Bring out the old, bring in the new A midnight wish to share with you Your lips are warm, my head is light, Were we in love before tonight? I don't need a crowded ballroom, everything I want is here If you're with me, next year will be the perfect year
Before we play some dangerous game; Before we fan some harmless flame We have to ask if this is wise And if the game is worth the prize With this wine and with this music How can anything be clear? Let's wait and see, it may just be the perfect year
It's New Year's Eve, and hopes are high Dance one year in, kiss one good-bye Another chance, another start So many dreams to tease the heart. We don't need a crowded ballroom, Everything we want is here And face to face, we will embrace, the perfect year We don't need a crowded ballroom, everything we want is here And face to face, we will embrace, the perfect year
Here's wishing you all the blessings the coming year may bring... It has been a rough tumble for me this year, yet I am thankful that I'm coming out of it a better person.
There was once a tiny star; the tiniest star in the universe. He wasn't a popular star, nor was he noticeable, but he was a good star. One day, an angel asks the tiny star to accompany him to light the way of the newborn King; and the tiny star, excited, agreed. For he had seen many a big star herald the birth of great kings. The angel said, "This baby will be the greatest of Kings." And so they went across the vast universe, for the journey was long, and the angel had much to do. The tiny star was led to a tiny town and told to place himself above a humble stable. Again the angel asked of him, "Stay thou here, and give him light. For I will bring this good news unto the people of the world." And the angel went on his way. The tiny star looked down into the stable. He beheld a man, his wife, and a sleeping child kept warm in a manger. At the tiny star's heart leaped and he smiled. He never understood why, but he took a deep breath and mustered all his strength to burn bright; So bright that learned men that studied the stars could see him through the skies, and follow his path. And the bigger stars said to him, "Do not burn so bright and waste your fire. For if you do so, you will die." But the tiny star ignored them and kept on burning, keeping watch of the child in the manger, guiding shepherds to that tiny stable, and later learned men with gifts for the tiny King. The big stars could only look on, as he burned even brighter than the biggest of them. And when he exhausted himself and knew his job was done, he asked the angel to find another star to give the king light for he knew he would not last any longer. And the angel said, "No other star but you will light this king." The tiny star took his last breath and burned to his last ember. But God in his place in heaven made sure that we will remember. And so every year, come this time, we hang a star above us, in memory of the tiny star that burned bright for all of us to know "the King of Kings is born!"
I have seen some pretty despicable behaviour in my time, but none like what I shall comment on here. Yes, I'm back on my high horse yet I shall be strapping myself real tight on this one.
Now, for most of you who have known me or have been reading my blog posts, you pretty much have an idea how I am an amusing contradiction of sorts [Here I go again talking about myself]. Then again, it would not be the swirling mist in my head if it were not so. But for the benefit of the rest, a little introduction.
Some of you may recall that I am passionate about Devotional and Religious Art; and for some years now, have been studying Roman Catholic Iconography in practice and in relation to symbols outside the Christian realm [i.e. Pagan, Pre-Columbian, non-Christian religions etcetera].
Sidebar: A little part of me wants to write this in... As a dear elderly friend of mine once pointed out, "Bakit ang mga bakla habang tumatanda, nahihilig sa mga Santo?" [Why do most gays, as they get older, seem to grow fond of religious images?] As she noted the growing number of homosexuals who own religious images being taken out for processions and exhibitions.
Having said that, I was sort of witness to something that happened at a discussion thread in one of many Flickr groups devoted to the local Religious Arts. At first I found it rather amusing when the exchanges started. But sooner or later there was tension in the discussions , and looking closely at the points of some -which were up for correction- and having responded to it myself to the best of my research and knowledge, I did some investigating and was surprised with what I found.
You see, as much as I have been dedicated to the discussions in Flickr, I never bothered much with the personal lives of the people behind the accounts. When other friends -some of whom I have met through Flickr- would tell me about certain individuals and their notoriety, I let it pass for it's none of my business. But Temperance, being the virtue that it is, reaches its limit; and I have no Patience for the pretentious.
In my snooping around, perhaps the most telling of all is this statement from someone whom I respect the most. And I quote, "Kasi itong mga baklang ito, ginagawang hunting ground ang mga cofradia para maghanap ng kaka-ririn!" Roughly, "These homosexuals are using these religious organizations as hunting grounds for hook-ups!" To which many a pathetic tale have I heard about homosexuals commissioning religious images so that they can join exhibits to see which other image owners they can meet there and who knows what.
WAIT! Let me add another strap on my high horse....
While I am all for the beauty that comes with owning a religious image, however, there are certain responsibilities attached to that beauty. And as much as some of us have been guilty of treating them as life-sized dolls, there are those that advocate a proper aesthetic and the appropriate practice of commissioning and dressing up images. Add to that, I think as owners, we are also responsible for keeping the dignity of our religious images by not getting embroiled in certain scandalous behaviours that would result to ill-repute and destructive rumors about one's person. Case in point, I would not be broadcast as someone who had a naughty few minutes with two more fellow santo enthusiasts at the back of a van performing fellatio, nor should one be known for being caught in a love triangle wherein the resulting tension would spill over at a discussion thread on religious art, nor will i join an exhibition of religious images just to scope out and flirt away.
Thus, I can say, I'm not that pathetic. Bwahahahaha!!!
I'm no hypocrite, but work is work and my personal devotion and study is separate from that. It's no secret I curated a male nude photography exhibit, but I don't think I have compromised any of my other values with that -as I have mentioned, I'm a walking contradiction. Keeping up appearances is crucial and is a mark of a responsible individual, no matter what some may think of it. Because it has weight in the vernacular, I shall say this, "Bigyan niyo naman ng kahihiyan ang mga Santo ninyo."
Before I continue, let me respond to one comment about the way I write. I do understand that it takes some getting used to, and the way I use words -big words to some- isn't the usual brand of writing the majority of you want to read, but the Barefoot Baklesa is not here to write for anyone's approval nor is this blog here to titillate gay sensibilities. There are other blogs that cater to that. Furthermore, I'm not being an elitist about this. Ah well, there goes being unapologetic...
Looking at the members of the Cofradia [Confraternity] seated at the top steps of the Manila Cathedral with their view of the "carrozas" passing before them, I can't help but wonder what was going through their their heads as each of the Marian images went past them.
In typical Filipino festive fashion, the Grand Marian procession is not without its dose of the theatrical; and by theatrical, I do mean beyond the Baroque sensibility that already dominates the folk religious art in this archipelago. Aside from the ubiquitous religious heralds, and escorts, and ladies in attendance, some images of the Virgin Mary are accompanied by a cotery of performers: street dancers, if you may call them such. Dressed in their native and pastoral best, these troupes of dancers come in all ages representing the local festivities associated with the virgin. If the entourage of Our Lady of Turumba was any indication of what is to be expected of others, by the time the image of the Divina Pastor [Divine Shepherdess] emerges from the gate, you will surely get the sense that these people have been waiting for the GMP all year. Thus waiting four hours to emerge from the gate of the fort, isn't really that big a deal.
As we went around the left side of the Cathedral, past the gaze of the Cofradia, and the army of photographers clicking away, the streets of old Manila seemed to give way to the solemnity that was always associated with a procession. And then by some irony which I have often associated with my view of the world, the marching band before us played tune currently familiar. And by the chorus, I knew what it was. I guess it did not hurt that it had been one of the most well received songs from a previous episode of GLEE: "Just The Way You Are". And I could not help but look up behind me and smile at Nuestra Señora de la Salud and thinking, "Yeah, she loves you just the way you are."
I know some of you that know me will go like, "There goes Niki with his spiritual epiphanies while in the middle of any religious ceremony." But whatever anyone may have to say about it, at least I'm glad I still have that connection with my spirituality.
And whoah will I be on my high horse on this one- Yet looking at some people living the alternative lifestyle who think that getting into clubs, partying all night, bouncing from one co-dependent relationship to another, and worse -being self destructive in whatever they will- I'm glad I still have experiences like this: knowing some higher power is still up there, and i'm better for it.
But I'm getting sidetracked here...
Moving on; I really admired Trina for being such a sport, the black high heeled pumps she wore throughout the procession would give the cilice [that freaky thing the Opus Dei like to use? just google it.] a run for its penitential value. I remember humorously having to count the meters leading to the cathedral as I assisted her with her "bara alta" which by manner of keeping appearances would challenge one's poise and bearing with those pumps -especially at the cobblestone streets adjacent to San Agustin church. Applause goes out to her for having graciously seen it through.
By the time we reached the vicinity of the Manila Cathdral, the "carrozas" that went before us were already parked by the piazza. And as expected, the crowds that gathered were asking for the flowers that decorated the "carroza" -which by local belief, was blessed by the presence of the Virgin and is considered by some as a talisman of sorts. Trust me, if you are an image owner and have been taking out religious images for procession, you will dread this moment the most. Trying to control devotees from grabbing what they will from the floral displays would also run the risk of breaking the light fixtures and damaging the carroza -or worse- the image itself.
But thankfully, even with the barrage of devotees waiting to get those white flowers, Djaja's "carroza" survived and found a place to park by the piazza. And to my surprise, the image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, was yet to emerge from the gate. Trina found a convenient place to sit and rest her feet while with "bara alta" on hand, I tried to catch glimpses of some of the many Marian images that have come to rest in the vicinity with camera on hand attempting to capture those that I had missed.
I was glad to catch another friend, Becco [Benjamin Concepcion Esquirres Empleo -you see, I'm not the first to have such a long name] who was to be my company until the end of the evening. As we saw to it that Trina had settled herself in the car and returned the "bara alta" to Djaja's custody, Becco and I went to the gate which the remaining images of the Blessed Mother waited to emerge. It was almost past 7:30 in the evening and the "Festejada" image of the Virgin was still biding her time.
And typical of me and a fellow enthusiast in the local religious arts, we went into our usual discussions about silver "carrozas", gold thread embroidery, ivory carving, and the list goes on. And in doing so, we seem to have lost Djaja and the others. Understandably tired, I knew they had to go ahead and get their rest. So Becco and I decided to catch what was left of the GMP in front of the cathedral. We found a place to sit and chanced upon a fellow Flickr member, Ohmel, who was in town after being abroad for work.
Of all the questions that came from Becco that evening, this struck me the most: "If you had the resources and an image of the Virgin to spare, would you join the Grand Marian Procession?"
And I replied objectively, "It would be nice, but that would be one logistical nightmare for me. Knowing how I get during holy week processions obsessing over the tiniest detail, I don't think I'll be able to survive a GMP. I'll just be happy to see friends take out their images, and help out when given the chance." Ehem, paging Tito Jojo Canlas!!! Hehehehehe.
Remember the commentary I made about the Cofradia a little earlier, about the GMP becoming sort of becoming their amusement, Becco thought the same too. In the vernacular he said, " Alam ko na sila ang Cofradia at nagpapakain sila ng mga kababayan natin, pero alam mo isa lang ito sa mga aliwan nila." I hope I got that right... Roughly translated for my readers from Thailand and the UK [Oh yes, I do...] "I know they are the Confraternity and they have their charity work, but this is only one of their amusements." Having said that, and whatever the GMP may seem or mean to anyone, it's the Virgin Mary that is queen, and her glory in all of this is all that matters. [Oh look, that last one was cannon fodder for the fundamentalist sects out there.]
After the Festejada image of the Immaculate Conception had passed, and the other images have made their way back to the piazza, Becco and I started going around to take photographs of the icons that still had their lights on. It's nice to have shared this experience with friends... Congratulations to Djaja for the "primera salida" of the Nuestra Señora de la Salud, and my profoundest thanks for letting me be part of it. And here's to Becco, I'm praying for thy intentions as well.
I have been a Marian devotee for some time now, but my devotion is very specific and limited. And as much as I love the artistry that comes with Roman Catholic devotion, I was unable to attend the Grand Marian Procession within old Manila's historical quarter called Intramuros [thus named for being “within the walls”] until this year. And considering that every Roman Catholic educational institutional I have attended since time immemorial have always declared the Feast of Immaculate Conception on December 8th school free, I can't really explain why I never bothered attending the GMP.
I have read about it in some book and would always participate in discussions of Marian Iconography, yet somehow people would always seem aghast when I would declare my non-attendance to what they regard as the jewel of all Marian Processions in the country. But by saying that, it would be unfair of me not to mention the side commentary that has always been associated with the GMP at Intramuros; that it was -by default- a fashion show. Upon asking a friend of mine a day before if he was attending, he responded nonchalant, “I don't attend that Fashion show.”
Yes, I know that some of us in the ranks of those that own religious images are often guilty of being “over the top” when it comes to processions in general to the point that we can make finials of ostrich feathers and cherry blossoms from twigs and spangles, I am one that stands by and believes in self-control and constant editing lest I find myself in the throes of the “overkill”.
But it is kind of different for me these past two years, for I have made a few friends that have been immersed in Marian devotions long before that life changing experience I had around four years ago when I could say for certain -for a brief moment in time, in those sacred seconds- that I felt God had walked the earth. Therefore, I opted to attend this year. A good friend of mine, Sonny Djajakusuma, who is also responsible for helping with the repairs of my processional image of Saint Mary of Bethany will be taking out his new image of the Nuestra Señora de la Salud for this year's GMP. However, this will not be the first time he will be joining for he hath taken out another image of the Virgin, the Nuestra Señora de Alta Gracia -which he opted not to take out this year. Also, Djaja was the one who took me to my first La Naval procession last October which I endured with a sprained back supported by a cane. To those of you that know me, I am averse to anything of the Dominican order that I avoided them. But it was an enlightening experience.
But before I proceed any further, I would like to give those of you who are unfamiliar, a brief backgrounder on what the Grand Marian Procession is all about. You see, every year on December 8th, the traditional date of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, The Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception has been organizing a yearly procession of images of the Virgin Mary in the infinite variety of her titles and the many devotions associated with her in the Philippine Archipelago since about two or so decades ago. Marian Images from all over the country are brought to the walls of the historic quarter for an annual procession with the image of the Immaculate Conception as the last to come out in celebration of the Feast. Through the years, aside from the traditional Marian images that are venerated all over the country, many other titles and incarnations of her have joined the procession thus making it a grander display in the years that followed. And this year, I believe that the total images that came out already reached a hundred.
I arrived about 55 minutes late that cloudy December afternoon. They said it would start at exactly 4:00pm, which to my surprise it did considering the cliché of Filipino time not starting on the dot. By the time I made my way to the street that led to Fort Santiago where the procession started from, it was already the 50th image of the Virgin Mary that I beheld. Part of me was wondering if my friend Djaja's image of the blessed mother already passed or was still about to emerge from the gates of Real Fuerza de Santiago blaming myself for moving too slow that day.
Then I felt this energy emanating from the processional line; from afar my eyes could make out an image of the blessed mother encased in a silver baldacchine borne on the shoulders of her devotees locally called an “andas”, being danced and swayed left and right to the music of a marching band. Behind her, a youthful crowd of more than a hundred enticing revelry as they went past us. It was the Nuestra Señora de Turumba of Pakil, a town in Laguna about three hours drive away from Manila. She was a relatively small image of the Sorrowful Mother, that gained the title Turumba which was derived from the local word “tumba” which translates to topple or tumble by the way she is danced as by those who bear her on their shoulders. With digital camera on hand, the hairs on the back of my neck did stand like that time years ago when I stood at some corner of the Quiapo district of Manila during the biggest procession celebrating the feast of the image of the Black Nazarene.
There was something about that congregation from Pakil that kept me mesmerized. There I was recalling the legend why the locals had to dance and incite cheers for the grieving image of the Blessed Mother. It is said that centuries ago, faithful of Pakil began dancing and cheering so that the Dolorous image of the Blessed Mother shall shed tears no more. And in doing so, they attributed many a miracle to this devotional activity. And some people ca take this with a grain of salt, but of all the artistic incarnations of the Blessed Mother there, this was the only one that made me feel she was there with me, at that very moment. I guess it's different for other people...
And true to my luck -which one has attested to be unfair to the rest of the world- my friend Djaja's image of Nuestra Señora de la Salud emerged from the gate of the fort in her stunning tiered “carroza” [processional carriage/platform] bedecked with white flowers. Her visage of carved ivory and hands of the same precious material bore in her hands the Christ child also with head and hands carved of the same; both dressed in rich fabrics exquisitely embroidered in gold thread. I expected nothing less of Djaja who knew the ins and outs of composing religious images from scratch. His knowledge of carvers, suppliers, gold thread embroiderers and other related ateliers would produce no less than excellently finished images that reflected his unfailing devotion to the Virgin Mary.
I would not miss this for the world, so I cut my way into the crowd and made it to the processional line just in time to join Djaja's processional party. Before them was a marching band and altar boys who bore the standard of the Virgin, one burned incense on a censer, and some others lit her way; and just after them the young lady that accompanied the Blessed Virgin Mary, Trina Ballesteros wore a Traje de Mestiza [traditional formal Filipina female dress made famous by Imelda Marcos during her time] in iridescent green and black with a classic faux tortoise shell comb sans the soft mantolin as that of the Spanish fashion; on her right hand, she held a “bara alta” -a metal staff with a finial of pressed or worked metal that held the image of the Virgin she accompanied.
As we turned the corner to the front the Manila Cathedral, each image of the Virgin Mary was introduced to the crowd, recalling the history of the devotion to a particular title of hers, which town or family the image comes from, and the sponsors that have helped them in this year's procession. Kind of like a candidate at a beauty pageant in the simplest sense. Upon the steps of the cathedral sat the members of the confraternity in their formal traditional best and blue and white sashes. They were composed of society's elite, a majority of them with their hyphenated family names so familiar to me in the many times I have been in the same room with them or have heard mentioned in conversation. As we went past them, I could not help but feel as if this was all for their sheer delight and entertainment...
“La beauté de visage est un fréle ornement, une fleur passagère, un éclat d'un moment. Et qui n'est attaché qu à la simple epiderme.”
“Beauty of face is a frail ornament, a passing flower, a momentary brightness belonging only to the skin.” MOLIERE
Curator's Notes: Vulnerability and the Male Nude Form
How does one look at the naked human form devoid of any emotion? In our barest, we are vulnerable; and that vulnerability by sheer sight is transferred to the one that views the image stirring emotions that may last for a fraction of a millisecond or may affect him all his life.
Throughout the ages of man, in their infinite variety, Artists have attempted to capture the beauty of the human form. Our museums are a testament to the many paintings and sculptures that have defined movement after movement in Art History. From archaic forms in pottery, frescoes, to sophisticated Renaissance statuary, and paintings that attempted to capture the fleeting quality of light and shadow, we are given an insight as to the zeitgeist of every age that required Art to be as it is: a reflection of the age.
The human body was glorified and vilified as it was seen through time. The naked body was viewed by the Greeks as the perfect final note of the song of creation, the Romans used the strong male form as propaganda for power and conquest, the early Christians saw an almost naked crucified man as the triumph of salvation while frowned upon nudity anywhere else and saw it as a catalyst for immorality, while the Renaissance Men viewed it as a challenge to represent in their masterworks.
But the fascination with the naked form has always been subjected to the changing morality of the times. In the last restoration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the restorers removed the loincloths and covers that were painted over Michelangelo’s naked figures, to bring them back to their former naked glory.
The advent of photography presented the human race with the ability to keep a fleeting moment in time stay as it is for the eyes to behold. And what is most remarkable but most often neglected in their accessibility in the digital age with a click -is that in its earliest days, to take a single photograph took more than just a camera- it required a mastery of light and time by covering and uncovering the lens while counting away the seconds to capture in a thin silver sheet an image that which time may let pass.
The 20th century was the most visual of all the ages of man, anything and everything that can be recorded in still and moving pictures provided us glimpses of history rather than words in a book. But more than history, Photography became a new medium to encapsulate the human form and in itself developed into an art. Technology and the innovations that came forth made photography accessible to almost anyone who can afford it, and as the cliché goes, suddenly just about anyone is a photographer.
But as Thackeray once set in poetry, “Art is long, and time is fleeting”, and this is not an Art History lecture. Yet the point I am making is best presented with that which I have labored to compose here to accompany the exhibition and our choices therein.
I first beheld Ian Felix Alquiros' photographs as an online observer. The sheer number of reactions posted and people that paid attention to his work also had me looking to see what he would post next. Ian's photographs were very simple in their intent, there was nothing too contrived about his subjects nor was there anything too complicated to process. Having taken photography as a requirement in college, a few years before the digital cameras and DSLRs hit the market to the point of over-saturation, I had an appreciation for Ian's style of available light photography for my training was film based [Yes people, it's that thing that comes in a roll encased in a plastic canister that has been replaced by memory cards and sticks.].
While in pre-production for this exhibition, I learned that Ian's preference of subject and the presentation thereof was more of a practical choice in the process of developing his style as a portrait photographer. Time, which he had very little of when he started, was not a luxury he had thus he would opt for shoots that required less prep time. Which meant light, plus model, plus or minus basic articles of clothing, equals photograph.
In this collection, For Your Eyes Only, Ian Felix Alquiros does away with clothing and bathes his subjects with light and the manipulation thereof resulting to a plethora of anatomical forms, a myriad of skin tones, playful innocence, innuendo, erotica [subtle or otherwise depending on the effect], humor, contrast, maturity, stillness, motion, even just plain voyeurism. Therefore the task of grouping and choosing what to feature and what to take away was no walk in the park. My understanding of the male form is influenced by my experience in the aesthetics of painting and sculpture. And still as photographs are, they are stories unto themselves -and stories make for good theater. And by good theater, I do not by any way mean the next nude photo scandal that may surface on the internet which seems to keep the Pinoy psyche entertained by using them as fodder for gossip and cheap entertainment.
What we seek to present here are men who dared to show themselves as they are, as time would have them, in their skin. The reactions it may cause is all up to you.
In the process of choosing which photographs would make it to the final cut, Ian once asked, “Is there something else that you see in my photographs?” -which was surprising but also expected. To which I responded, “Yes.” With a firm resolve that others may be able to see what I see in them; that I am not alone in what I see -or maybe- just maybe, they may see something else.
As a Production Designer by trade, the collection requires a clean sense of theatricality. People may refer to the concept of Zen or Minimalism when one goes about presenting these, but Zen is the least of the initial states of being once you behold these men in their barest. I keep going back to the word Vulnerability, and the transference of it in experiencing these photographs. For it is my firm belief that Art is there to rattle the status quo; but that's just me being noble about it. Plainly, I don't think there's anything wrong about being naked. For in that state of vulnerability, one learns a lot about one's self.
Niki de los Reyes-Torres, PATDAT Production Designer by trade, Symbolist by passion, Curator: For Your Eyes Only
I'm inviting you guys to Ian Felix Alquiros' FIRST ever NUDE Photography exhibition entitled FOR YOUR EYES ONLY on the 10th of December at 6:00pm and the 11th of December at 12:00pm at THE ROOM, 88 Panay Avenue Quezon City
Exhibition Curated by Niki de los Reyes-Torres, PATDAT aka The Barefoot Baklesa