Sunrises for the Soul

Madame Aiping Chiu, Kirsteen Yap, Elle Mansukhani
Madame Aiping Chiu, Kirsteen Yap, Elle Mansukhani

THE first light of day captured by the artists. Or is it the other way around? Did the sunrise capture their souls?

“Sunrises for the Soul” photo-art exhibit and book launching is not the first collaboration by renowned Davao figures, artist Kublai Millan and writer Stella Estremera. They did the same with “Birds of Davao” in 2019, and a 2021 pandemic-born book of travel and poetry, “Quarantine Reflections: A photographic Journey of Kublai Millan reflected in words by Stella Estremera,” which wasn’t launched publicly, and several other projects not many of us are aware of.

However, this project will perhaps be the most memorable for the two with prominent figures as their guests of honor on this affair: former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Senator Bong Go, former Presidential Assistant to Mindanao Paul Dominguez, Chinese Consul General Li Lin, Davao Councilor Al Ryan Alejandre, NCCA Executive Director Oscar Casaysay, Honeylet Avanceña, SM Regional Manager Manager Nick Santos & Huawei Regional Manager Allen Pang An.

“The title has two meanings. The ‘sunrises for the soul’ means that the moment happens, whether you like it or not. It’s for anybody and everybody to enjoy. The ‘sun rises for the soul’ is more personal. It’s how the viewer absorbs its content,” said Kublai, sharing that it was Stella who pointed out the dual meaning after the title was coined.

“Partners in crime,” the buddies say of their relationship, as they feed each other’s positive energy and creativity, and produce artistic results. Like this recent show, “It was conceived over glasses of wine, as usual,” Stella confessed.

The “Sunrises for the Soul” exhibit shows sunrises captured from different spots, but the favorite place to catch it is from the Malagos rest house of Honeylet Avanceña, who said they are always welcome in her home. The place is a short distance from Balai Kalipay where Kublai and Stella mentor young artists from all over Mindanao.

“I actually would just want to just witness the sunrise, no photos and no thoughts, just to appreciate the beauty around, and embrace all that wonder. I guess the artist in me just had to share, it’s just too beautiful not to share,” said Kublai.

With hundreds, if not thousands, of photographs in his computer storage, Kublai thought of sharing them to inspire, give light, and even entice people to wake up earlier than their usual to start the day with God’s canvas.

“You can see that this is the work of God translated by Kublai. If I look at your work of art, if I really absorb what your art wants to express, it tells me that his paintings bring us to beauty and nearer to God,” said former president Rodrigo Duterte.

And closer to beauty and nearer to God the long-time mayor of Davao City will be with the gifts he received — a sunrise painting by Kublai and a poem by Stella, both entitled “Ode to Digong.”

How did the verses come about? Stella said that she expresses best when writing, while Kublai used to write poetry when he was younger. They have been collaborating for Kublai’s monuments for a decade now. With the lockdown, they became more prolific and her poems can be found in his home galleries, a book of poems they earlier compiled with Kublai’s travel photos published in 2021. They have a few more book projects in the making.

As to Kublai, he said he’s always excited to wake up and start his day with food for his soul, his communion with his God. The words always go around his head and the verses come later when it’s processed. Some were written to be read and shared.

The two are not playing favorites with their creations because all were created to capture disparate moments. But Stella confesses she likes the haikus best because of the brain work

required. To capture moments in very short, rhythmic lines, she said.

“Sunrises for the Soul” photo-art and poetry exhibit at the Atrium of SM Lanang Premier will run until August 31, 2022. Photographs by Kublai Millan were taken with the Huawei Mate 30 Pro, which he acquired in 2019.

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