AN ONGOING exhibition at the Ayala Museum called Historia showcases 54 artworks that span the history of the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) from 1851 when BPI was still called Banco Español Filipino de Isabel II to today’s modern art in keeping with today’s modern bank.
The exhibit is in line with the celebration of the BPI Foundation’s 40th anniversary.
But as far as the guest speaker during the exhibit’s opening night on June 18 was concerned, it would have been better if the exhibit had another name. Ambeth Ocampo, a renowned historian, columnist, and professor, noted: “If the curatorial team had studied in the University of the Philippines, they would have been scolded by their professors because in UP we do not use [the word] ‘historia’ any more, but we use the word ‘kasaysayan.’ In the Philippines, we have two words for history. One is ‘historia,’ which is Spanish, and the other is ‘kasaysayan,’ which is the Tagalog… In UP, they said we should not use it because it is a foreign word,” he said.
“We should use ‘kasaysayan’ because it is rooted in two very important concepts: the first is that ‘kasaysayan’ is rooted in ‘salaysay,’ which is a story or a narrative, and more importantly, it is rooted in the word ‘saysay,’ which means sense or meaning.”
Mr. Ocampo said he did not trust his professors in UP so he dug up some 16th– and 19th-century Spanish dictionaries of Filipino languages only to realize that the word kasaysayan was not in the lists. But he found historia, which used to be translated as salita (word).
“And I realized, salita is a narrative, a story. Then there was the Spanish word historieta in the 19th century and its translation to Tagalog was munting salitang walang kasaysayan, or a small story with no meaning. I realized that kasaysayan is really a more important word because it means something,” he said.
More than just the stories of our past and the tales of our heroes, he said kasaysayan is about the “stories that are relevant for us today, something from which we can draw lessons that help us understand the present and move on to the future.”
But regardless of the choice of exhibition title, the show tells the journey of the oldest bank in the Philippines in the context of nation building.
“We curated the collection to show the parallel growth and development of Philippine art and of BPI as a financial institution,” said Ayala Museum senior director Mariles Gustilo in a statement. “This perspective provides a richer and deeper understanding of the wider environment that shaped and inspired BPI, and how its art collection was formed.”
Ayala Museum was BPI Foundation’s partner in curating Historia, which is the second installment in an art series called Obra that showcases the bank’s private art collection.
Historia is divided in four sections: 19th century prints, Juan Luna, Fernando Amorsolo, and Philippine Modern Art.
“Many would gravitate around the walls that have Lunas and Amorsolos, the auction darlings. Sometimes, in the Philippine art scene today, people look at names rather than pictures, so it’s nice that we have today both names and pictures. It helps us realize what does art really mean. Is it important because it is old? Is it important because it is worth a lot of money?,” said Mr. Ocampo.
The Amorsolo section features five of the first National Artist’s works.
(Photography is not allowed in this section. During the opening of the first Obra exhibit, Mr. Ocampo said he did not understand why it was prohibited. READ: Let them photograph the art says historian Ambeth Ocampo).
Known for his landscapes and paintings of maidens and farmers, this section presents Amorsolo’s Galleon Trade (1959), Mactan (1959), Rice Harvest (1942), Hinulugang Taktak (1951), and The Sculptor (1944).
The most interesting piece in the section is Amorsolo’s much smaller 1939 version of Juan Luna’s Spoliarium. Amorsolo’s oil painting is 55 x 97.5 cm only compared to Luna’s massive 4 x 7 meter painting at the National Museum.
The Juan Luna section (photography is allowed here) features works that highlight Luna’s travels to Germany, Austria, and Normandy, which gives insights to his Filipino sensibilities, both as an artist and as a revolutionary.
The print section features maps and prints created and published during the late Spanish period.
The largest section, Philippine Modern Art, has works that show the progress of perspectives and techniques that have enriched artistic expression. Among the artists whose works are on view in this section are Al Gamet, Neil Doloricon, and Claude Tayag.
Mr. Ocampo said the selection in the exhibition tells us of our past, and more.
“Remember that history is not just a story of the past, but it is story that has meaning, and these artworks have saysay, kasaysayan — they will give particular meanings to those who look at them,” he said. — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman