Art is not dead: A journey through Bulacan’s lost arts
What form of art do you know beside painting and sculpture? Yes, these two kinds of fine arts are much known to our country, but there are a lot of hidden, if not undiscovered and waiting for the right time to be unleashed.
Let this article guide you in the journey of unearthing the two lost art forms in Bulacan and teach you more about how rich our culture is.
Art is not dead and this article will prove you that.
Puni: leaves and memories weaved together
Ever heard of the word Puni? Probably not.
Puni, is a native Tagalog language originated from Bulacan that means “leaf-weaving”. This artform traces back from generations back then as it is used as toys for toddlers, ornaments and accessories among others.
Back then, many Bulakenyos know how to do this art, but the interest on puni grew smaller and smaller and now, only two persons are considered as puni artisans.
One of them is Ms. Rheeza Hernandez.
She lives in the heart of Malolos City, in an apartment-type house with her husband and two children. Ms. Rheeza got her diploma in Fine Arts in the University of Santo Tomas.
She advocates the continuity of Puni as she herself knows that this art is in the brink of dying already. She said that she learned how to do the art during her childhood life in Pitpitan, Bulakan, Bulacan.
“Ako basically, no’ng maliliit kami, gumagawa talaga kami ng mga bolang dahon, tsaka ng sipol. Kapag taga-barrio ka at hindi ka marunong nito, hindi ka taga-barrio,” she narrated.
This talent that she unnoticeably acquired during the early stage in her life came in hiatus when she went to high school at Bulacan State University Laboratory High School and college in the University of Santo Tomas, which she, obviously, took up Bachelor of Fine Arts.
Her parents are, also are advocates of various projects. So, following her bloodline, she advocates the revival of the dying art of leaf-weaving.
“Kaya ko s’ya tinutuloy kasi, sino pa ang magtutuloy, sino pa? Marami nang namatay na pamana sa atin. Ako wala naman akong maiiwan, e. Hindi naman kami mayaman, kaya kahit dito man lang, makapag-contribute ako,” she said.
Considered as an artisan, she developed leaf-weaving and made it world-class. In fact, she once represented the Philippines in the prestigious Smithsonian Museum’s Folk Arts Festival in 1988, as chosen by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Ms. Rheeza let me experience how it is creating a simple leaf art: using a single dried young palm leaf, she taught me how to do a simple flower ornament. While she’s explaining the whole thing, I was just nodding and doing what she’s doing.
My leaf art barely considered itself as a work of art. The aim is to do a symmetrical vertical flower, but I ended up doing a crisscross of a curving pattern. Wrong, at every angle.
But while we’re doing the leaf art, she’s telling a part of her childhood memories. She told me that they used to do the ornament before Palm Sunday, as the ornament, when made into a bunch, will make a good “palaspas”.
That anectode is a simple representation on how the art is dying: the skills needed in doing the art. Ms. Rheeza is aware of the fact leaf-weaving takes years of mastery.
“May connotation kaagad na mahirap siyang gawin,” she explained
But art builds up memories that one will treasure deep down in their hearts. Inside the time spent doing and mastering “puni”, is a time of intense dedication, sacrifice, and a sense of achievement. But sadly, only two persons in the province will know that feeling if we will not care about these dying form of art.
Also, according to her, it is hard to teach an art that does not benefit monetarily, but the fact that one can master the puni, is a great contribution to our country.
“Kung mawawala ‘to, mawawalan tayo ng pagkakakilanlan, mawawalan tayo ng sarili natin. Lahat tayo ay parang magiging foreigner sa sarili nating bayan,” she said.
The Potters of Calumpit
Pottery once conquered the northern part of Bulacan, especially, Calumpit. Our Bulakenyo ancestors took advantage on the rich clay that is easily harvested in the area. The town once boasted with pots with intricate designs. Competition among the pottery shops made the “pot-business” healthy.
Now, the potters of Bulacan can hardly breathe.
The once pottery capital of the province became weaker and weaker as the clay-pots are substituted with more durable but monotonous plastic pots.
I interviewed one of the remaining young masters of pottery: Anron Rosales. IN his ten-year experience in pottery, he already know how the simple clays are turned into intricately-designed clay-pots.
First, raw clay are harvested from nearby farmlands, and piled in the back of the clay factory. Then, water is added to the clay and processed to remove the impurities and become finer.
The processed clay is turned over to Mang Anron’s skillful hands, and then this where all the magic happens.
A simple lump of clay carefully honed, sculpted, and minutes later, a medium sized pot appeared in his potter’s wheel.
He said that he did not learn it himself; he needed the skills of his old masters and took months, if not a year to perfect his craft.
“Dati, matagal kong ginagawa ‘yang ganyang kalaking paso, pero ngayon, wala pang isang minuto, kaya ko na. Pero kung mas magagandang klase, maaring tumagal ng isang araw,” he said.
Scuplting the pots are made easy by his skillful hands, but the drying and baking eats up the processing time.
“Papatuyuin pa ‘tong mga paso tapos ilalagay sa hurno, mga pitong oras bago maging paso na p’wedeng pagtamnan na ‘to,” he explained.
Also, according to him, there are times that the pots break during the baking period. When that happens, the baked pots are useless and cannot be processed again, this depreciates their profit.
Individual buyers rarely transact with them, the pots are sold in wholesale, and made-to-order only. Meaning, when the wholesale customers do not make orders, their business halts.
One of the problems of this kind of art is the amount of money they earn in making them, and the “practicality” of the other people who prefers plastic pots. Though we cannot blame them for choosing those kinds of pots, they are unaware that they are killing an art which originates way back from the Galleon trade.
Pottery was once famous but the people slowly killed this art. Thankfully, there are people like Mang Anron who prefers to continue the kind of art that are original from us.
People who cares
Though these two kinds of art are less known to many, there are people that still care for the survival of Bulakenyo arts.
One of them is Joe Clemente, the owner of the only resort/museum in Bulacan: teh Ciudad Clemente. Located deep down Paombong, Bulacan, it is like a treasure that is waiting to be discovered.
Ciudad offers Bulakenyo, and nothing but Bulakenyo Arts. Joe Clemente, the owner and curator of the resort/museum, said that the province should be boastful of its arts.
“Everybody said it’s fantastic. You only see the place in your skin deep way pero ‘pag nakita n’yo talaga kung ano ‘yong pinagmamalaki ko dito, it is something na you as a Bulakenyo will be very proud of because it is an entire collection of the famous Bulacan artists: the senior and award winners,” he said.
Pottery is included in his collection. In fact, a gigantic clay jar will welcome you at the door of the museum.
Another concerned, Bulakenyo, named Rodney Santos, documented Ms. Rheeza’s art and made a book explaining the different leaf-art.
Santos made the leaf-art as his thesis and published a book entitled: “Puni, malikhaing Pag-habi” in cooperation with Ms. Rheeza. The book won over the different books published in the college that year, claiming the best thesis award during his graduation.
Should we really care?
Should we really care about these lost arts? Yes, we should. It is the reflection of how rich our culture is. Deep down the calluses of a potter’s skillful hands is a story of a skill handed-down from generation from generation. Behind the leaf-weavers creative mind is an endless childhood memories that is screaming with joy and laughter.
Every broken pot is a sign of patience and hard work. Every processed clay is a symbol of how humble our nation originated. The skillful hands of the artisan are a sign that we are a man with skills, intelligence, and creativity all rolled into one.
Art is not dead, it is just sleeping. We should wake it up and continue the bloodline of creative people that we used to be.