“Identity is the history that has gone into bone and blood and reshaped the flesh. Identity is not what we were but what we have become what we are at this moment.”
Nick Joaquín, Culture and History
At the 4th floor of the EREHWON Center for the Arts, there is a special permanent exhibition dedicated to the National Artist for Literature, Nick Joaquín. Entitled “The Art of Storytelling: In Words and Images”, the exhibition chronicles Joaquin’s career, and also presents memorabilia and some of his best known works.
Nicomedes “Nick” Márquez Joaquín (1917-2004) is a historian and journalist, who is best known for his short stories and novels in the English. Often using the journalist pen name of Quijano de Manila, Joaquín had his first piece published at the Tribune, while he was 17 years old. It was at that same publication where Joaquín would eventually work as a proofreader. Joaquín later won a nationwide essay competition to honor La Naval de Manila, sponsored by the Dominican Order; and the University of Santo Tomas (UST) awarded him an honorary Associate in Arts (A.A.) and a scholarship to St. Albert’s Convent, the Dominican monastery in Hong Kong. After is studies abroad, Joaquín joined the Philippines Free Press, starting as a proofreader, but was soon publishing poems, stories and plays. Joaquín admired José Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, paying him tribute in such books as The Storyteller’s New Medium – Rizal in Saga, The Complete Poems and Plays of Jose Rizal, and A Question of Heroes: Essays in Criticism on Ten Key Figures of Philippine History. He translated the hero’s valedictory poem, in the original Spanish Mi Ultimo Adios, as “Land That I Love, Farewell!” Joaquín represented the Philippines at the International PEN Congress in Tokyo in 1957, and was appointed as a member of the Motion Pictures commission under presidents Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand E. Marcos. After being honored as National Artist in 1976, Joaquin used his position to work for intellectual freedom in society. Before his death, Joaquín was then editor of Philippine Graphic magazine, the publisher of its sister publication, Mirror Weekly, and wrote the column “Small Beer” for the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Isyu, an opinion tabloid.
Among the many books written by Joaquín in this collection, there his most famous play “”A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino”, which he wrote in 1950 and was published as a book in 1966. Translated into Tagalog, the play was entitled “Larawan” (painting), which was later made into a film in 1965, and directed by the National Artist for Film, Lamberto Avellana.
Another interesting set of books in display are Nick Joaquín’s “Pop Stories for Groovy Kids”, which is a collection of ten children’s stories and illustrated by many of the top artists of that time. Here, Joaquín takes on many familiar tales, and rewrites them in his own witty style. For example: in “How Love Came to Juan Tamad”, he uses the folk character of Juan Tamad (Lazy John) and fuses him into his version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream”, with the mountain gods Halcon and Maria Makiling taking places of Oberon and Titania. And in “The Hamling Mystery”, Joaquín puts his own spin on the “Pied Piper of Hamlin”, using it as a commentary on Philippine society.
Many museums have long been vying with the estate of Nick Joaquín to place an exhibition in his honor. EREHWON was able to entice Joaquín’s family, with a life-size sculpture of Nick raising his beloved bottle of San Miguel Pale Pilsen Beer, created by Al Giroy. And as any person who knew Joaquín, knew that he would not end the day without having a swig of beer.
Jose “Al” Rabino Giroy (born 1962) is a noted sculptor, who started his career by participating in art competitions as a teen, in the 1970s. Eventually entering the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts, Giroy would first delve into painting, before finally deciding to take sculpture and train under noted artists such as Froilan T. Madriñan Jr. (1941-2008) and National Artist for Sculpture, Napoleón Isabelo “Billy” Veloso Abueva (born 1930). After graduating, Grioy had participated group exhibitions, but soon focused on commissions for public art. A master of the classical sculptural created many noted monuments for government and private institutions, including churches; which are found all over the country.
Aside from Joaquín’s books, there are many other memorabilia featured in the exhibition, including newspaper and magazine features on Nick, as well as old photographs.
Among the memorabilia is a somber portrait of Joaquín, in red pastel, as he is about to take his first swig of beer. Created by Jun Martinez, it was the artist’s gift to the man who brought life to any gathering, with his sharp wit and entertaining stories.
Perfecto “Jun” Adolfo Martinez Jr. (born 1959) is a romantic painter. Martinez is a self taught artist, who honed his skills by drawing constantly in his native. Negros Occidental. Coming to Manila, he soon found work at Vibal and Abiva publishing houses, illustrating for textbooks. From illustration, Martinez soon branched out to painting, and held his first solo exhibition in 1983. From then on, he was winning local art competitions, and even joined the Visual Artist Cooperative of the Phil ( VACOOP) headed by Jose Joya; and later became a founding member of the Tuesday Group of painters. Influenced by the works of Amorsolo, Martinez would regularly paint scene from the rural communities, which he would connect to his home town of Aranda. Gallery Genesis hailed Martinez as “one of the country’s top watercolors” for bagging the top prize four times in its Kulay sa Tubig Invitational Watercolor Exhibit and Competition.
Another artwork in the collection is a caricature of Nick Joaquín, by Dario Noche, who had worked with Nick at the Philippine Free Press and the Manila Standard. Noche was also the art director of EREHWON Publications, until his death in 2015.
Dario B. Noche (1949-2015) is a noted illustrator, editorial cartoonist, and art director of many noted publications in the Philippines. Noche first took his creative studies in architecture at the Mapua Technological Institute, before transferring to the FEATI School of Fine Arts. While a student, Noche started working for the Philippine Free Press, and soon his work could be seen on the pages of Jingle Magazine, and later the Manila Standard, where he was part of its founding in 1987 all the way towards his retirement in 2009. Noche also worked for foreign publications, such as Asiaweek, the Singapore Strait Times, and even the US Embassy Publications Department. At a latter point in his career, Noche started painting seriously and exhibiting his works. He later joined the Art Ventures @Conspi and the Erhwon Art Collective, to continue his explorations in art.
Going through the EREHWON tribute to Nick Joaquín is like taking a historical journey of the Philippines, through Joaquín’s stories. Some make you laugh, others give you a tinge of melancholy, yet all open your mind to his Manila, his Philippines.
“Environment is what you make it and destiny is how you react to your environment: whether you try to overcome it or just resign yourself to it.”
Nick Joaquín, Culture and History