and heritage,” said Ayala Foundation co-chairman, Fernando Zobel de Ayala, in a statement.

“More than just a pretty thing, art should be piercing,” said installation artist and industrial designer Lilianna Manahan, one of the two artists behind Mañara, during the exhibit’s press launch on May 2. She said that while the art installation is “fun, inviting, and eye-catching,” people should look beyond that because it hopes to “jumpstart and a vessel for things.”

Renowned sculptor and painter Toym Imao, the other artist involved in the exhibit, agrees. “It is an ‘Instagrammable’ event, and it starts from there, then it grows. It’s a visual means in a certain degree. After, people will ask, ‘why is this like this or that?,’” he said.

The towering pieces invite passersby to stop, take a picture, and think. In the middle of it all is a podium where questions are posed, like “Why do I always want to be right?” “What do I want in life?” and “Who am I, really?”

The audience can touch the artworks: they can play with the gongs and the hanging sarimanok (the iconic Maranao bird which Mr. Imao’s father, National Artist Abdulmari, is best known for), and, yes, they can take photos for social media.

“In the next couple of weeks that it is up, and if it does go viral in terms of social media posts, [it will become an achievement]. I’ve always been fascinated with the Facebook phenomenon. Sometimes when there are bad headlines some people would post art and say, ‘I will post art in order to make Facebook beautiful with inspired imagery.’ These images are counter cultures of stereotypes, they create visual noise, adding [something] positive and balancing out the negative,” Mr. Imao said.

Mañara means minaret, and the installation features 23 minarets and lanterns that highlight Moro textiles, wood and metal works, and indigenous patterns. In the Muslim tradition, mañaras serve as lighthouses and are also significant architectural features of mosques, because it is from these that the call to prayer emanate from.

“Minarets work as metaphors,” said Mr. Imao, referring to lighthouses as “beacons of the community.”

He added that art is therapeutic. “It is a language that goes beyond words and has been said that an effective communicator of ideas. The ideas that we want to communicate the viewers -- who may not be that familiar with the art, but will be attracted with the colors -- is that the imagery will welcome rather than alienate,” he said.

While art can be an avenue for talk and healing, the two artists admit that they have only “came up with visual cues, and not answers.” After all, art cannot answer the question why there is conflict in Mindanao, or in other parts of the world. And Mr. Imao added that their installation pieces are on the safe side -- “They are concepts of unity sans personalities or dogmas. In its purest sense, it is a portal.”

What the Mañara exhibit does, he said, is invite people from all walks of life to appreciate art and be more welcoming of other cultures.

Guests can interact with the art until May 30, shortly after the start of Ramadan, the major Muslim month of fasting, on the 26th. -- Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman