PAIN IN LOCAL FILIPINO ART, PERFORMANCE RITUAL and BELIEFby Dulce Cuna AnacionPaper delivered at the 29th International Conference on Psychology and the Arts at the Ghent University,Belgium July 4-8, 2012In 2007, they removed my womb. It was a relief after months of excruciating pain and the feeling ofheaviness around my lower abdomen, the hard and swollen sides often throbbed of pain when touchedor pressed. I went under the knife with a surgical procedure called TAHBSO (Total AbdominalHysterectomy Bilateral Salpingo Oophorectomy), the removal of the uterus, both ovaries, fallopiantubes with an incision on the abdomen. They also removed my appendix and I guess cleaned mystomach cavity for I knew any of those swelling glands burst. I whispered to my doctor: “Paano ‘yanDoc, hindi na ako mabubuntis” (Now what, Doc, I can’t be pregnant anymore!) to which she smiled: “Mydear, you are in Menopause!” After 5 hours in the operating room, they removed two large cysticovaries as big as grapefruits, a shrunken uterus and an appendix. I was relieved from the pain of myabdomen. However the post-operation pain was just as excruciating. One dark thought hang over melike a sword of Damocles: “Will I ever be Creative again without a Uterus?”To a Woman, the Uterus and its Ovaries is the most important feminine “machinery” in her body. Ittakes centre stage in all the whys and wherefores in her life like a second brain. Its equivalent is similarto the male testicles or “balls”. Hence when she manipulates in the external world of things and peopleshe is said to “have balls” or it “takes balls”, thus it takes some sort of an “ovarian energy”-- an energyfield which is related to her domestic work, sense of well-being, love and sex. Here the woman relies somuch of her Identity with this gland. With this belief, I felt disconcerted and uneasy with this situation. Itfelt like a feminine castration.The painful advent to my hysterectomy was the synopsis of my maidenhood. It developed a uterus onits way to degeneration of its cells, on the transition from the benign to the malignant, which may ormay not metastasize into cancer or even death. I connected my Uterus to the years of suffering I hadwith dysfunctional relationships, work pains and frustrations, death of my parents which marked theend of my childhood. It was the pain of Reality, of waking Life which was greater than the physical painimminent in nurturing those cysts that caused all the chronic pains in my body--bloating, migraines,dizziness, etc. I approached many ways to alleviate the pain, taking a lot of pain relievers, yoga, herbalmedicines and acupuncture to stop the enlarging of my cysts to full blown. I procrastinated a lot anddefied doctor’s advice of early removal because I believed it would somehow melt down or“disintegrate”. Thus I resorted to visualization. Being a painter, I painted my pain, its physical and itsabstract, its entirety and specific.
I painted “The Wounded Pintado Princess” after my hospital pain. Though the tag line is so literal, theimages I imbued in the painting is in a sense of play--playing with the Art of Pain. I poised myself withthe urge to construct, to recreate, or maybe to award myself with a sense of “royalty” for enduringsurgery and bodily change. I visaged the scars of the operation into items of texture, line, space, andused colour for volume and intensity. At the back of my head, I was wrenching myself out of the darkrealms of of non-creativity, and perhaps holding on to the passion of creativity by the thought of non-fecundity.“Ovum” is a commemoration of what my body could create, a once fecund Shape which held a fetus,but now festooned with “flores para los muertos” (flowers for the dead, the dead ovum not the fetus),mounted on a silvery background which signified status. The painting itself was my self-trophy, a plaqueof merit for it produced me children which one could be proud. It was homage to an ovoid ovary, nowdeified.The latest performance art I did was called “Boxed” - it conceptualized the Artist as an altruisticmercenary. In the four phases of the box she tempers the Pain of Mediocrity with the use of multi-media, the varied construct and deconstruct of artistic expression when obliged to conform to societalissues. In the last face of the four sided box she resurfaces from the colour box; from being boxed, fromdictates, from expectations-- after cutting a thin membrane of superficial colours, she emerges from theshackles of “put on” art, to be wild and free once again which actually is her gain. But then again, theperformance was intended to vilify the dictated and shackled artist, who expresses on an extremelymeasured space…literal though, so my “boxed” audience will understand.This note is an example how Pain is “beatified” in an individual artist, in the creation of two-dimensionalartworks, in three-dimension visionary performance and the belief that there is something greater thanthe Pain experienced, or being experienced by recreating the Pain itself.PAIN in CONTEMPORARY FILIPINO ART: ANG KIUKOK and NUNELUCIO ALVARADOLeading contemporary artists on Pain today in Philippine Contemporary Art are Ang Kiukok andNunelucio Alvarado. Although Ang Kiukok died in 2005, he influenced his contemporaries on images thatportray the angst of pain felt after he arrived from New York in 1965 where he was culture-shocked atthe sight of stark alienation and dehumanisation in the American lifestyle. Since then, in differentmediums such as oil, watercolour, pen and ink, he began filling his canvases with distinct abstractexpressionist style of vivid, cubist figures and images of outrage and agony filled with anger, sorrow,ugliness and madness, which are grotesque and often morbid representation of life scenes, a factorunappreciated by many which slighted the commercial viability of his works until the 1980s when hefirmly established himself as a top-seller. Since then, he enjoyed eminent success in the country andaround Asia, with exhibits in Manila, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, as well as in the Netherlands, Canadaand the United States. He had become the best-selling Filipino artist in auctions locally andinternationally at Sotheby’s and Christies.
His lineage was Chinese, and Chinese in the Philippines (Tsinoys) were mostly idealists, and Ang Kiukok’spersonal philosophy was no exception. What could not be doubted was the violence in his imagery, afactor that slighted the commercial viability of his works until the 1980s. He favored such subjects asfighting cocks, rabid dogs, and people enraptured by rage or bound in chains. He painted multipledepictions of the crucified Christ that did not shirk from portraying the agonies normally associated withthe crucifixion. When asked why he was so angry, he replied, "Why not? Open your eyes. Look aroundyou. So much pain, anger, sorrow, ugliness. And also madness." The intensity of his works stood incontrast to his own personality, described as "placid and affable"Continuing Ang Kiukoks’ vision of angst and pain are the works of Nunelucio Alvarado, a Negrense livingamidst the workers of the sugar cane fields of Sagay, Negros Occidental. He depicted the plight of theunderpaid sugar cane hacienda workers called Sagadas. His paintings created a visual twinge of its own,images of bamboo stakes, scythes, knives, created the stark symbolism of social realism. An Alvaradowork shows the painful disparity of social class: the hacienderos and the sagadas, managed thru adepiction of stunted figures, bulbous eyes and veined hands and feet, sheer colors and iconography torepresent allegory, dreams and spirituality and even candid comedy. Alvarado’s paintings speak of Painas part of the Joy of Life, where harsh reality is a longing of a sweet toothed Sagada boy for a TootsieRoll, while parents work on the sugar cane fields for a measly sum of pesos…Alvarado has induced satireand irony of the poor and impoverished, the silent victims who endure inequality and oppression, andone way to find out their Pain was to live amongst them. I myself was invited to stay in his “residencia”(a hut out of bamboo and nipa, devoid of indoor plumbing, but with a roofdeck and lanai where I couldsleep). In Sagay beach, a drive away from Bacolod city, Nune, whom I fondly call him, paints Pain, not toalleviate suffering, but as a struggle to effect social change.PAIN in PHILIPPINE HISTORY and RITUALThe Pintado image in “The Wounded Pintada Princess” was also my homage to courage of endurance.Pintados were tattooed peoples in our archipelago long before we were rediscovered by the Spanishand were colonized. These people however were eradicated by religion and conversion to the Catholicfaith by the friars in the 1600s after Ferdinand Magellan landed on the shores of our country. FranciscoAlzina, a Jesuit friar and chronicler noted on the tattooing practices of the Pintados as a very painful andenduring process, (please note that he referred tattooing as “painting”):"The Bisayans are called Pintados because they are in fact so, not by nature although they are well-built,well-featured and white, but by painting their entire bodies from head to foot as soon as they are youngmen with strength and courage enough to endure the torture of painting. In the old days, they paintedthemselves when they had performed some brave deed. They paint themselves by first drawing bloodwith pricks from a very sharp point, following the design and lines previously marked by the craftsmen inthe art, and then over the fresh blood applying a black powder that can never again be erased. They donot paint the whole body at one time, but part by part, so that the painting takes many days tocomplete. In the former times they had to perform a new feat of bravery for each of the parts that wereto be painted. The paintings are very elegant, and well proportioned to the members and parts wherethey are located. I used to say there, captivated and astonished by the appearance of one of these, that
if they brought it to Europe a great deal of money could be made by displaying it. Children are notpainted. The women paint the whole of one hand and a part of the other."For want of a term in those times, since “tattoo” (tatu) is a Asian-Pacific term, the Spaniards describedthe Bisayans as “painted people”, hence the term “Pintados”. Yet they had misgivings of the practiceand blatantly blamed the female Bisayan for instigating the practice and considered it a “work of thedevil.”“I am inclined to think that these people imitated the custom from newcomers to the Islands; or that oneof their braggarts started the practice himself to give an appearance of greater ferocity; or that one oftheir ancient priestesses instigated it. These devil-women, to whom the devil appeared in a tattooedbody might have started the custom in imitation of him. (I am told these women practice their callingeven before Faith reached these Islands). Whether this custom was started by the people themselves orwhether their common enemy taught it to them for his own ends (none of which was good), it is a factthat all Bisayan men tattooed themselves with the exception of those they call Asog.This however exemplifies the apparent bias of the Spanish on our local practices regarding Pain. To theearly Pintados , the pain concept was regarded as a rite of passage in every Bisayan man. It was said thattheir nobility had tattoos all over and the more tattoos on a person, the higher the status you had. Itwas reported that Rajah Siani and Kolumbu, the nobility who met up with Magellan’s party upon landingon the islands had tattoos all over, hence they were those who have undergone the pain of bodycarving, which their tribal members follow suit. The chronicle of Alzina noted this as a form of bodilydecoration…but it was more than that! Alzina even suggested bringing natives abroad and displayingthem in fairs or selling them as slaves. The more decorated they are, the higher the price they would bein the market. The Spanish reduced the sanctity of the rite of passage through pain into crasscommercialism.WOMEN and PAINScattered throughout the visages of Philippine History, Women are objects of Pain. History becomes“Herstory” when juxtaposed against sagas and epics of women as high priestesses and healers(“babaylans”) who instigate practices, recreating and paying homage to childhood and rites of passage,birth pains, and even the pain of loss: Motherhood or Widowhood. Pain experienced in theintransigence of time found in literary characters of the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, like the demented“Sisa”- the battered woman who succumbed to dementia after losing her sons to the atrocities of thefriars in “Noli Me Tangere” (Touch me Not). To Dr Jose Rizal, Sisa was the woman-oppressed, thewoman stripped of her dignity of motherhood, the woman consumed by social cancer. Rizal’sarchetypes of Pain were carried by the women in his novels, Noli me Tangere, and the El Filibusterismo(first published in Ghent in 1891). It articulated that women felt intensely pain in domestic home, inphysical body, memory and herstory.
BLOOD and PAINEarlier treatises on the tattooing practices in the Philippines assumed that the universal concept of“drawing of blood” is the noblest act to established bravery, valor, courage and pact. The endurance ofpain while cutting the wrists to draw blood is associated with the rite called “Sandugo” (El Pacto deSangre) and established a validation of friendship or a sacred seal of kinship. The “One Blood” rite isimmortalized in the painting of Juan Luna (Blood Compact) portraying the ritual between Rajah Sikatuna(also known as Datu Sikatuna) and Miguel López de Legazpi who is accompanied by other conquistadors.Rajah Sikatuna was described to be “being crowded out of the picture by Miguel López de Legazpi andhis fellow conquistadores”. The drawing of blood was described to be the coming of Age of the Filipinoand the birth of the Philippines as a nation in the 19 th century.“Sandugo” is now a festival celebrated in the island of Bohol, Philippines in the Month of March tocommemorate this treaty and pact. Pain ensues into celebration. Filipinos commemorate Pain (of War,of loss, or of being conquered) in the joyful festivals that mark the holidays in the Philippine calendar.PAIN and BELIEF: “Yunal” – the Orasyon TattooA very interesting presentation of Pain in Filipino folk life is found in their “Anting-Antings”, (amulets).This particular amulet which carries the pain of its installation is called “Yunal” – it is a mark or tattoo onthe skin of the folk Catholic religious of the Islands who do not only believe in the strict dogmas ofCatholicism but inculcate into them their animistic past and the supernatural which were not totallyeradicated by religious conversion in the Philippines. Not only did the Filipinos embrace the religion ofthe Spanish but they also “Filipinized” its elements. These amulets come in the form of prayer tattoosembedded on the skin. It is said that the wearer of a special “orasyones” (prayers) becomes one withthe virtue elicited by the prayer. Sometimes these prayers carry with them symbolic motifs and areforms of religiousity, the cross, the all-seeing Eye of Omnipotence, and even the Mother of PerpetualHelp icon. The motifs and symbols may be artistic or recreated from local understanding of religiousicons and imagery. And again, the more orasyones in one’s body, the more invulnerable one is. Forthese prayers and symbols are marks of protection. There are many kinds: Prayers for vulnerability andinvincibility, prayers for business and prosperity, prayers to ward off the supernatural and prayers forhealing and well-being. “Yunal” has been my study in my postgraduate years but still gather nuances onit for the practice is slowly encroaching or replaced by decorative notions, thus losing the potency of itor what it is meant by it. The prayer shaman (parapamatbat) instructs the wearer that he must performa feat of pain in order to claim possession of the virtue or prowess to where it is attached, or takepossession of its merits. Usually the feat is either participating in Holy Week ceremonies depicting thePassion and Crucifixion of Christ or Self-Mortification. Fr. Leonardo Mercado SVD, an authority onFilipino Religious Psychology notes why the Filipino does not make a big deal on enduring Pain becauseit is imbued in his sense of belief: In all major aspects in folk life, the supernatural takes a part, the belief that otherworldly elements participate in our way of life is strongly observed. He explains that the belief of the supernatural world also has a role in Christian belief. For that effect he calls that Filipino worldview as “Monistic”.
He talks about it as a non-dualistic way of looking at the world, where the Filipino way of life does not dichotomize between mind and matter, body and soul, between one and many, thought and reality or the objective and the subjective, the sacred and the profane. IN CONCLUSIONSo what is Pain, really? I have started writing this paper and painting pain not because of the PAIN I haveundergone carrying my cysts and thru surgery, but because of the FEAR of losing my Creativity. But I waswrong. Pain induced Creativity. The myth of the Womb and Ovaries as our “Balls” I debunked. FeminineIntelligence does not lie in our Balls but on that abstract concept which triggered fecundity. Our History,Herstory, Rituals and Belief have records of pain as a faculty or catalyst to stir and create osmosis ofsocial change, physical metamorphosis (abstract pain to tangible artwork), or spiritual “awakening”.As a race who has undergone “chronic pain” through history, we enjoin Art and Pain as a sense ofIdentity in the strength of our human spirit.Journals: 1. Alzina, Francisco SJ, “Historias de las Islas de Indios de Bisaias, 1668”, (translated) Leyte-Samar Studies Journal, Divine Word University of Tacloban 2. Ibid. 3. Mercado, Leonardo N., SVD, Filipino Religious Psychology, DWU Publications