Art in the Midst of War

Sharing an old blog entry because it is timely especially with what’s happening in Mindanao. It seems both strange and familiar when repeatedly, our roles as creatives face questions of how and when we could help. My opinions have changed a bit through the years after writing this. But some still remain the same. I stand steadfast.



“Today, we re-awaken to a Mindanao once again embroiled in war, but we also re-awaken to a Mindanao peopled with unwavering determination for breaking new ground… especially in the sublime arena of culture and the arts.

We need to re-awaken to the arts because it is through the arts that we share stories and experiences that represent the fabric and fiber of our society, pass on societal values, explore new and engaging territories (and thereby expand our intellectual horizons, enrich our imagination, and strengthen our emotional moorings), and ultimately claim our significant space in the heritage of the future.”– Mozart Pastrano

While some parts of Mindanao are at war and communities (civilians) again find themselves negotiating the familiar permanence of displacement, again, I find myself asking the question about the role of art, and of artists during these troubled times. I am aware of the grave if not impossible imposition required from artists to be “socially engaged.” In fact, such question of the role of art in society is a never-ending debate. But personally, I have realized that the artist can never dissociate himself/herself from his/her mileu.

If Socrates is to be heard in saying that “poets are the unacknowledged seers of the world” then he might not object if artists are urged to be in the forefront of discourse during difficult times such as war.

It is no longer enough, I should say, to hide behind the privileges of “art.” One can no longer say, “I’m a writer I just write. I don’t care..” In this postmodern era, the artist can no longer hide inside his studio, or rely on the cloak of literati as though poetry can really change the world.

The text has undergone a revolution, and will never be the text of Rimbaud or some decadent French Romantic.

In times like this, a lot of things should be expected of artists. History has spoken that art has always played a major role in its motion, in the changes of civilization, in pushing the boundaries of normative discourse, and most especially, in asking questions and treading the path where no warrior, soldier, political leader, religion has ever gone. That kind of tradition should remind us of the challenge.

I do not propose that artists should go to the streets and set up peace rallies. I do not think that is the only way to open the path for vigorous public interaction. I don’t even expect artists to wear red and be revolutionaries, literally. Because art is in itself inherently revolutionary, and on that foundation, that is where we artists should stand. If artists feel that during times of crisis, it is important to remind people of things worth celebrating, then be it so.

As long as there is a response, whether small or big. A response is what we owe to the world of which we often take inspiration from.

(AUGUST 25, 2008)

The Need for Restorative Narratives from Marawi

Almost everyone I know who are doing documentary work are now so obsessed with going to Marawi. The action is lauded and sincere. But the danger of this is that one gets sucked in the thrill of war reportage, the spectacle of tragedy, especially among those who haven’t been steeped in the storytelling of misery and violence. And more importantly have no clear grasp of the history of armed conflict in Mindanao.

Almost every journalist I know from the older generation in Mindanao have already spoken about how tragic that they have built their careers on stories of war. They wish that somehow in their lifetime, they can tell stories of peace.

I wish though as I have mentioned here that focus will also be given on stories of resilience and hope and the narratives of the internally displaced in Iligan and other parts would be told.

If I had the money, I would definitely bring my camera and shoot these stories. These are important stories as well. Beyond the figures. What I call sustained inquiries that highlight restorative narratives. This is why I made Stories Beyond (