By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City — The soft-spoken scholar Florina Capistrano-Baker mentioned that the existence of the Philippine gold could only mean that the precolonial era in the Philippines enjoyed a high level of culture and polity before the Spaniards came and described the islanders as savages.
In Butuan, for instance, where most of the gold were dug, anthropological studies are currently being made to correlate the entire southeast Asian culture with Hinduism and the seat of various ethnic civilizations, said Baker, who is co-curating Philippine Gold: Treasurers of Forgotten Kingdoms at the Asia Society.
During a press conference early June at the Philippine Center, she noted that these anthropological studies may well substantiate the academic curriculum of Philippine history in order to appreciate the rich civilizations prior to the Spanish colonial era in the Philippines. “But that is a long way to go,” she said.
By far the longest and most important exhibition the Philippines could have, the Philippine Gold exhibit will be in New York on September 10, 2015, through January 3, 2016. It will showcase recently excavated objects that highlight the prosperity and achievements of the little-known Philippine kingdoms that flourished long before the Spanish discovered the region and colonized it.
With Baker as guest curator, Adriana Proser curates on behalf of Asia Society’s John H. Foster for Traditional Asian Art.
About 120 objects from the tenth through thirteenth century will be on display, each demonstrating sophisticated gold-working techniques abundant during this period.
The vast majority of works in the exhibition are on loan from the Ayala Museum and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Gold Collection and have never been shown outside of the Philippines. Many of the works, unearthed between the 1960s and 1981, affirm the unprecedented creativity, prosperity, and sophisticated metalworking tradition of the precolonial period. They also attest to flourishing cultural connections and maritime trade in Southeast Asia during what was an early Asian economic boom.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a season of programming that highlights the richness and diversity of Philippine culture and current affairs, and explores its cuisine, performing arts, film, design, and literature. Spectacular gold necklaces, chains, waistbands, bangles, ritual bowls, implements, and ceremonial weapons, the exhibition showcases the rich artistry and material wealth of Butuan, Surigao, and related island polities.
Loida Nicolas Lewis, community leader in New York and one of the prime movers of the event, encouraged the participation of all community organizations in the East coast to visit and help in the promotion in the 4-month exhibit. “This is our King Thut, we should all rally around and support this event. This may be the only chance that the Philippine gold exhibit is toured outside the Philippines,” Lewis said, giving the parallelism on the formidable King Thutmose III, one of the highly successful pharaohs of Egypt.
Philippine Consul-general Mario de Leon Jr. is on top of the preparations and actual conduct of the exhibit and has likewise encouraged Filipino groups here to include visiting the exhibit in their schedules, especially school children and visiting family and friends. (With a press release from the Philippine Consulate to New York)
General Admission: $12
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New York, NY 10021
The featured photo is The Agusan Image, a thirteenth-century statue of an inner offering goddess known as Vajralasya from a three-dimensional Vajradhatu discovered in the Philippines in 1917. (From The Field Museum, Photographer John Weinsten)