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Interpreting Folk Art at Balaw-Balaw Museum

First, we had lunch at the Balaw-balaw restaurant where we enjoyed a mix of traditional and rather unusual food. Then, we went up to the second floor which, as it turned out housed not an art gallery but a museum. What’s the difference? In an art gallery, the art works are for sale. In a museum, nothing is for sale.

At Balaw-balaw, a museum of wood sculptures

It was a museum of wood sculptures. Small pieces, huge pieces… many with religious themes. I took photos of the wood sculptures that fascinated me the most. The lighting was not ideal, I have to admit, but the lack of other visitors to the museum gave me enough time and allowed me sufficient focus to peer closely at many of the pieces.

Mother and child sculpture at Balaw-balaw Museum

The mother and child above must be well off because the child even has a toy. The mother is wearing a traditional Filipino attire from the 19th century. The neckpiece indicates that she is a Catholic. The significance of the child’s head gear did not strike me until I looked closer at the next sculpture.

The mother and child in this next piece, well… my imagination ran wild.

A sculpture of a mother holding an umbrella over her infant child at the Balaw-balaw Museum

Notice the child’s eyes? Not exactly Filipino eyes. And the head gear is not traditional Filipino either. And I wondered if he was part-Chinese. And looking closer at the mother’s eyes (as well as the eyes of both mother and child in the previous sculpture), I wondered too if she herself is part-Chinese.

In the 19th century, people of mixed races weren’t accepted the way they are accepted today. And I wondered if the torn umbrella and the hole in the mother’s sleeve mean they has been cast out by her family and were living in poverty.

I have heard it said so often that every work of art contains a piece of the artist that created it. It is also possible that it is the artist himself who is part-Chinese, and the mother and child sculptures are his way of fusing and immortalizing his Filipino, Chinese and Catholic heritage.

A sculpture of an ancient warrior at the Balaw-balaw Museum

Now, this next piece is obviously the figure of a warrior. Why two faces? Looking at the expression on the faces that share one eye, and both faces wear the same expression, I think the artist is trying to convey motion — as though the warrior was swiftly looking left and right at two or more enemies in front of him and assessing how best to defend himself.

A sculpture of a woman bent in agony or pain, or both, at the Balaw-balaw Museum

And this piece… I can’t quite decide if the woman is in agony or in pain, or both.

I have a very vivid imagination? Well, I studied Humanities under THE Ricaredo Demetillo. For an entire semester, we did nothing but look at slides of paintings, sculptures and architecture. I may not have been his most diligent student but I did learn a lot about art appreciation in his class.

A sculpture of a boat and its crew at the Balaw-balaw Museum

The last piece I scrutinized was a boat which appears to have gotten stuck in something. One crew member is using a stick to dislodge the front of the boat while two others are trying to keep the sails steady. I love the sense of motion, activity and urgency.

What even more interesting about this piece is the crew. Chinese and Filipino from the looks of it. At least, that is the impression I got from the length of their hair, their attire and especially the hats.

There were many other pieces in the museum. If we had more time, I might have looked closely at each one. When we go back…

Written By

I travel to eat, drink and learn new cuisines. Between trips, I write travel stories and share travel-inspired recipes. That is my idea of retirement with purpose.

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