"MY life is all about my friends," says my buddy, Mindanao artist Kublai Millan in one of our wine nights as we tackled yet another project.
"My art is but an instrument of all my friends' advocacies. Yang mga peace-peace, Lumad-Lumad, Mindanao-Mindanao na 'yan, kayo man 'yan. Si Brother Karl, si Pareng Bert, si Achitect Ed," he added.
Indeed, it has been often said that our friends define us and those who see a higher purpose are gifted with friends and acquaintances who bring on things unimagined, perhaps, but fitting right in.
Just like this other project we have embarked on. The photo art exhibit at the Abreeza Mall this coming Thursday, September 14, 2017.
This project wouldn't have been possible in 2014. Not even in 2015. It had to be in 2017 because that was when everything fell into place and separate and disparate people got to meet each other, personally and online.
It was in 2015 when I first met Rodelio "Melo" Dalisay, through the salmon sandwich his cousin Generose Tecson delivered to my office to finally entice me to head off to her Manong's house and try his recipes. Melo didn't even have a restaurant then. Just a room with four tables that we filled up often after that first salmon sandwich, thus forcing him to open a restaurant a few months later.
It was in 2016, when Melo introduced me to a guest of his Rotary Club, John Zeretzke, an American from Rockford, Illinois, I wouldn't have otherwise met and made friends with. It was John who introduced me to the photos of his friend, Italian-American Fred Marinello from Escondido, California. The photos are from slides taken in the 1960s.
Now a toy maker, Fred was a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s and among his stations were Marawi City and Jolo, when white men could still freely walk around those places without putting their heads on the block.
At the time of my conception in the womb, Fred was teaching at the Mindanao State University in Marawi City.
On the year I was born, Fred embarked on his first trip to Zamboanga, Jolo, Basilan, and Tawi-tawi.
Kublai's parents were not even married and may not have yet met each other at that time. He would be born ten years later.
But these people of disparate and separate worlds and ages were brought together through space and time and will be mounting a never-before attempted photo-art exhibit, a first, an ambitious one, as we all look up and aspire for peace in the land.
For Fred, it's in retrospect as the memory of a peaceful Marawi and Moro land still lives on in him.
"Yesterday is a treasured memory as seen in the photos on display and they are important to who I am today. Ah… the Pagana Maranao still lives in my persona and my soul still hears the kubing serenading lovers," he wrote in an email about his photos.
And then Fred echoed what we have been telling each other as we browsed through all his photos and embarked on this ambitious project without even much planning, just wine sessions.
"I hope that this exhibit shows what was, a memory for reflection, and inspiration for the creation of the next model of Mindanao," Fred wrote.
In our exhibit introduction, we wrote: "Yes, there is conflict and there is suffering, but the thread that binds the people together is still that which speaks of harmony amid diversity: Like the peace of waves crashing to the shore, and the serenity of the forests targeted by loggers and miners.
"It's iffy, yes, but it's in its iffy-ness where its allure lies. Where peace, prosperity, and inclusive growth have to be a collective endeavor of all, by all, and for all."
The exhibit opens at 5 p.m. of September 14, 2017 and will run until October 18, 2017 at the ground floor of Abreeza Mall, Davao City.
Published in the SunStar Davao newspaper on September 10, 2017.
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