The only time I went to National Museum was when we were required to see Spoliarium and other paintings by Philippine National Artists, as part of arts appreciation chapter in our Humanities class. I find it strange (and a bit of shame) to have not been visiting our very own museum, while I find time to explore the foreign ones. Hence, I’ve booked this tour (with a college friend who I thought might want to revisit the place, too) before coming home for a vacation.
I particularly joined John Silva’s tour. (He is the Senior Consultant of the National Museum. I’ve read stuff about how good he is in walking you by to History.) However, I didn’t know there are ‘two museums’ until he emailed me the map few days before the tour. My friend and I confidently agreed, “But there’s only one National Museum, wherein it says it’s the National Museum”. So we found out that the main museum is actually the Museum of the Filipino People located in the former Department of Finance Building. And the National Museum that we know is currently called the National Gallery of Art, which is an extension of the museum.
True enough, John Silva is a brilliant history tour guide. He knows what he says and to my delight he has imparted a huge amount of details that I didn’t find in history books nor discussed in Philippine and Asian Histories. In this three-hour tour, I never got bored, but just consistently fascinated by the humorous and sensible sharing by Mr. Silva. There are 14 galleries, and I think all of these are interesting. These are among my favorites, in no particular order:
(a) The two paintings about Magellan’s visit
In this one, you will note the subservience of the Filipinos upon his arrival and introduction of new ideas.
I find the second interpretation of Magellan’s visit more realistic. I always thought that there must be some resistance from Filipinos, aside from Lapu Lapu’s explicit try.
(b) Salinta Monon’s corner
She is allegedly the last known Bagobo weaver. She was one of the two Manlilikha ng Bayan Awardees of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCAA) in 1998. Here’s an interesting article where her being a nobody in her hometown in Bansalan, Davao Del Sur was tackled.
Salinta was still a little girl when she had watched her mother’s nimble hands glide over the loom, weaving traditional Bagobo textile using fragile abaca fibers. At 12, she presented herself to her mother to be taught how to weave. Her ardent desire to excel in the art of her ancestors enabled her to learn quickly.
According to her, it takes her 3 to 4 months to finish a fabric 3.5 meters by 42 centimeters in length or one abaca tube skirt per month. “It takes time but the result is great,” she admits.
(c) The Shell Midden
I’ve touched the shells many times. These are model middens, though. It must be very interesting to see real life middens, containing debris of human activities and remains of their meals.
(d) Strange images
The museum has a collection of images like these and grouped them according to profiles, distinction in eyebrows, shape of head, etc. It is indicative of the origin of the individuals that primitive Filipinos have interacted in the past.
(e) The jars
Among the artifacts and artworks displayed, I felt insanely delighted by the plenty and different types of jars.
The dragon jars, seemingly China jars, and many others are some of the proofs that even before the colonizers came in, the Filipinos had an existing trading relationship with people from other areas of the world (the Galleon Trade explanation by Mr. Silva was very awakening).
(f) (Authentic) old sailors wheel
As told by Mr. Silva, tourists/guests would spend several hours in this area staring (and mesmerized by) at this rare find.
(g) In the main museum itself and the National Gallery of Art, there hang excellent paintings.
Among Fernando Amorsolo’s pieces, I particularly liked this one. It’s very alive, the actual piece captured the color and profiles of a Filipina.
There are also paintings of previous American officers during their colonization and of previous presidents of the Philippines (up to Ferdinand Marcos). The gallery included the imeldific first lady. Imelda looks so grand. My late grandparents are Marcos loyalists. They must be thrilled to see this.
You will notice the damage in the upper and lower portions of the painting. These were ruined during the time the piece was taken from Malacanang.
There were also paintings which themes were based on the suffering from the colonization.
This one is bittersweet. This has wonderfully illustrated the reality of that era.
It seems like the most appealing pieces are those drawn based on the sad corner of the past.
An interpretation of Philippines’ death. It must be liberating to see these paintings for real.
You will feel literally victorious with this piece. One of my big favorites in the gallery.
(With Mr. Silva standing.) The Spoliarium and I met again. This time not for my Humanities class. As shared by Mr. Silva,
This painting (submitted to Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884, where it garnered a gold medal) inspired the young Jose Rizal, then a medical student and a close friend to Juan Luna and Felix Resureccion Hildalgo. Rizal, in his toast to the two artists at a celebration several weeks after, congratulated them and proceeded to declare the end of colonial patriarchy. After all, he reasons, if Filipinos can now equal the Spaniards in the arts, why couldn’t we be equal in political rights? It was a turning point for young Rizal. He had made a declaration. Several months later, he was involved in campus demonstrations and began to write the first sentences to his anti-colonial novel, “Noli Me Tangere.” The medical student’s career path was irrevocably altered, and he dedicated the rest of his life and even gave up his life for his country. It all started with a painting in front of us.
I didn’t get to have a really decent take of the Spoliarium. After a few shots, I was reprimanded by the museum personnel that it’s not allowed to be photographed (just this one). Thank you, you didn’t ask me to delete the concerned shots.
This painting is allegedly done by one of the Filipino artists. There is little information about the woman in the painting. Story says that this was donated by her children, after the painting was found in the basement (after their mother’s death). The signature bears the Philippines mark, hence, they decided to donate this instead of them maintaining it.
These are some of Mr. Silva’s collections which are showcased, too, in one of the 14 galleries.
The three-hour tour is time well-spent. You will feel prouder of being a Filipino once you’re done with it. Having Mr. Silva in your group makes a big difference. The artifacts, artwork, and every piece get a real meaning through his dedicated sharing of our past.
Tour fee is Php 700 for adults and Php 500 for children up to 18 years old. A portion of the fees will go to I LOVE MUSEUM Program, bringing public school teachers to the National Museum to appreciate the arts and later bring their students. It is said that studies show that the arts educated children raise their academic achievements, promotes love of reading and become better citizens.
Kindly make your reservations by sending an email to John Silva through firstname.lastname@example.org, or you may reach him at +639267299029