Celebrating Filipino American History Month | SF Asian Art Museum

At first entrance into the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, you can’t help but notice the exquisite, grand staircase which ascends to the second floor (Loggia) all surrounded by travertine marble and colossal columns. (This is a favorite room of mine and it never ceases to amaze me.) Travertine walls continue on to Samsung Hall as well as an extravagant beaux arts ceiling with a bronze chandelier that sits high above. You could just picture yourself as Emma Watson waltzing with the beast in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ as it’s so enchanting. You’ll then venture into the art exhibits where you’ll meet with the seated buddha, examine the intricate carvings of Jade pieces, and even be mesmerized by the many traditional Korean patterns. But Sunday, October 1st was not an ordinary day at the museum. It was the beginning of their annual Filipino American History Month celebration and debut of a new Philippine Art exhibit. Jamie and I were eager for this unveiling as well as an hour long performance of Philippine dance traditions by the American Center of Philippine Arts Company.

Alas, after casually strolling through the exhibits, we arrived at the Tateuchi Thematic Gallery. Twenty-five Philippine art pieces are displayed in an exhibition called Philippine Art: Collecting Art, Collecting Memories. It’s a very intimate space that boasts textiles, metalware, objects of Christian belief, and some paintings including a painting by Ferdinand Amorsolo (see below), an important artist in painting Filipino history. Per Asian Art Museum, this exhibit is one of the first in the U.S. to present Philippine art from the precolonial period to the present. No spoilers here! I encourage you to come witness the exhibit for yourself. (It will be there until March 2018.) This is truly a big deal for us to finally receive recognition for our artistic and artisanal works. I’m sure it’s been a long time coming and still, they’ve only really lightly scratched the surface into our heritage. There are still more stories to tell through undiscovered paintings and more history to unveil through traditional handmade crafts.

‘Farmers working and resting,’ by Fernando Amorsolo (1955)

At about 1pm, lively ambiance was brought into Samsung Hall by the melodic traditional Filipino folk music played by the musical ensemble with gongs, drums and strings. The audience was entranced as the show started out with a “fingernail” dance called Pangalay from Sulu Archipelago. It was a fairytale-type story where the princess is caught in the middle of a forest and eventually gets saved by a prince. The next segment were dance pieces of some indigenous tribes in Mindanao and the Lumad people. They were performing rituals as well as fighting for their land as expressed through movements and use of sword props. Last segment was of the Rural Philippines and it had the most joyous and festive dances of the bunch. One was of young dancers performing a playful dance called Pasigin, fishermen trying to catch milkfish. Their rendition was of boys trying to catch the girls with a net, an entertaining sight to see! Everyone was amazed as dancers balanced glasses of water on their hands and heads during the Binasuan dance. Of course, it wasn’t a Filipino celebration without the fun, high energy national dance using bamboo sticks, Tinikling. These were just some of the highlights.

Celebrating with other Filipinos in the building was pure enjoyment. I’m glad Jamie and I made it out for this event. I feel even more aware about my heritage and prouder to be Filipino American. One of the speakers during the opening remarks made a valid point that you only really do appreciate the culture as you get older. I wish I could’ve started this journey earlier but it’s never too late to begin. My mission is to now educate my own children about their cultural roots so that they too will be proud of who they are.

If you’re wanting to join in on the Filipino American celebration or looking for a perfect afternoon activity, I highly recommend a visit to the Asian Art Museum. The first Sunday of every month is free all thanks to Target. To plan your visit and check out upcoming events, visit asianart.org. Mabuhay!

-Mestelle

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