“Beauty in Belief” – Malakas at Maganda

“Beauty in Belief” – Malakas at Maganda

A little bit of a break from regularly scheduled programming here on DryedMangoez.com today. I recently did a #tbt on my Instagram and decided to bring it on over here and talk a little bit more about it.

I’ll set up the backstory a little bit. If you didn’t know yet, I was a Media Studies major with a minor in Journalism at the University of San Francisco. Having taken care of my math requirement in high school and getting out of two extra semesters of foreign language by absolutely killing a very easy Tagalog 1 class, I had a lot of units I needed to fill up with random classes.

Somehow, a big chunk of those random classes ended up falling under the Philippine Studies minor. (Partly because I thought they’d be easy classes. I was wrong!) For which I completed enough units to officially graduate with it as another minor, but for some reason they didn’t want to make it official for me in part because I wasn’t part of the Filipino in-crowd (*cough*Kasamahan*cough). But that’s another story.

Anyway! One of the classes I took was Filipino-American Arts. Again, I initially took the class just to grab those four units I would need to graduate. We had three major projects during the semester. I definitely did not put much effort into my first two projects. But the class ended up being one of my favorites at USF. And Prof Jenifer Wofford is definitely one of my favorite professors during my time at USF too. (She absolutely read what kind of a student I was lol It was surprising and funny at the same time.)

But what surprised me the most was how much effort and how proud I still am of my final project. And this is coming from me who is by no means a visual artist. (Though I enjoyed my Appreciation of Visual Arts class at USF and my high school History of Christian Art class at Sacred Heart Cathedral.) I know Prof Wofford was pleasantly surprised by what I came up with for this one after two, well-meaning, but pretty amateur projects. (Again, I’m not an artist at all! I’m much more of a text kind of guy.)

This final required us to interpret the Filipino legend of Malakas and Maganda as it relates to strength, beauty, nature and creation. (You can read more about the final project here.)

My piece is definitely open to interpretation and the discussion during critiques was very interesting. The other kids in my class had fascinating interpretations of my work. During critques, we had the option of us introducing the piece first before opening up discussion. Or just having everyone get right to their thoughts and opinions. I decided to not say anything about my project knowing that it was abstract enough and with a couple of interesting details to illicit many different ideas.

I wish I still had my full artist statement to post here. (I might have the Word file somewhere and the printed out copy in a box in my closet.) But here’s a portion of it that was posted on the class blog:

Lester Jeff D. Banatao Art Project University of San Francisco

“For me, I see this scene as representative of the struggle of Filipinos both at home and abroad, while it can also represent anyone who has had to fight to get their foot in the door. What makes my piece a little more “Filpino,” in a sense is that it does include religion. And while I don’t mean Catholicism or Christianity in general, faith and a belief in something can help someone get through a struggle or help someone fight for something. A faith in God or any other higher being or even not having a specific “belief” can help someone find strength in difficult times. Whether it be fighting against oppressors, fighting against discrimination, or even just fighting to get ahead in life, a belief and faith in many things, including family, can be all that one needs to stay strong and move forward.

There is beauty all around us, and beauty can certainly be judged by “the eye of the beholder.” Just in the Philippines alone, “beauty” might take on a very simple or shallow meaning judging from what one can see on Philippine television. But many people are able to see and acknowledge the beauty that is everywhere. Going back to religion and faith, many people see beauty in their beliefs. Whether it be the solemnity of a spiritual service or the community that is brought together by a common faith, people see beauty in what they hold close to their hearts and minds. There are times when people struggle with beauty, the need to be or have beauty or even how to maintain beauty that is found in our world. At its simplest form, beauty is just going outside and looking at what is out there.

I definitely know I wrote more. But the two paragraphs catch the gist of where I was going with this project.

Especially considering the challenges that still exist in the Philippines and for Filipinos at home and abroad, I think my piece still holds up more than 10 years later. Filipinos are strong people. Most Filipinos come from humble beginnings and understand the struggle and fight to achieve that better, “beautiful” life. And not just for themselves, but for their families. Their children, grandchildren and beyond.

Increasingly in today’s world, beauty is more in the eye of the beholder than ever. But something that remains unchanging is the idea of having that one thing to be able to hold on to. Sometimes it may be hard to find it or keep your grip on it. But whatever that thing might be, never give up hope in trying to grab it and pull yourself toward it. Be able to reach out for it. It may take several attempts. And perhaps it might always remain out of your grasp. But even just reaching for it can make all the difference.

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