Souls immortalized in portraits
By Anna Valmero INQUIRER.net HOW can one achieve immortality? Traditionally, people preserve their beauty and peak of status through portraits, as we in our time today, preserve important moments through photographs. Over time, these portraits or photographs preserve in time the sitter's life and is passed on to future relatives. In popular culture, stories with fantasy or horror themes play up the idea that having portraits or taking photographs can capture the soul and even possess someone's spirit. This is true of Japanese manga or anime and is also found in the classic novel Dorian Gray. Curator of Yuchengco Museum Jeannie Javelosa said regardless of time and culture, portraits capture the soul of a period or society. In China, murals of paintings with portraits root back to the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 A.D.) In Chinese culture, portraits are part of declarations of status or used for religious rituals of commemoration, said Javelosa. The Chinese have a unique ritual of worshiping ancestors, in which portraits of the dead were hung on tombs or home altars. According to Javelosa, Chinese culture had the “xie zhen” (true to life portrayal) image. She said attention to details of the person's face is important in Chinese portraits because living relatives pray to their ancestors for guidance or good luck. If the portrait does not look like the ancestor, it is believed the prayer will not reach the right ancestor and will not be granted, said Javelosa. At the same time, rituals are also done to have the deceased ancestors be guided in the afterlife, she added. In Chinese portraits, the sitter's character and social status are revealed through clothing and jewelry, pose and inscriptions, said Javelosa. She added the pose or jewelry reveals the sitter's status in society while facial expressions like a stern smile or goatee discloses something about the sitter's personality. As I walked through the different parts of the exhibit, I noticed that in all paintings, the sitters have a detached facial expression since they seem to look at you. She says this is prescribed to depict the deceased ancestor's otherworldly status. The tradition was carried over by early Chinese who settled in our country. When they married locals, Filipino-Chinese or "Tsinoys" continue to preserve the tradition. It is the stories, culture and expressions of the rich tradition that is shared by the art exhibit "Mukhang Tsinoy," said Javelosa. “It was like a treasure hunt of seven months for us to collect the paintings for the exhibit,” Javelosa said. Most of the paintings in the exhibit are shown for the first time, she said. The exhibit is divided into two parts: one is part of the seven-museum Fernando Amorsolo Retrospective showcase and the other one called “Mukhang Tsinoy, Artistang Pinoy” made by contemporary artists like Ang Kiukok. One part of the Amorsolo Mukhang Tssinoy exhibit was dedicated to a portrait of a nurse done by Amorsolo during the war. Sadly, the restoration of the portrait was not handled with care. The alley was done to remind people how proper preservation is required so as not to lose treasures like Amorsolo's paintings, said Carla Martinez, information associate, Yuchengco Museum. Other paintings at the exhibit include Imelda Ongsiako-Cojuangco, Mr and Mrs. Manuel Lopa Sr., Mrs. Henry Uy Cho Yee, Don Mariano and Dona Maria Limjap as well as Corazon Aquino. From the exhibit, one can learn how Tsinoys have transplanted themselves and flourished in the country by adapting to changes, while still preserving their traditions, as such creating a richer culture borne out of great respect for and strong bond with their roots. Hopefully, as one exits the exhibit hall one can learn how to value and preserve our rich culture and tradition.
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