Probinsaya goes to Rome

FROM a mere carabao wallowing in a mudpool with the ubiquitous "tagak" (heron) to an illustration of how a "kadang" (wooden stilts) is really the Matigsalog's representation of a horse (and they run around with the kadang like horses, too), the colors and curves in the paintings of Davao artist Rey Mujahid "Kublai" Ponce Millan make everything look really fun.

And they were meant to look fun because this series is called "Probinsaya".

"Probinsaya", which features pastoral scenes, farm life, indigenous peoples dancing and making music, and everything else about Mindanao provinces, made more playful through abstraction, is now on exhibit at the offices of the Philippine Embassy to the Holy See in Rome, Italy. The exhibit opened last January 13.

In a news article from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), it said the exhibit was organized by Ambassador Mercedes Tuason as part of the commemorative activities of the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the Philippines.

Kublai, who is more known for his giant sculptures, picked up painting again in early 2009 and just as fast as he wields his flattened spoon to make sculptures, he made more than 50 of four feet by four feet paintings in just over a month. It was astounding.

Now he is ending his "Probinsaya" (Probinsya + saya) series to move on to "Dalisaya" (Dalisay + saya), that will highlight the beauty of nature, and then "Galaktika" (from the word galak) that will be abstractions of his travels abroad.

On exhibit in Rome, Italy are just 12 of the big 4 feet x 4 feet acrylic paintings in the series. The 12 are but a few pieces of the vast collection within the series, which was first shown in a back-to-back exhibit with Davao artist Vic Secuya entitled "Spirit of Davao" at the Museo Dabawenyo in time for the 2009 celebration of Kadayawan Festival. The press release for the CBCP by Fr. Jose Quilongquilong SJ about the Rome exhibit, reads:

"Father Romeo Velos, CS, led around 50 Filipino leaders of various communities belonging to the Sentro Pilipino Chaplaincy in Rome who attended the event.

"Ryan Asinas and Crispy Zapanta, respective leaders of the Filipino Youth and Family Ministries read excerpts describing the 12 paintings which depict the nature-based lifestyle of Filipinos in the provinces.

"Ambassador Tuason underlined the relevance of the art exhibit in the life of the Church as she quoted the following words of Pope John Paul II to artists: 'Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savor life and to dream of the future.'

"Filipino leaders spent some time admiring the artworks which brought back consoling memories of simple family life in the Philippines."

The exhibit comes in the heels of Kublai's "Native-ity" installations right beside the nativity scene at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican.

The "Native-ity" made by Kublai in Davao and shipped out to Vatican last October for its unveiling on the eve of Christmas 2010 is made up of nine larger than life figures featuring a Filipino family pulling up a net full of fishes in direct attribution to Jesus Christ's call to the apostles in Galilee to be fishers of men.

While flanking the family on a fishing boat are representation of some tribes of Mindanao with their indigenous instruments and baskets full of fishes, fruits, and vegetables in a celebration of bounty, faith, music, and family; a reflection of how Filipinos celebrate Christmas.

This piquant native-ity scene of the only Filipino artist to have been invited to install his art at the St. Peter's Square is right beside the larger than life nativity scene created in 1982 by St. Vincent Palloti for the Basilica of Sant'Andrea della Valle in Rome.

The nativity installations will be dismantled on February 2, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

As Fr. Quilongquilong wrote, "The Vatican explanatory note describes the design of this year's nativity scene with background that portrays the border walls of Bethlehem and is surrounded by typical elements of the Palestinian landscape.

"The Vatican note added that 'the combination of the traditional nativity figures in Rome with the Filipino figures brought an 'eccentric and surprising result with important symbolic meaning: the universality of the church'."

Like the happy colors and curves and abstract images of Kublai's paintings, the figures in the sculptures all wear huge smiles. Happiness emanates as it only can from an artist who has unabashedly said he has found happiness in his wife and children that he wants to share with everybody.

The dark and angst-filled paintings and poems that fill up the walls of the family-owned Ponce Suites at Doña Vicenta Village, here, are no more. What used to be eyes that reflect sadness, some even giving you the creeps, are now eyes that are filled with joy and occasional mischievousness... both in paintings and in sculptures.

It has been a long journey for this artist too, who has been through it all and have preferred to bask in the light of love, filled with stories of adventures and life to share and paint.

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