ANYBODY old enough to have witnessed the heyday of Manila, especially Intramuros, always has something to share about it. For Manileño and National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin, no amount of familiarity with the city could ever dull his awe of what he called the “secret soul of my city.” “Soulful” is one of the best words to describe Intramuros, which, unfortunately, seems to have lost its grandeur and vibrancy over time. But there is a group that has high hopes of reviving what the wall city was once famed for through one month worth of activities that center on art.

The Manila Biennale, inspired by the famous Venice Biennale, will be held from Feb. 3 to March 5, 2018. The Manila version — which revolves around the theme “OpenCity” — aims to transform the walled city into a big public art exposition where activities like exhibitions, fashion shows, spoken word poetry sessions, performance arts, and design and architecture event will be held during the month long celebration.

“Nothing is for sale, but your experience,” said tour guide, cultural activist, performance artist, and one of the event’s organizers Carlos Celdran.

The Manila Biennale is divided into two components: collaborative and curated programs. Under the collaborative programs are festivities with their own managements that will also use Intramuros as their venue. The festivals include the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ annual Pasinaya festival, the Fringe Festival, the Anthology Festival of Design and Architecture, and the Pink Shorts LGBT Festival.

The curated programs, meanwhile, will include festivals of performance arts and exhibitions on visual arts and design.

The goal of the festival is to celebrate art in Intramuros. The wall city has a long history, said Mr. Celdran. “Intramuros was originally made from bamboo, because it is the oldest architecture the Philippines has,” he said during the media launch on Nov. 29.

Unlike Indonesia which has its Borobodur or Cambodia and its Angkor Wat, Mr. Celdran said the Philippines does not have this sort of grand ancient architecture because it lacks the proper building materials. Since most of the archipelago is volcanic, “the only thing we have here is adobe, which is pretty much like building a city out of Chocnut because it’s easily crumbled,” he said.

When the Spaniards came, they introduced the use of volcanic ash mixed with seashells to strengthen walls, and roofs made out of clay and hard wood, which were used to make our churches.

At the heart of Spanish-era Intramuros were seven churches: San Agustin and Manila Cathedral (which still exist), and San Ignacio, Lourdes, Recoletos, Santo Domingo, and San Franciso which were destroyed during World War II.

Manila’s development begun organically, and was a merry mixture of East and West thanks to the Galleon Trade.

“Because of us being seated as the gateway to the East and West, Manila become one of the most beautiful cities in Asia. We’re the Paris and New York of Southeast Asia during the American period,” said Mr. Celdran, riffing off his famous Walk This Way tour of Intramuros.

When the Americans came in 1889 they brought with them the English language, a system of government, ice cream, trams, and Art Deco architecture. Mr. Celdran said Manila began to change drastically. The city was vibrant, everyone was well-dressed, and the city was progressive.

“But Manila’s soul changed during… World War II, which happened 72 years ago in February,” he said referring to the intense bombing of Manila near the end of the war.

“Americans fucked up the city,” he said, saying that with the near-total destruction of the city our soul disappeared into thin air.

“In February, all of us remember Kris Aquino’s birthday or Valentine’s Day,” said Mr. Celdran, not the churches or the 100,000 civilians who died during the month-long battle between the Japanese occupiers and the Americans.

There were efforts to bring back the lost soul of the city and Manila was rebuilt after the war, but then people expanded out into Makati City and Quezon City, and the rest of what is now Metro Manila,

“We started building our own Intramuroses in Dasmariñas Village, in Forbes Park, in Mall of Asia, and in Fort Bonifacio. Where is the soul of the city? No longer is there a city where all of us can go out, but now we are trapping ourselves inside malls, villages, and the idea of an open city is gone,” said Mr. Celdran.

Manila Biennale and its “OpenCity” theme hopes to help us regain our urban sensibilities.

To this end, one of the main exhibition venues will be the reconstructed San Ignacio Church, which was the original chapel of the Ateneo de Manila.

To experience the month-long festival in the old city, people are required to have an “Art Passport” which can be bought via e-mail ( which will give them access to all the events. There will also be day passes for P880 and student day passes for P380 — these will be available starting on Jan. 2, 2018.

The events to be held during the festival include:

• Feb. 1- 4: the Cultural Center of the Philippines’s Pasinaya Art Festival

• Feb 2: the vernissage of the OPENCITY exhibition and a Design Center of the Philippines exhibition

• Feb. 3 to March 5: OPENCITY exhibition and Design Center of the Philippines exhibition

• Feb. 8-25: Fringe Manila, an arts festival that showcases fresh, daring, and groundbreaking material by emerging and established artists across all genres including, but not limited to, theater, poetry, music, dance and the visual arts.

• Feb. 9-11: Anthology Architecture and Design Festival, an annual event which is on it’s 3rd year that provides a platform for the showcase of architecture and design in the Philippines. With this year’s theme “Social Architecture,” The festival will feature guest speakers, dialogue panels, designer interviews, and an exhibit.

• Feb. 17-18: Short + Sweet International Pink Shorts LGBT Weekend

• Feb. 21–25: OPENCITY Festival of Performance Art

• Feb. 21: The Intramuros OPENCITY Artist Ball

• Feb. 25: Manila Transitio Memorial Concert

Artists’ works will be on view throughout the walled city from Feb. 3 to March 5. Participating local artists include: Agnes Arellano, Felix Bacolor, Vic Balanon, Renz Baluyot, Zeus Bascon, Roberto Chabet, Lena Cobangbang, Maria Cruz, Mideo Cruz, Patrick Cruz, Kiri Dalena, Kawayan de Guia, Jason Dy, SJ, Elnora Ebillo, Tad Ermitaño, Carina Evangelista, Pete Jimenez, Boni Juan, Kitty Kaburo, Kolown, Jet Melencio, Wawi Navarroza, Arvin Nogueras, Gary-Ross Pastrana, Teodulo Protomartir, Alwin Reamillo, Juni Salvador, Mark Salvatus, Jose Luis Singson, Gerardo Tan, John Torres, Gail Vicente, Marija Vicente, Tanya Villanueva, Oca Villamiel, Cathy Young, and Mm Yu. International artists will also be participating, namely: Aigars Bikse from Latvia, Hikaru Fujii of Japan, Nicolas Combarro from Spain, Angel Shaw from the USA and the Philippines, and Henri van Noordenburg from the Netherlands.

Among the artists who will be performing from Feb. 21 to 25 are: Annatha Lilo (Philippines/Germany), BT4A (Australia), Caroline Garcia (Australia), Henri Lamy (France), Hamish Lang (Australia), Jack Mernin (USA), Jota (Bolivia), Julie Tolentino, Stosh, and Cirile Domine (USA), Khan Oral (Germany), Miguel and Jessica Aquilizan (Australia/Philippines), Maylee Todd (Canada), M.O.B. (USA/Philippines), MODELAB (Mexico), Reza Daanesh Souzan (Iran), Wena Tevena and Tina Stevens (Australia), TOQA: Isabel Sicat and Aiala Aiala (USA/Philippines), and, from the Philippines, Denis Lagdameo, Ian Madrigal, Jef Carnay, Jeona Zoleta, Kenny Tai, Mars Bugaoan, Martin de Mesa and Maan Loyola, Mich Dulce, Mitch Garcia and Clint Catalan, Neo-Angono, Raquel de Loyola, Sipat Lawin, Tence Ruiz, TOYM Imao, Vim Nadera, WTA Design, WSK and Joiee Mejias. — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman