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February 20, 2008

What is Kapampangan Art?

Art is an abstract concept. However, accepted dominant ideology of what art is has found its way in the minds of people. Today, art manifests in well-known disciplines such as dance, music, literature, architecture, cinema, dramatic arts, and the visual arts. But defining what art is answers only 50% of the question raised: what is Kapampangan art?

The other 50% is left to the inquiry: What is Kapampangan? What makes something Kapampangan? For me, the artwork of whoever identifies himself a Kapampangan during the time he was conceiving his work falls under Kapampangan art.

Defining what Kapampangan culture is is a tricky act. To base it on pre-colonial culture is an unwise move, as even our pre-colonial culture could have been a mixture of what our ancestors thought of then as indigenous culture; foreign culture that found way to the lives of our ancestors through trade, intermarriages, and migration; and ideas born out of sheer creativity. If pre-colonial culture is to be made the basis in defining what Kapampangan culture is, then Kapampangan cinema is an idea to be assassinated, as film is a technology and art originated by the Europeans. Literature written in the Roman alphabet should be brought down, as our ancestors used to write using Kulitan. Local music that employs the guitar should not be supported then because the guitar is not “indigenous.”

To base it on contemporary stereotypes—such as obsession for extravagance, holding a high level of pride, etc.—is likewise a preposterous move, as it assumes the Kapampangan identity as something static and uniform instead of as something alive, evolving, and diverse in its own right. If those are to be made the basis of what Kapampangan culture should constitute, are we then to say that people who deviate from those dominant characteristics have nothing Kapampangan in their artworks? Certainly there are Kapampangans who are not obsessed with extravagance (the same way as not all Ilocanos are downright thrifty and not all Chinese are good businessmen). Have they then no right to express their unconventional characteristic artistically as Kapampangans? Have Kapampangans always held the characteristics we perceive today as uniquely ours? Will Kapampangans hold those features forever? Or are those characteristics merely a branch of the total Kapampangan culture?

Another issue if dominant contemporary culture is to be made the basis of what Kapampangan is is the apparent bias toward the “positive culture.” Take for example the culture (or subculture) of colonial mentality. Has it not been injected in our culture that a lot of Kapampangans tend to regard, for example, Tagalog and English superior compared to the Kapampangan language? If yes, then to ask “Nanu ing Kapampangan king gawa mu” to a Kapampangan artist who churned out a work with “no trace of Kapampangan,” say, a song written in English interpreted using Castilian music, is contradictory, because clearly, his work expresses the Kapampangan attitude of colonial mentality.

Kapampangans are good cooks, they would say. I honestly cannot make something as simple as fried chicken. Does it make me less of a Kapampangan (or a Kapampangan with an “imperialized mind”) if I know how to edit videos (a technology that originated from foreigners) but am ignorant when it comes to the art of cooking, which is attributed to be a characteristic of Kapampangans?

To solve this dilemma, it is a beneficial move to hold a sociological understanding of what culture is and how it behaves.

The first thing to know is the definition of culture. Culture is a set of meanings and symbols shared by a community. It can either manifest materially (tools, shelter, clothes, food, etc.) or immaterially (values, ethics, norms, laws, religious belief, language).

The next thing to understand is that culture is alive. It is not static. It changes based on the present needs (and wants) of the community members and continually blends with external influence, especially now that ideas can be shared in seconds through communication technology, unlike in the ancient times when direct human contact and communication were needed for information exchange, which resulted in slow and unnoticeable cultural change.

Lastly, no culture is pure. Different cultures influence one another, and it is through these “cultural marriages” that ideas are either born in new forms, mixed forms, or merely reproduced as they are (especially if the powerful culture is wed with a weak, minor culture, the latter’s “cultural genes” may not surface at all in their “child”), similar with how humans perpetuate their species through sexual reproduction.

Americans and Europeans today use 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 in counting. Do they still think of those numbers as Hindu-Arabic? No. Instead, since the Hindu-Arabic numbers have proven to be most convenient in the daily lives of Westerners, they adopted the “foreign” counting system and from there developed things on their own, such as the binary system in computers (use of 1 and 0), etc. It is the same with local literature—our ancestors adopted the alphabets and from there churned out works we can now claim to be ours. Will we still think of them as impurely Kapampangan because they used an alien orthography?

The trick in creating a strong, advanced culture is to adopt every piece of knowledge from every source possible and tag the collection as our own—Kapampangan culture. Like in the arena of enterprise, it doesn’t matter which business establishment introduces an idea. It is who makes the most out of an idea who shall be known by the people.

ABS-CBN originated the idea of having batches of actors they called Star Circle. They recruited talents secretly in workshops held in key Philippine cities. GMA-7 one day adopted the idea of gathering batches of actors, but mixed it with its knowledge in producing reality shows like American Idol; hence, the birth of a reality actor search on primetime TV they called Star Struck. Do people still see Star Struck as a TV show “alien to GMA-7”? No, in the same manner that we no longer think of Spanish as a corrupted version of Latin with an Arabic touch. Spanish is Spanish.

Then, ABS-CBN adopted the idea of recruiting talents through a reality show on primetime TV, but tried to set itself higher by opening the contest to kids as well; hence, the show Star Circle Quest with two categories: those for the teens and those for the kids. This is a capitalist illustration of how things progress through competition and continual exchange of ideas.

Going back to the formation of a definition of Kapampangan, thus, foreign ideas should not be hated and neglected. Instead of thinking of them as means of foreign imperialism, they should be regarded as free knowledge which we can tap to advance our culture. If rock music is an American genre that has made its way to the minds of the Kapampangan people, then so be it. Let’s absorb rock music and call it our own. Whether our musicians decide to blend rock music with perceived native styles is subject to their creative discretion. Even the Japanese make rock songs and they have absorbed it well; hence the birth of the globally acknowledged J-Rock. Even if rock came from America, we, Kapampangans can still continue rocking and rolling in the event that America, say, gets hit by a meteor and all our favorite American rock bands get wiped out. It is safe to conclude then that we have mastered the rock genre (or have acquired ample knowledge to make rock songs independent of Americans) and can call it our own already. Immaterial culture is not patented anyway.

I dare artists who would protest to this strategy of cultural enrichment to show me how a so-called purely indigenous Kapampangan dresses or how a so-called purely indigenous song sounds like. I dare a Kapampangan painter approach me and tell me his paintbrush is indigenous, his canvass is indigenous, his aisle is indigenous, etc.

It is to be made clear that I am not saying we should forget the wisdom and practices of our ancestors. In fact, they should be preserved and developed as well. What I am against is sticking to them religiously and thinking of foreign influence as something viral, to the point of shackling Kapampangan art and culture with the ancient past and branding anything with foreign influence as something non-Kapampangan. We should collect knowledge—both from “native” culture and foreign culture—in order to advance our culture.

In sociological terms, this is how the so-called “culture base” is enriched. Culture base is the amount of knowledge a community possesses. Culture base is somewhat synonymous to cultural capital, which is a concept Kapampangan advocates should start grasping. Like in business, where handsomer financial and intellectual capital possessed by an entrepreneur gives his business better opportunities of existing throughout time, improving facilities, increasing personnel, branching out, and making profit, cultural capital should be made bountiful in the Kapampangan community as well. Capital is power, and for the Kapampangans to reject the idea of increasing our capital, including the cultural ones, is a primitive move in a globalizing and highly capitalist world.

Thus, it is also my stand that we should acknowledge the trilingual skill of Kapampangans when it comes to writing, singing, and speaking. Kapampangan literature in Kapampangan, in Tagalog, and in English should be equally admitted in Kapampangan literature, the same way as Kapampangan music using perceived native styles, using European styles, and using other foreign styles should be collectively put under the umbrella of Kapampangan music.

If one Kapampangan artist’s preference in literature is writing in Kapampangan, then he should feel free to compete with Kapampangan literature in other languages. If he’s very good and influential, I see no reason why it would be impossible for him to persuade other writers to write in Kapampangan. Again, that is one way of how we raise the quality of our works—never-ending internal competition, which I hope is always healthy. It is, scientifically speaking, still survival of the fittest.

Therefore, every artwork which a Kapampangan does should be admitted in Kapampangan art because it collectively artistically expresses the diverse life and characteristics of the Kapampangan people from anywhere in the globe.


Anonymous said...

I am not against you in most of your points, but what if we just adapted and adapted to the point of renaming Kapampangan, or being a Kapampangan that is not Kapampangan? Is my point even possible? After all our language is slowly turning and is almost sounding like that of tagalog.

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