Does Art Have a National Identity?

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On March - 3 - 2011

I stumbled upon an… interesting article on the National Commission for Culture and the Arts website. It’s a short piece by poet/critic Leo Benesa on what makes Philippine Art “Filipino?” and it got me thinking. While, to his credit, Benesa doesn’t claim to have the answer to his initial question… I can’t help but wonder if it’s a proper question.

I don’t think that one can ascribe a nationality to a contemporary expression of an artistic style. While the style may have historical origins in a specific country, in my opinion the style itself is a tool. For example, “manga style” artwork has its origins in Japan, but I wouldn’t say that a Philippine artist employing that style is creating a work of Japanese art (or art of any particular nationality, which is my point). A style of art may have characteristics that make it more popular to, or representative of, a particular culture, but a work done in that style no more inherently “belongs” to said culture than “Life is Beautiful” is “American” because cinema was born in America.

I suppose this is why, when I refer to Philippine speculative fiction in general, the nationality I am referring to is that of the author, and not of the “style” of the work. There are generalizations that can be made because of the nationality of the author (in my interview with Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, I mentioned a few), so one may be able to arrive at shared characteristics through induction, but the presence of those characteristics in a work isn’t enough to ascribe a nationality to a work or style.

Of course, I could be wrong. I put a draft of this book up on my Facebook page and thought I’d run it by a few of my writer/reader friends, and received a wide variety of opinions. A small sampling of the issues touched upon in the comments: the definition of Asian American Literature, the difference made by the language used (and the use of Filipino as a national language when it’s basically modified Tagalog, the language of just one region), the effects of technology and globalization, nationalist literature, and the utility of ascribing nationality to art/style. I’m not posting the comments here verbatim because the note was a place for private back-and-forth, but anyone who wants to comment on this topic is welcome to do so here (even those who didn’t have access to the original note).

What I will do here is include a list of links to articles (roughly in chronological order, excluding the Benesa article already linked to above) which were referenced during the discussion, for those who want to explore the issue further (note that a few of these are specifically about Philippine SPECULATIVE Fiction, as opposed to Philippine Art in general):

  • (EDIT – a late addition, courtesy of Joanah Tinio Calingo): Filipino Comics and Everything in Between – Komik creator Taga-Ilog talks about the debate concerning the definition of Filipino Comics [2006]

Filipino comics are comics created primarily for Filipino consumption. Yes, I know this is a very utilitarian description of what Filipino comics are. I chose to describe it as such because I believe that comics are first and foremost, a product meant for entertainment. It is an art form, of course, and it’s a powerful medium to convey nationalistic ideals and socio-political concerns, but in the end, it is still a product meant for mass consumption.

“With subject matter being too constricting, one tries to find the Filipino identity through style: there is the baroque mentality, the love of color and the affinity for graceful and decorative lines. While these are principally agreed upon as qualities that have continually surfaced on paintings done by Filipino artists, one has to ask how applicable are they when dealing with different media? Nowadays, contemporary art deals with performance, installation, video and sound and certainly, there haven’t been enough of these works to see a common quality or to form a judgment on a Filipino identity.”

Prof. Flores said that perhaps it’s the story itself that should have that distinctive Filipino flavor. But what comes to my mind is does the author’s citizenship matter? In other words, if an American, Englishman, or Australian of Filipino heritage, or any heritage for that matter, wrote a very Filipino-flavored story after lengthy research, can it maybe make the story a part of Philippine speculative fiction? And if so, where does that place the beautiful melancholy of Kij Johnson’s excellently written “Fox Magic”? Is it American speculative fiction, the author having been born in that country? Or is it Japanese? Would the Japanese take and accept it as being the equivalent of one of their own stories written by one of their own citizens? Or not?

  • Tagalog : A Fun Language to Learn - Benny Lewis (a polyglot who, in the process of chronicling his mission to become fluent in Tagalog, dissects characteristics of the language that many of us may have been unaware of/taken for granted) [February 2011]

The good news is that Tagalog has no grammatical gender, no person or plural based conjugation, no grammatical cases like the dative and lacks many other features that could make it harder to learn. But it does indeed have complex parts to it that make it more interesting to learn (read: interesting since there has to be differences, not “hard” unless you like being a crybaby). The first of these are infixes (or prefixes when the word begins with a vowel). These are used to take a root verb and give it a time (past, present, future). So aral is the root, mag-aral means “to study” (or imperative study!), nag-aral is past tense studied, nag-aaral (repeated first syllable of root) is present tense study and mag-aaral is future tense.


Interview with Alex Paman at Philippine Genre Stories

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On January - 17 - 2011

Over at the PGS blog, Kenneth Yu has an interview up with Alex Paman, a past PGS contributor and the author of the book “Asian Supernatural”. Here’s an excerpt:

2. Why do you think you are drawn to or are interested in the supernatural?

I grew up listening to family ghost stories when I was a kid, and our houses in Quezon City and in Naic, Cavite were said to be haunted. I was also a fan of science fiction, fantasy and horror, and already wanted to become a comic book artist early on. It was a natural inclination to want to draw these iconic creatures and collect them for reference.

I enjoy researching the supernatural, because it touches upon an emotion and a state of mind that doesn’t follow logic or common sense. These beings defy what we define as real, and are usually seen when one is alone or mentally distressed. What if there really are worlds and beings that we can’t define or understand? I think Asians and Pacific Islanders are culturally conditioned and wired to believe that they’re real, and the fact that our ancestors thought they existed gives us a remote window to our own past and what we feared in daily life.

Paman gives some very detailed answers, particularly with regard to the lengthy process the book went through before it was picked up for publication. Check out the rest of the interview here.

Talecraft App (with Rocket Kapre access)

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On October - 18 - 2010

The good folks over at Nokia recently sent me my first smart phone (I have an iPod Touch, not its fancier sibling) in the form of a Nokia N8. Serendipitously, Ria Lu of Talecraft just finished creating an app for the Nokia Ovi store. The Talecraft App is a free application for Nokia phones which aims to be a resource for writers, serving as an RSS Feed/hub for Talecraft content, as well as Kenneth Yu’s Philippine Genre Stories blog, as well as Rocket Kapre. If you have access to the Ovi store, give it a go! Many thanks to Ria for adding Rocket Kapre access to the app.

I’m something of a late adopter when it comes to telecommunication tech (as opposed to, say, video game consoles), and I’m interested to see if having mobile access will change my relation to the social networks. What I’m really looking forward to, however, are attempts by Filipinos to use apps as a means to distribute stories, and maybe additional content. Transmedia development anyone?

RP612Fic 2010: The Stories

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On June - 16 - 2010

If there’s one theme that I’d say unites many of the stories in this year’s RP612fic, it’s this: a need for catharsis. We’re coming off a decade under an unpopular President, and while many are hopeful for the coming administration, there still remains a lot of unsettled issues, a lot of unpsent anger. Luckily, catharsis is one of the functions that fiction can undertake in the life of both writers and readers, and I hope that participating in this year’s Independence Day micro story tweet fest helped a few of us get ready for the new challenges that face us, while helping us remember what has come before.

I’d like to thank everyone who participated, especially Dominique Cimafranca who was impressively prolific during the RP612fic period. We generated over one hundred and fifteen stories over the Independence Day weekend–here are a few of my favorite stories:

RP612fic 2010 faves

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point to Adam David’s essay on freedom, over at the Philippine Online Chronicles.

The rest of the stories run the gamut from science fiction, to horror, to fantasy (from the fantasy that means “magic” to the fantasy that means “how I wish this were true). Some are meant to be read alone, others in sequence (although there was a limit to how I could arrange them in anything but the reverse chronological order of a Twitter search.) Some aren’t stories in so much as hopes, dreams, or ideas and that’s fine too.The usual disclaimer applies: these stories are meant as fiction, and are not to be taken as allegations of actual facts, nor as statements of actual intent.

And now, beneath the cut, are the rest of the stories. (2009′s stories are here.) Enjoy, and see you all next year!

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Launch: Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On May - 7 - 2010

BPSF2009

The website is still a work in progress, but Charles Tan, of the Bibliophile Stalker blog and a few hundred (minor exaggeration) others,  has announced that the ebook version of his new reprint anthology, “The Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009″ is now available for free download. You can choose from either the PDF edition or the EPUB edition. (If you have the Stanza desktop ebook reader you can export the EPUB file to different file formats–say, if you want a .mobi file for your Kindle/Kindle reader, although such conversions usually junk the formatting). The anthology has cover art Elbert Or, a cover design by Adam David, (who also did the PDF layout and design) qith the Web and EPUB layout handled by Dominique Gerald Cimafranca.

Sixteen stories from fifteen authors, selected by one of the most well-read and difficult-to-please critics in the country–all for free? What are you waiting for?

Charles is the co-editor (alongside Mia Tijam) of the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler, which was released in 2008.  I hope that this is the start of an annual compilation (and I hope that this isn’t the only yer a story of mine qualifies ^_^)

Here’s the full table of contents. Congratulations to Charles and all those involved:

  • Summation 2009 by Charles Tan
  • The Fires of the Sun in a Crystalline Sky by Francezca C. Kwe
  • The Day the World Lost Its Gravity by Camsy Ocumen
  • Strange Weather by Dean Francis Alfar
  • The Sewing Project by Apol Lejano-Massebieau
  • Lex Talionis by Paolo Chikiamco
  • Isa by Marianne Villanueva
  • Spelling Normal by Mia Tijam
  • Daddy by Yvette Tan
  • From Abecediarya by Adam David
  • The Annotated Account of Tholomew Mestich by Elyss G. Punsalan
  • Beats by Kenneth Yu
  • Wildwater by Crystal Koo
  • Moondown and Fugue by Alexander Drilon
  • The Maiden’s Song by Kate Aton-Osias
  • Capture by Gabriela Lee
  • The Secret Origin of Spin-man by Andrew Drilon

Philippine Speculative Fiction 5 Launch: Videos (Batch 1)

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On April - 26 - 2010

The launch of Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 5 took place last Saturday, April 24, 2010, at Fully Booked Bonifacio Hight Street, and this is my first batch of videos from the event, for the benefit of those unlucky enough to be elsewhere while we were laughing it up (usually at the expense of Kenneth Yu, or Andrew Drilon, or any author who was absent from the launch :P ). Please excuse the rather shaky footage, low volume, and occasional passer-by – we were way at the back of the U-View Theater.


These are the introductory remarks of Dean Alfar, speaking on behalf of his publishing house, Kestrel DDM, which has put out the annual Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology for the past five years.

Dean marvels at the fact that this is the fifth volume of the anthology, and talks about the thrill of finding new, young, spec fic writers in the course of putting together each anthology. At the end, he introduces the two co-editors, Vincen Michael Simbulan and Nikki Alfar. (All in the process of gamely resisting the urge to give a political speech ~_^)

The PSF launches are always good fun – the audio isn’t too clear alas, but Kenneth Yu’s expert pronunciation of Eyjafjallajökull alone was enough to provide laughs for the rest of the afternoon. Dean is a marvelous (glorious?) host, and he uses the understandable absence of the foreign contributors as a constant source of good-natured humor that helped make everyone feel at home (I speak from experience, having attended the previous launch as a mere spectator).

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Reminder: PSF Volume 5 Launches Tomorrow

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On April - 23 - 2010

specfic5-cover

This Saturday (that’s tomorrow!), April 24, 2010, at 3 p.m. Philippine Speculative Fiction V (edited by Nikki Alfar and Vin Simbulan) launches at the U-View Theater of Fully Booked, Bonifacio High Street (it’s in the basement). Check out the cover above (from Dean Alfar’s site), which manages to look great even without going with my suggested Voltes V theme. If last year’s volume IV launch is any indication, expect a lot of fun, and a lot of jokes made at Kenneth Yu’s expense. Most of the author-contributors should be there as well (myself included), so do drop by if you want to say hi, or want your copy signed. You can see a list of all the contributors over at Dean’s site.

See you all there!

3rd PGFA: What Neil Said

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On March - 18 - 2010

WhatNeilSaid_slider

No, I don’t mean at the press conference–you can head over to Azrael’s for some coverage–but during the event itself, where he commented about each of the winning entries (in the main contest, not the people’s choice). Again, I wasn’t there for the film category, but here’s what he said about the winners for prose and comics (because you can never have enough reminders that Neil Gaiman called your story “glorious” ^_^):

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Prose

(Bibliophile Stalker has sound files of Neil’s commentary on the prose winners here.)

Cherry Clubbing by Kenneth Yu: “… the voice is really really good, and its really, seriously nasty. It’s the only story that I’ve ever read in which half way through sort of the first page I thought ‘Oh I got it. He’s a pedophile!’ And then I realize no, no, no… it’s so much worse than that. But it’s a beautiful little story… the way the story is told is as important as the content. It’s very good, very, very imaginative.”

Remembrance by Dean Alfar: “…it’s a story about death, and what we take with us when we die. Beautifully written, haunting, managing at exactly the same time to be both incredibly depressing and incredibly uplifting. The combination of these two things at once is what made it as a story for me.”

Filipina: The Super Maid by Irene Carolina A. Sarmiento: “…as those people who voted for it would know… it’s funny and it’s angry… nice, solid, futuristic science fiction that is fundamentally a satire of things going on today. And it’s great. A lovely piece of work.”

A Kind of Flotsam by Christelle Rhodamae Mariano: “Every now and then you think that you’ve seen it all, and a staple of science fiction is telepathy… What’s glorious about A Kind of Flotsam is that it’s the story of a the life of someone either blessed or cursed with telepathy. And she says something new. It’s really very, very beautiful, very, very moving, and I think at the end… there’s a moment which for me, I thought was glorious: that what unites us in the end is connection, the ability to hold out, to reach out, and eventually touch. Beautifully done, and very, very much a deserving first place winner.”

Comics

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Winners: 3rd Philippine Graphic Fiction Awards

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On March - 17 - 2010

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Had to leave the event early, but had time to hear the winners of the prose and comics categories, [Edit: Thanks to Diabelle and Charles for the additional info] so here goes:

Prose:

1st Place:  A Kind of Flotsam by Christelle Rhodamae Mariano

2nd Place: Filipina: The Super Maid by Irene Carolina A. Sarmiento

3rd Place: (Tie) Cherry Clubbing by Kenneth Yu and Remembrance by Dean Alfar

People’s Choice 1st Place: Filipina: The Super Maid by Irene Carolina A. Sarmiento

People’s Choice 2nd Place: A Kind of Flotsam by Christelle Rhodamae Mariano

People’s Choice 3rd Place: The Street Child and the Dwarf by Diabelle Joy M. Pazcoguin

Comics:

1st Place:OK this is a bit confusing. There was apparently no first place prize awarded because the entry that won was “published during the contest period”, but they did acknolwedge the piece that would have won – I See by Manuel Abrera

2nd Place: Douglas by Genevieve Go

3rd Place: (Love) at Last Sight by Heubert Khan Michael

People’s Choice 1st Place: Hunger by Jeremiah D. Faustino and Norman Jim Faustino

People’s Choice 2nd Place: Raisinhead: A Tale of a Modern-Day Tiyanak by Christian Oliver A. Cruz

People’s Choice 3rd Place: Traffick by Alarice A. Francisco

Film:

1st place: No winner (see comment below. Thanks Diabelle!)

2nd Place: Kumot ng Panaginip by  Jedd Chris P. Dumaguina (Thanks Charles! His comment below and blog post are the source of the rest of the Film winners)

3rd Place: Squatters from Mars by Rommel Sales

People’s Choice 1st Place: Kumot ng Panaginip by Jedd Chris P. Dumaguina

People’s Choice 2nd Place: Anak ng Tikbalang by Desiree Ann C. Samson

People’s Choice 3rd Place: Embrace by Ron Sapinoso

Will post again tomorrow with some pictures, and maybe some vids on Friday. In the meantime, congratulations to all the winners :)

Project 20:10 – Kenneth Yu on Character Creation

Posted by Paolo Chikiamco On February - 23 - 2010

Here’s the third of the talks given last January 30, 2010,  during the character creation workshop at the official launch of Project 20:10 at the Ateneo High School Fair. Here, Kenneth Yu gives his own take on what makes for a good paranormal character, and the importance of finding a unique perspective to tell your story.

Second part after the cut: Read the rest of this entry »

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Rocket Kapre is an imprint of Eight Ray Sun Publishing Inc. (a new Philippine-based publisher), dedicated to bringing the very best of Philippine Speculative Fiction in English to a worldwide audience by means of digital distribution. More info can be found at our About section at the top of the page.

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