Art and ‘kampapasi’ bloom in Porac

The Pasig-Potero River, still gray and choked with ashes, gives a very palpable idea how the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in Central Luzon affected Porac, the biggest town in terms of area in the province of Pampanga, but vegetation has now already covered the thick layers of volcanic ashes and the town has rebuilt on top of them.

Usually sleepy, Porac mined its ash-covered landscape and lore and vivify them with colors, creativity and imagination for its first arts festival.

Porac, Pampanga held its first arts festival featuring murals, installations, an art contest, art talks and a youth camp by the river.

The Kampapasi Porac Arts Festival gathered several artists from the town and other parts of the country to transform several parts of Porac into art spaces. Murals and installations were created and showcased aptly from 24 to 26 February as the Philippines celebrated National Arts Month. A youth camp, an art contest and talks were also held.

A mural by Aann Reynales at the municipal hall annex.

Local artist Herminigildo Pineda, who established the Porac Young Artists group, spearheaded the event, conceiving it with prominent painter Emmanuel “Manny” Garibay, who runs the Linangan Art Residency program in Alfonso, Cavite. With Linangan managing, the local government organized the event, which garnered support from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts’ National Committee on Visual Arts.

The opening program on 24 February was held at the Porac Baywalk Park, a riverside promenade in the barangay of Cañgatba, the town center. Installations were mounted along the creek and even on the bridge. The featured installation artists were Pineda, Hermi Santo, Arnel Garcia, Iwag Palattao, Conderlos Lingat, Issay Rodriguez, Julieanne Ng and Sam Penaso.

The walls in the surrounding areas and nearby structures were enlivened with freshly painted murals, reminiscent of the way murals were created in many parts of the country by artists who volunteered and banded together for the 2022 campaign for the presidency of then Vice President Leni Robredo. A house that overlooks the creek was painted by Dexter Fernandez (Garapata) with his work he called Ang Batang Aeta at ang Kaibigan Nyang Diwata Kampapasi.

Garapata’s mural ‘Ang Batang Aeta At Ang Kaibigan Nyang Diwata Kampapasi.’

Part of the embankment displayed Namalyari by Rasel Trinidad or Doktor Karayom. Across the promenade was a mural by Archie Oclos, titled Dasal at Paghilom.

Analuz “Aann” Reynales created an eye-catching portrait of a smiling Ayta girl on a wall of the municipal hall annex building and Bryan Barrios’s Pauwing Bukid, a portrait of farmers, brightened a portion of General Luna Street. Lorebert “Maralita” Comision and John Nofiel (Alaga at Sining) also contributed works.

Pineda’s performance art on the river preluded the opening program, which started with a traditional ritual of the Mag-antsi Ayta, an indigenous group in Porac, imploring the supreme deity Apu Namalyari. Garibay, Pineda, Porac Mayor Jaime V. Capil, municipal tourism officer Gemilyn A. Marimla, and Dennis Montera, head of NCCA NCVA, delivered their speeches. Government officials rhapsodized on the tourism potential of the festival and Porac.

The program included the awarding of winners of a student art contest, the entries of which were exhibited at the venue. It also featured writer Kaye Oyek of the NCCA NCVA performing her poem “Agaw-Gising.” It concluded with a signing of a pact of partnership among the organizers and supporting agencies for the arts festival.

Photographs by Roel Hoang Manipon
An installation by the river in Poblacion.

The three-day youth art camp was held by the banks of the Malele River in Purok 4 in the barangay of Pio. The area is being managed as a campsite, Camp Papasi, by the local farmers’ cooperative, the Ilug Kamalig Agriculture Cooperative.

The landscape was unbelievably bucolic with a gurgling, rocky creek, where Ayta children, barkadas and carabaos bathe, flanked by rolling brushland and rice fields. In a nearby area, where the river forks, Hermi Santo mounted a bamboo installation, Pinatubo Dampi, in remembrance of the victims of the Mount Pinatubo eruption and artists who have passed away, Edille Paras, Angelo Melo and Ysagani Ybarra. The banks of the river bristled with kampapasi, almost desiccated, from which the festival takes its name, most likely, to emphasize local culture.

Photographs by Roel Hoang Manipon
Art camp participants in a painting session.

The kampapasi or chan (Mesosphaerum suaveolens or Hyptis suaveolens) though is not native. It originates from the tropical parts of the Americas and has been naturalized in Asia including the Philippines. People in Porac have grown seeing kampapasi. According to Pineda, it used by farmers to treat wounds, and alternative to guava leaves. He told a story about the kampapasi to camp participants.

Hermi Santo’s installation ‘Pinatubo Dampi’ at the Malele River.

In the 1940s, during the Japanese occupation, a soldier had managed to escape the infamous Bataan Death March and made his way to Porac. A farmer found soldier and treated his shrapnel wounds with kampapasi. The soldier was able to recover and became a prominent man. With suspense, Pineda revealed that the soldier was President Ferdinand Marcos. He regarded this as the “historical” significance of the plant although the story is part of the local lore and its truthfulness remains unconfirmed. Furthermore, Marcos’ claims of military exploits are still disputed, if not completely debunked. Marcos’ becoming a dictator, known for kleptocracy and gross human rights violations, was left unmentioned. In a time of massive disinformation, art is a powerful tool in honing critical thinking.

About 60 young local artists and students participated in the camp including Ayta youths. Aside from the Pampangan, two Ayta groups — the Mag-ansti and the Mag-indi — are native to Porac. Most of them reside in the barangays of Camias, Diaz, Inararo, Villa Maria and Sapang Uwak. Their ancestral land title in Porac was only granted in May 2022. The Aytas are one of the most marginalized ethnic groups in the county. Their participation in the festival was an important act of inclusion and a way to allay their mistrust.

An Ayta Mag-indi ritual during the opening program.

The camp program included introductions to Ayta culture. The Ayta participants showcased a dance for other participants, who were taught how to make Ayta lean-to shelters. There was also a demo of the binulu, an Ayta way cooking food in bamboo tubes or bulu, by Aytas who work as guides at the residential and business estate Alviera in Sapang Uwak.

On the other hand, a local farmer demonstrated how to make brooms out of kampapasi. Workshop sessions included basic painting by artist Salvi Juan, using pastel by Lance Gomez, and installation by Issay Rodriguez Art talks were also conducted. Bulacan artist-organizer Andrew Alto de Guzman talked about his advocacy in using art in promoting and safeguarding agriculture and practices related to it. Melissa Yeung-Yap shared her experience of working with indigenous communities while Salvador Ching discussed mixed media and bamboo installation art.

As the students dismantled their tents on the last day of the camp of the first Kampapasi Porac Arts Festival, organizers hoped that seeds have been planted in them during a blossoming among the ashes.

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