Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Treasures appreciation Tuesday at the Ayala Museum

Another weekday holiday brought me and my museum-hopping friends Mary, Bing, and Man to the next museum/art gallery in our checklist: the Ayala Museum (http://www.ayalamuseum.org). I've been there twice before (both as a student) and there were instances when Noah and I were staring at the entrance but didn't have the time to go in.

Today, I had the luxury of spending an afternoon viewing the various exhibits that showed how strong Philippine international trade relations were with the rest of the world, a common theme I have observed previously in exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum and the National Museum. The Ayala collection further showed how rich the foundations of Filipino culture are. Photography is not allowed, just like in the Cultural Center of the Philippines, so I am not posting any here.


Gold of Ancestors. Gold has always been one of the most expensive metals worldwide. But it's not only valued by contemporary people. Even in pre-historical periods, Filipinos had been known to deck themselves, their deities, and their dead relatives in golden ornaments. Diadems, studs, ear ornaments, belts, and sashes had been obtained from excavation sites in different parts of the country. Seeing that some of these jewelry pieces are about 1kg in weight, I wonder how the wearers managed to move about. My best bet is that they (particularly the royals) didn't have the best posture, with all that gold weighing on their shoulders. Was the amount of gold on these people symbolizing the gravity of their responsibility, aside from being a reflection of their wealth?

A Millennium of Contact. "All that glisters is not gold", Portia says in William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. True; some of the Philippines' richest treasures are not in gold but are in porcelain. The variety of porcelain pieces I've seen came from pre-Hispanic periods, which indicated that the Philippines was part of an international trading community. I wonder, though, how'd the archaeologists know what century the pots came from?

The Villanueva collection contained some of the most well-preserved pieces I've seen. There were wares that originated from the Chinese mainland: celadon pieces; black, brown, and white pottery; and the ubiquitous blue-and-white pieces I've seen ad nauseam in museums in different countries. Going through the collection at the Ayala Museum offered an answer to the popularity of the blue-and-whites. These were sold to the European markets, which I think is why these are seen in museums worldwide. Celadon pots and the other types exported to Southeast Asian markets were rarer in museums I've gone to in western countries. The different kiln complexes in China were assigned to produce pieces for different markets. This designation of factories reminded me of the One Town, One Product concept in Laguna.

Aside from the Chinese products, the Villanueva collection also included pots and ornaments from Vietnam and Thailand... Plus other countries in Southeast Asia. The designs, though quite similar to the Chinese pieces at first glance, were quite unique. Thai pieces had elephants on them, for instance. 

Embroidered Multiples. Abaca. Sinamay. Pina. Cotton. These are some of the more popular fabrics used by Filipinos for their clothes during the Spanish colonial era. I observed a huge contrast between pre-colonial wear and the fashion during the Spanish colonial era. For instance, paintings of datus and their wives indicated a strong Indian or Middle Eastern influence in terms of clothing. The colonial trends, on the other had, reflected strong European influences like the empire cut dresses worn by the women in the elite classes. None of the images were wearing what we contemporary Filipinos call terno or Maria Clara... Or even barong Tagalog. But the elements are there, particularly the tapis worn over the saya.

From all the different Filipiniana attire I've seen today, I find it difficult to decide on what I'd like to wear when required to wear Filipiniana.