Sunday, November 5, 2017

Loving Vincent (2017)

I have always thought of Vincent van Gogh as the poster child for suffering artists and for mental health advocacy. But beyond him cutting his ear and committing suicide, I really didn't know much of his life. I've also encountered his painting "Starry Night" and the Don McLean 1971 song "Vincent". 

Hence, when I saw that "Loving Vincent", a movie about his life, was already showing in cinemas, I decided to watch it at first opportunity. Luckily, Joyce was also available to join in watching this film.

It's interesting that this film was made to resemble cartoons; except that instead of simple illustrations or computer graphics, the each frame of the animation was an oil painting on canvas. These oil paintings were made by 115 artists and featured van Gogh's famous strong, thick strokes. In itself, the movie is a visual masterpiece.

The plot happened supposedly a year after van Gogh died. It followed Armand Roulin as he attempted to deliver Vincent's last letter to his brother, Theo. It turned out, through Armand's tracing of Theo's whereabouts, that the younger van Gogh had died of complications of syphilis. The letter eventually ended up with Theo's widow, Johanna. In his search for van Gogh's family, Armand was confronted with a few theories on why van Gogh committed suicide: a case of unrequited love; an effort to reduce the worries of his brother who was already sick; and someone else shot the gun that left him wounded in the torso (there's a murder mystery angle to the story).

In the end, whatever drove Vincent to take his own life couldn't be clarified. His last letter to Theo, however, resonated true with the movie:

"Well, the truth is, we can only make our pictures speak." 
-- Vincent van Gogh

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Night at the (Ayala) Museum 2017

The four moons have aligned and cast a shadow of darkness over the land. The ancient gods have gathered to give the mortals a chance to save their world from destruction. They will open a portal at the Ayala Museum on October 27 and they are calling for brave heroes to go on a quest to save the world!

(snapshot from Ayala Museum's Instagram account

That was how the mystery began at our night at the Ayala Museum this year. Instead of being detectives in a whodunit mystery thriller, we were heroes out to save the Philippine-centric world... from what, I wasn't sure because I wasn't listening too closely to the voice-over when the activity started.

What we learned when we started our quest, though, was that we (once again) had to search for clues and puzzles to solve in the four public floors of the museum. And because I was at the museum a few days before this event, the possible locations of the different clues were fresh in my mind. For instance, the location of one of our clues was based on a partial snapshot of a historical scene. When I glimpsed at it, I knew exactly what scene it was (and where it's displayed) because I was looking quite closely at it before. Then there's another clue about decoding ancient script. While the rest of the crowd gathered over the key, I told my teammates to not bother because I had a copy of it with me. Of course they were kind of surprised. .. I took a photo of it because I wanted to write my name in this script. One of the more elegant clues included in our starter pack happened to describe one of my favourite spotted ceramics in the museum... and it happened to be a few metres from the friendly turtle

Finding the clues, the riddles, and the puzzles were easy enough because I frequent the museum. But I wasn't good at solving them. And that is where my teammates took over. Their familiarity with Filipino riddles and their spatial intelligence allowed us to move along quite fast. There were bottlenecks here and there because we had to queue up for the chance to solve puzzles under time limitations. But we still completed the tasks in under an hour... much better than our time last year.

Unfortunately, there were other groups much faster than us. We didn't get into the leader board (last year, we placed second). Still, I thought that we fared quite well and deserved the bragging rights reserved for those who saved the world at the eleventh hour.

It was fun. I can't wait to for the next iteration of Midnight at the (Ayala) Museum. Until next year, Mystery Manila and Ayala Museum!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Surat Mangyan

In high school, part of the Filipino curriculum was learning about one of the country's ancient native scripts called Baybayin. I learned back then that this script was eventually abandoned because the Spanish, and eventually the Americans, encouraged the use of the Latin script for written communications.

But that's in the lowlands; the rules were different up in the mountains. In the lush mountains of Mindoro, groups of indigenous people called Mangyans live largely in isolation away from the Christianised Filipinos. This isolation has led to the continuous development of the Mangyans' old script, Surat Mangyan.

As I walked inside the Ayala Museum, I saw this bamboo tube (I'm not sure if it's an instrument) with Mangyan script written all over it. I suppose that this was equivalent to a book or a song. But I haven't figured out what's written yet, despite the translation guide provided.

What I can do, however, is write my name in Mangyan script. It is quite different from the Baybayin syllaboc script that was taught to us in high school.

The exhibit about the Mangyan script brought me back to that day in school when our teacher asked us, "If our ancestors were already using their own scripts, why did they drop these and shifted to the Latin script?" Perhaps, it's a question of practicality. The arrival of traders forced our ancestors to adapt to a script that was understandable to the parties conducting business... perhaps, ancient Filipinos traded with their Indian contemporaries, explaining why Baybayin looks very similar to the script I found in road signs I noticed in Hyderabad. Lowlanders also got exposed the most to the Spaniards, who heavily promoted the use of the Latin script. 

The reason why the Mangyan script has survived throughout the centuries can thus be similarly explained: most likely, the Mangyans were mainly isolated from the rest of the world. This allowed them to continue developing their culture and to continue using their script. Hence, Surat Mangyan lives on. I hope that this ancient script will continue to thrive so that Filipinos can see how rich our indigenous heritage is.