Singing to Us New Songs
(On the Epical Image of Our Lives)
a diskurso.com observation of Philippine history painting's renewed role as we tagged along to the Sining Saysay-exhibition segment of historian Xiao Chua's guided tour, Xiao Time Live!
text below by Jojo Soria de Veyra
video interview principal photography by Simkin de Pio and de Veyra
Young history professor Xiao Chua (right) narrates new histories upon our history (backgrounded by a history painting by diskurso.com's very own, Simkin de Pio)
"Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy." - Psalm 33:3
MODERNISTS are not big on history painting as history painting.
That's understandable. After all, history painting is a submission to the primacy of the subject matter. It's also an immersion in the public bath of history scene painting and its attendant grandiosity, almost as if to consciously celebrate a hegemony's certainty, as against the relative quietude and openness of, say, meditative portrait painting or still life painting that can still be deconstructed any way the painter himself and his audience wants.
As for its amicability with hegemonies, equally interesting is history painting's being inextricable from the mode of the narrative (and metanarratives within). It cannot zoom in on an object to meditate on its patterns (still life alone), it can only refer to a happening outside of art that happened in the past or recent past (important moments as scenes or parts of a thematic composite). Or can it? Even if it can, and there will be those who will try, it still cannot refer to itself, or to itself solely, even where it wants to.
Thankfully, there are things society can do with history painting, to manipulate history, in the manner humanity itself has been able to manipulate History back. Thus there's a history of a history. History paintings have been religious paintings, true, but there have also been anti-religious ones. They have trudged on the highway of allegory, as in trying to depict legends about a town's history, and have on the other hand trodden iconoclastic roads in its attacks on allegorical musings (for demystification, perhaps).
Xiao Chua, a vocal young history professor and historiographer currently affiliated with the De La Salle University, admits to history painting's being a nifty tool or device for both history education and historical propaganda. In turn, however, he avers that once we are made aware of a take contrary to a depiction, any depiction, history painting ceases to be a mere tool or device for the manipulation of minds, it thence becomes a springboard for discussions and debates among blind minds gathered around an elephant of truth.
I use the modifier "blind" not because historical truth is an impossibility for the human talents of verification but because we cannot really be satisfied with what we see or have and often find ourselves going around the elephant. Thus there's historiography, the study of methods of arriving at historical conclusions and truths.
Historical painting's role in historiography and history is more than just illustrational, if you will. It provides the emotional mood and mode for the science.
In relation to mode we are led to ask, is the emotion in one history painting allegorical and/or mythological? Or is it realist, as against what could be defended as aptly expressionist? Is it even illustrational of a historian's take or posing a question independent of any historian? Is it downplaying the myth of something or someone in favor of a realness more palatable to the realist viewer? Is it, by its depiction of something or someone, celebrating an icon or is it exercising a freedom to depict what once was or still taboo to depict or visually interpret (aniconism, censorship)?
All this we ask as we now let you witness, in the following coverage videos, how history painting plays its "silent" role behind or before voiced-out histories. In the following videos, we followed Prof. Chua around the Sining Saysay exhibition at the Gateway Gallery as he happily invigorated a bunch of students' curiosity about the past qua past (or wrongly assumed past), the past that created our present. Observe, dear reader/viewer, how history painting becomes an invaluable participant in the continuing dialogues of history and historiography.
As for Prof. Chua himself, well, the man's having revolutionized the tone of history education, especially in communicating the rewrites in our history that are still sadly unbeknownst to the majority of our people, needs no introduction, his own image having recently slowly become one of the more recognizable . . . shall we say icons? . . . on educational TV and on history videos on YouTube as well as elsewhere.
"Is it, by its depiction of something or someone, celebrating an icon or is it exercising a freedom to depict what once was taboo for any depiction or visual interpretation (aniconism, censorship)?"
You don't have to agree with everything the professor believes, especially perhaps with his brief notes on more recent history to do with the presidency of still-living presidents that might ruffle your partisan or journalistic views some. But don't worry, the amiable professor is no "terror professor"; his excitement derives mostly from the fact that Philippine history as a social science has found new voices from various ends and that current discussions and debates in this field seem to have put it on the spotlight once again and in a way it had never been spotlighted before.
History painters today, in the Sining Saysay exhibition and many other events and parts, are seeing themselves party to this renewed excitement of historiographic questions.
And so, without further ado, let's begin. But first, here's our pre-lecture interview:
And now to the 2-hour lecture:
SO THERE you go. Now, could the present be the time history painting might try to recoup its lost high place in the hierarchy of genres, to soon be right up there with the social realism of scenes and genre paintings, right up there with the Pop art parodying of banal images, to also be nobly applauded by the sound of today's highly-touted auction gavels proclaiming starting present values? Well, . . . who knows? Only the Supreme Art Historian knows what new songs will become a hit with the people . . . in the social dynamics of their ongoing conversion. [ d ]
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