Friday, February 22, 2013

Botong Francisco: A Nation Imagined (Peque Gallaga, 2012)

Imagination becomes imagined nation

From the fertile mind of the National Artist for Visual Arts, Carlos 'Botong' Francisco, bursts forth iconic images of a nation struggling to be free and progressive.

A stupendous three-panel mural highlighted in the short film shows these images in a grand manner befitting the stature of Botong. We see the rajahs of Tondo in all their splendor and majesty. We see Francisco Balagtas tormented seemingly by his fictional characters. 

Then, there is arguably the definitive depiction of Andres Bonifacio, with a bolo in his right hand and a gun in his left hand, leading the impassioned charge against the Spanish forces. And interspersed, along with the famous heroes, are countless Filipinos pushing forth with the fight for freedom. 

The mural, titled Filipino Struggles Throughout History, is a national cultural treasure that can be found in the Bulwagang Katipunan of Manila City Hall. The short film is a convenient and fantastic way of appreciating the highly-detailed mural. You don't have to strain your neck ogling at the piece.

Peque Gallaga, in a brilliant creative decision, brought these brave Filipinos to life in the short film. Foregrounding them in the festive, historical plaza across Quiapo Church, Gallaga alludes to Francisco’s two major visual themes; larger than life historical paintings and personal portraits of his hometown of Angono in Rizal. The Filipinos later thanked the Maestro for teaching them to see and remember their past.

Bestowed the nickname 'Botong,' from a dark-skinned character, the young child never outgrew his fondness for doodling and sketching. He preserved into paintings the dying traditions, fiesta events, and rituals of his townmates. A dancing couple gets morphed into a colorful fiesta scene. A boy wakes up from his siesta and walks out of the painting. The latter painting is notable for being half of a double-sided painting. It was an early work and there must have been a dearth of material to paint on for the young lad. 

Years later, Botong will no longer have to deal with scarce material. He will get to work on gigantic panels and murals. My school memory and recollection of Botong's images was that they were all life-size or larger-than-life paintings. But, when I saw several actual works such as The First Mass at Limasawa and the Introduction of the First Christian Image, they were not gigantic at all. 

I wasn't disappointed, though. The theme and composition of the paintings make them seemingly large. Most of Botong's images seem to sprung out from a CinemaScope film production. The martyrdom of Jose Rizal, the role of the babaylan in health care, Bayanihan, and the Blood Compact, among other images, will always be widescreen big in my mind.

Botong also got involved in the field of filmmaking. He was production designer for the classic film Genghis Khan, directed by Manuel Conde. The short film didn't tackle this fact although Ayala Museum's exhibition has a couple of watercolor works showing Genghis Khan-like characters. There is also a poster sketch for a period film titled Apat na Alas.

Catch the short film and exhibits celebrating the birth centennial of Botong Francisco at the Ayala Museum. They run until March 31, 2013.

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