IT ALL started in September 2016 when John Zeretzke of the Flutes Across the World presented to me a CD containing 25 photos of Marawi and Sulu taken in the 1960s.
At that time, no one had an inkling that Marawi will be in ruins just eight months later.
From our dinner meeting, I brought John to meet my buddy, Mindanao artist Rey Mudjahid "Kublai" P. Millan, knowing that he would be the better person to whip out something from this precious collection of Marawi as a land of peace as taken by Italian American toy artist Frederick Richard "Fred" Marinello Jr. when he was a US Peace Corp Volunteer assigned in the Philippines, particularly Marawi, some areas of Lanao, Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-tawi, Aklan, and Leyte.
The exhibit entitled MindanaOnce (coined from the original concept of Once a Upon a Time in Mindanao) opened last September 14, 2017 at the ground floor of Abreeza Ayala Mall Davao with Davao City Mayor Sara Z. Duterte-Carpio, former peace panel member Irene M. Santiago, Davao City Councilor Al Ryan Alejandre, Atty. Amer Hussein Naga Mambuay, the new partner-in-charge of the Sycip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan Law Firm in Davao, a Maranao.
The exhibit will run until October 18, 2017.
How it came to be, four months after the Marawi siege is a story that is still unfolding.
The transmittal of the images through Internet and hand-carried by John took some time.
As Fred explained, he had hundreds and it takes time to scan through them. Then there is the Internet speed in the Philippines to contend with.
The Photos and their Taking
All this time, the negatives and slides were stored in a cookie tin container in a closet at his parents' house until he finally got his own house in Encinitas, California, USA, in 1970.
"They stayed in that tin until I retired and had time to scan them and the slides I had taken," Fred wrote in an email.
Fred joined the Peace Corp in San Francisco, California on November 4, 1962. He prepared for his deployment to the Philippines in University of Hawaii from November 17, 1962 to January 15, 1963 which included English and science teaching for elementary schools in the Philippines, Philippine history and contemporary culture, linguistics, American Studies and World Affairs, health and medicla training including first aid and tropical medicine, physical education and recreation, and an intensive study of Tagalog.
Fred finally arrived in Manila on January 9, 1963 and was first assigned in Leyte.
He was invited to teach at Mindanao State University in September 1963 where he taught Philosophy and Aesthetics, taught English at a Prep School in Marawi City, and work for the Folk Art Museum.
"Started to collect info and folk art for the museum. Had a Friday night cultural radio show on the school run station that features American Jazz, World Fold Music and the music of local musicians and festival groups with live and taped performances. First time many locals heard their own music on the radio," Fred said in his notes of his tour of Marawi.
"Mar 1965 - Made the trek overland with Tincal Salac, my Maranao housemate and guide, and Don Scott who also taught at MSU (he was an Ichthyolygist studying the rare fish found only in Lake Lanao – I went with Don on many trips made to villages around the Lake - while he collected fish, I collected folk art) from Marawi City to Davao to see some of the remote tribal groups we had heard about in our visit around Lake Lanao. The trip took about six days. Spent about four days in Davao then flew back to Iligan City and then bus to Marawi City to finish up the school year," he added.
He ended his Peace Corp service on May 21, 1965 and traveled with Scott to Sulu Archipelago where they caught a boat going from Bongao to Sabah and North Borneo on their journey across Asia, Europe, and back to the US.
From the images, Kublai picked out eight that he fancied most, had these printed on canvas, and painted around them.
Industrial designer Jonathan Traya made the eight plywood on metal totem poles and centerpiece metal sculpture entitled "Bankapayapaan". The totem poles that carry the symbols of peace and Mindanao's tri-people had tarpaulin prints of the photos tacked on them from top to bottom. The hundreds of giant prints were provided by Alex P. Montanez of APM Ads and Promo Management.
These were all out of the pocket expenses, which underlines how the tiny group managed to whip out the exhibit all because of a collective aspiration for peace in Marawi and Mindanao.
Kublai hopes that the exhibit will get the attention of all others who have images of Marawi before its destruction so that all these can be gathered to deliver the message of peace.
In her welcome message, Duterte-Carpio underlined the importance of images to preserve visions of the past, while Santiago recalled their work when the siege broke out, her years in Marawi in her youth, and her work for peace for Bangsamoro.
"It's not easy, but it's simple," said Santiago about working for peace.
It's simple because all it takes is for people to work together as embodied in the exhibit where the surrounding community brings together people from the US, Marawi, then Davao, and hopefully will be on its way back to Marawi in the near future.
It was Bro. Karl M. Gaspar CSsR, who put into context the collective efforts to bring together an exhibit of images and artworks of a peaceful Moroland to today's struggle for peace and how important it is for everyone to contribute and to aspire for this in their actions and aspirations, while tacing back how the Maranaos developed an artistry that has become the Mindanao and Philippine icons.
"Unlike the Maguindanao with the vast plains and the Tausugs and the mighty seas around them, the only place that the Maranaos have is the lake and the places around the lake, which did not provide them enough for food production, which is why the Maranaos for hundreds of years developed the art of weaving, carving, and making all kinds of artistic products because that is their way of earning a livelihood which they traded with their neighbors, which eventually also led to this level of artistry that we Filipinos and not just Maranaos are very proud of," Bro Karl said.
It was Bro Karl, too, who called on artists and artisans to carry on the work of peace-building, pointing out the arts role in delivering the message to a broader audience.
"That is why peace has to return if only to bring back and encourage the Maranaos to go back to all of these works because they do manifest to us what is good, what is true and what is beautiful of humanity," he said.
Connect to the Past
But it was Atty. Amer who added the mystical touch to the exhibit as he recalled his parents telling him that before he was born, they hosted an American who took many photographs of the lake and its people.
Atty. Amer was not part of the conceptualization of the exhibit and only knew about and got invited to the opening by his fraternity brother Kublai, two days before the opening.
Based in Manila working for Sycip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan Law Firm and teaching at the University of the Philippines College of Law, he was informed two weeks ago that he was being assigned as partner-in-charge of the law firm branch in Davao City. That was why he contacted is fraternity brother for a meet-up and catch-up two days before the opening date.
Atty. Amer did recognize one of the photos as his aunt and is looking forward to looking through the other photos on file to re-connect with his roots.
Meanwhile, in the US, Fred acknowledged that a couple did bring him around the lake areas and he is forever grateful for their help.
"I hope that this exhibit shows what was, a memory for reflection, and inspiration for the creation of the next model of Mindanao," he wrote.
The other unseen hands that helped bring about this exhibit that is envisioned to be a traveling one are the Abreeza Mall that took care of the logistics and opening cocktails, Rotary Club of Pagasa Davao and the Seeds of Dignity Ministry that brought the Flutes of the World to Davao City, the Davao School for the Blind, The Philharmonic Society of Orange Country California, Sta. Clarita Performing Arts Center of California, and Philharmonic of Huntington Harbor California.