ARTWORK by Lisa De Leon Zayco

WHEN one thinks of the island of Negros, one thinks of its role in the sugar trade and the fortunes that it created. Those fortunes came to polish some of the nation’s most illustrious last names: these include figures in politics, showbiz, business, and the arts.

The Angelica Berrie Foundation is launching the Negros Season of Culture Website, addressing the region’s cultural assets which can be seen in its cuisine, art, textile, architecture, and literature. “Culture is as necessary as food in even the poorest society. In this pandemic moment, the spirit of resilience and creativity is vital to regenerating economic development. We have to feed the soul even in the worst of times,” said Angelica Berrie in an e-mail to BusinessWorld.

The first year of the Negros Season of Culture is dedicated to the late film maker Peque Gallaga. Ms. Berrie said, “Peque was a human incubator for creativity and culture in Negros. Many of our generation’s creative influentials can trace their roots to his efforts (Genesius Guild yielded many actors, production and directors in Philippine cinema). In his own words, “we are just one small ‘ting’ yet we can do so much.’ This is the lesson he imparted which resonates for all of us involved with the Season of Culture. Genius-Imagination-Ambition was Peque’s outsize contribution to our province.”

Many Filipino luminaries come from the island of Negros, including movie queen Susan Roces, and the Lacson, Locsin, and Arroyo families. Ms. Berrie credits this to “the native talent inherent in each Negrense.” She added, “Negros historically had an affluent lifestyle that fostered the luxury of cultivating culture. There was something in the environment and the way families encouraged the arts that brought artists and cultural change agents’ talents to the fore. Just that special magic that can’t be explained!

“First, all Filipinos have an extra gene for creativity. We love to sing, act and eat — all creative pursuits,” she said. “What differentiates Negros is the atmosphere of collaborations from living in communities where people connect to each other easily and can do more together. The Genesius Guild, the Black Artist Movement, the generation of talented chefs who have roots in Negros. We have spawned actors and artists, chefs and writers, painters, dancers, opera singers, printmakers, theater designers, and musicians.”

The launch of the website will be live-streamed via Facebook Live on Nov. 5, starting at 8 p.m It will be hosted by Negrense actor Joel Torre. His daughter, actress Marela Torre, will walk the audience through the website. Other officials of the province have been invited to join the launch event, as well as officials of national government agencies, like the Department of Tourism, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and other related bodies.

The website will have the following editorial categories: Heritage, Food, Handcrafts, Art, Cultural Experience, People, and Upcoming Events. Additionally, the website will include links to websites, Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and other digital assets of partners.

To be shown during the launch will be the Negros Season of Culture flagship video,a  tribute video to Peque Gallaga, and a documentary on the Chapel of the Angry Christ and the artist Alfonso Ossorio, narrated by Liliane Manahan.

One can also expect features on the following Negrense artists: Lisa de Leon-Zayco, a mosaic artist commissioned for the creation of BAO-The Unbowed Carabao at The Negros Museum, and an entrance hall piece at Fundacion Sansó; Angela Silva, printmaker and visual artist using cyanotype photography, who returned to Negros from Berkeley, California after close to four decades away from the Philippines; Tey Sevilleno, popular for her water colors, who left a budding career in Manila to answer her longing to return to her native Negros and pursue art; and Darel Bettita Javier, who spent decades in the US prior to returning to Negros to become a full-time visual artist, specializing in surrealism, conceptual realism, and collaged styles.

Some of the activities for the Negros Museum will also be highlighted in the website, such as features on Negrense History, heritage, culture, and artistic pratices, weekly staged readings of plays written by emerging Negrense playwrights, and Sine Negrense Online (SNO), featuring winning entries and directors of the first three years of Sine Negrense Film Festival prior to COVID-19.

Not everything focuses on what some may consider the “fine arts.” There is, for example, a feature on Mike and Banj Claparols of Creative Definitions who collaborate with four weaving communities in the island of Negros, building sustainable micro-industries that produce fabric materials woven out of indigenous fibers, including abaca, cotton, banana, and sugarcane bagasse. There’s also one of chef Mia Lizares Gonzaga, a graduate of Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School (now the Institute of Culinary Arts in Manhattan), who popularized a unique grazing table in Negros incorporating local delicacies and homegrown ingredients to help local farmers and producers, as well as reduce her carbon footprint.

Also featured on the website is Slow Food Negros, part of a global movement to know where local food and ingredients come from, and how to preserve these from extinction, as well as one on Casa A. Gamboa with Negrense heritage cuisine served in a heritage home once visited by Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

The website will also promote the upcoming event Feed Our Souls, an on-ground bazaar selling artisanal ware, art, and cuisine unique to Negros culture and heritage.

As one can see, the new world still creeps up on the old belle that is Negros, when new blood and talent is infused into its old-world traditions. Ms. Berrie explained how these dialogues between old and new come to be: “The next generation of Negrenses remain connected to their heritage and we intend to highlight this new creative class who are innovating in ways their ancestors would never have imagined. Whether in cooking, sharing heritage homes’ histories and storytelling through theater and movies, we need to support these talents so they remember who we are, value our cultural identity and express this uniqueness in their own way.”

Watch out for the website’s launch on — Joseph L. Garcia