The Bangkota Philippine Pavilion at the Sustainability District of Expo Dubai 2020.
Mariecar Jara-Puyod, Senior Reporter
Filipinos are among the adventurous in the world. It has become an enduring conversation piece that wherever one goes is a Filipino and/or descendant.
Their narrative, based on the “global scientific consensus” of all Austronesian-speaking peoples across the globe, would be “evoked” this October in the UAE, home to approximately 500,000 Filipinos. Thanks to the Expo Dubai 2020 and its theme “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.”
Responsible for the eruditely and meticulously composed “Bangkota” Philippine Pavilion at the Sustainability District of the World Expo site south of Dubai is Marian Pastor Roces.
Roces, with 47 years of experience as an “independent curator, critic of institutions and policy adviser on culture and politics,” was interviewed recently. “Bangkota” (ancient Filipino term for coral reef) is the fourth she has been tasked to handle as she did the Philippine Pavilions in Aichi (Japan, 2006), Zaragoza (Spain, 2008), and Shanghai (China, 2010). Both the pavilions in Aichi and Zaragoza she worked in tandem with Ed Calma of Lor Calma Design and Associates took home the “Best Designed Pavilion.” In Shanghai were on the Philippine urban areas that breathe and move because of “enlightened values” despite modern-day’s vicissitudes. In Aichi were the “powerful presence of the small-scale Philippine culture and nature: the exquisite minuscule goldsmithing, embroidery, dyeing; and the tiny ‘Mi Ultimo Adios’ (Philippine National Hero’s Dr. Jose P. Rizal’s poetry penned on the eve of his martyrdom through musketry by the Spanish Colonial Government in Dec. 30, 1896); the iridescent forest insects, colourful rice varieties and the smallest flowers on earth. In Zaragoza was a tableau of the “local wisdom” of the numerous Philippine grassroots and national organisations on water sustainability and related projects.
For and in Dubai, Roces said: “For many Filipinos, the pavilion will be the first-ever encounter with an archeological and linguistic synthesis that is radically different from the ‘three waves of migration’ that taught us that we came from Indonesia and Malaysia. On the contrary, Indonesians and Malaysians, Polynesians and people in Madagascar came from our archipelago. There should be a mental benefit in fresh knowledge delivered by the unusual ways of the artists. “For the sundry visitor from different nations, a pavilion that gives insight into the Filipino will redound to mutual understanding: our penchant for travel, our enthusiasm for work on oceans of the world, our capacity to create homes everywhere, our ways of connecting across great distance and so forth,” she continued.
The foundation of her curating expertise was at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines from 1974 at age 19 when she applied for and was hired as curatorial assistant and stayed on for three years.
Through the 47 years, Roces takes “culture as my way into political analysis” which has become the focal point of her work: “A critic of current concepts of heritage, I prefer to help build institutions that might try to understand the past, figure out what was unjust and edifying — and move to the future with a clear grasp of heritage as a force of social justice.”
We also have to remember that scientific method in the humanities, for example in oral history, allows us to understand how Austronesian-speaking peoples like us keep our mythologies alive until today,” she said, adding that of the over 1,200 Austronesian-originated languages worldwide, 175 are Philippine dialects, the major three of which are Tagalog, Bisaya and Ilocano.
For Roces, Expo Dubai 2020 is an “enormously important UAE and Middle East project.” She is hopeful that it “will be a pivot to new levels of (UAE-Philippine) relationship particularly in the recognition of the cultural industries.”
She believes the consistent participation of the Philippines under “different presidents and governments” throughout the over 150 years of the World Expo is important and significant: “It has become a tradition. The Philippines has to guard and always occupy its seat at the table. The country takes its place amongst the Community of Nations as a proper member. The Philippines has important things to say in a global forum. Participating about the connectivity of human relationships sustained by digital technology, and about cultural industries, our country can take the lead in global conversations.”
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