A tribute to Filipino ancestry

PAYING one’s respects to ancient Filipino culture and tradition can be done in no better form than to revive significant symbolisms that breathed life into old Filipino beliefs. The belief in the afterlife—fertility gods and the worship of the sun and soil that gave life to fruit-bearing crops that provided for every family, symbolized by mountain shapes and sunrays—may be very old yet still existing. Although no longer as popular as it used to be, this deserves a second look.

Hadrian Mendoza, a Filipino ceramic potter currently based in Virginia in the United States, comes back to Cebu after nine years for his show entitled Homage, displaying artworks that feature traditional Filipino symbolisms embedded within his sculptures.

“I’ve been here in Cebu nine years ago and showed in the same gallery when this gallery was on its second year. I got a call from the curator three months ago and then we put together this show. Homage is paying respect to subjects of Philippine history such as the Maitum jars, the Bulul, the Tribal warriors, the Bahay Kubo and even the designs of the mountains and the rice terraces which they use on tattoos embedded on the plates. These artworks are homage to the history of the Philippines in a way,” said Mendoza.

Mendoza graduated with a degree in business management at the University of Mary Washington in 1996, immediately taking art studies at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design after and falling in love with the art of pottery.

“I was a business major in college and I took ceramics class. I fell in love with the material and the reason why I chose it so quickly was the magic that you can take dirt and use fire to create something permanent. You can use fire to alter clay to something new; for me it was like magic and it’s a special thing so I got hooked to the process,” said Mendoza.

The creations symbolically represent the artist’s longing for home; the exhibit is an effort to retrace his roots which he believes he has lost by living in a foreign country for half of his life.

“For these two busts, I did a series of these heads and the title of the series is Look Deep into the Eyes. The focus is really on the eyes and you can see the design; the mountains and the rice terrace gods. It’s about looking deep for your culture. I’ve been living in the US and the Philippines half of my life. It’s me looking deep to reclaim what I’ve lost,” said the artist.

The exhibit includes artworks of Mendoza which belong to a few series that he has exhibited all over the world. He brought them to Cebu due to the support of the region for ceramic artists like him.

“These sets of warriors here are about two things: One is paying homage to the tribal indigenous Filipinos and also about globalism. Globalism is in the nose rings, you know how these kids are sticking nose rings? It’s not just happening in the Philippines or the United States. It’s around the world. It’s about our past that makes a full circle. For this Bulul, I altered it and the title is Twisted Bulul, but it’s a fertility god. It’s about living in a country that’s so overpopulated, especially in the city, and then it just shows you can move by being in one spot… by twisting. It’s kind of like working things out with your circumstances.”

The highlight of the show is the Maitum circle which derives inspiration from the ancient Maitum jars also known as jars used for storing belongings of the deceased which they believe they can bring with them in the afterlife.

“The Maitum circle is the highlight of the show. It’s the same shape as the maitum jars but the lid is the top of the head and it comes off for the maitum jar. The jar has partial facial features but not everything; it sometimes doesn’t have eyes or mouth. It’s an important piece of history because it shows that our ancestors believe in the afterlife. They put their belongings in these jars so they can bring these with them to the next life but these sculptures are all closed because my personal belief is you cannot take things to the next life. What you take with you are the things you do, not the material goods,” said Mendoza.

Homage by Hadrian Mendoza is at 856 G Gallery, Mandaue City, Cebu.
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