Expo 2020 Dubai: Philippine pavilion an ode to overseas workers

Dubai - At the Bangkota, visitors shall be looking up with the stunning scenes of flight all around.


Anjana Sankar

Published: Tue 10 Aug 2021, 4:33 PM

Last updated: Wed 11 Aug 2021, 12:45 AM

The Philippine pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai is an ode to Filipino migrant workers across the world, represented through flying sculptures, bird-like motifs and stunning murals.

Inspired by the Bangkota (an ancient Filipino word for coral reef), the pavilion showcases the connectivity and brotherhood among overseas Filipinos.

Curator Marian Pastor Roces has made use of the creative genius of acclaimed local artists throughout the exhibition space to tell the 4,000-year journey of Filipinos.

A sculpture titled Soaring High — by contemporary artist Charlie Co — depicts floating men and women representing expatriate Filipino workers who are flying “to everywhere, for everything, in every possible way forward — and back to the Philippines”.

The theme of travel is not only about today’s Filipino migrant workers, but also their ancestors who lived and moved from island to island, continent to continent, to settle on all islands of half the planet during the Neolithic period.

A mural of the Filipino diaspora painted by Dex Fernandez will also strike a chord among the hundreds and thousands of Filipino expats in the UAE.

Across the pavilion, more striking pieces of art will showcase Filipino talent — from the two-storey sculpture of a mythological figure by Duddley Diaz; a suspended techno-mythological piece by Dan Raralio; human-bird forms by Riel Jaramillo Hilario; and an explosion of bird forms by Toym Imao. “These evoke the images of Filipino contract workers moving all around the world. They play an important role, and we want to celebrate our overseas workers,” said Roces.

At the Bangkota, visitors shall be looking up with the stunning scenes of flight all around. This bird motif, the curator said, “depicts the first arrivals of the people who speak our languages 4,000 years ago”.

Music and melodies composed by national artist Ramon P. Santos will take visitors deeper into the Filipino experience. Artist Lee Paje has conceptualised sculptural work that dances with the wildlife photography of Scott ‘Gutsy’ Tuason and Ivan Sarenas.

Other notable sculptures that add to the artistic ambience of the pavilion are the three-dimensional filigree boat by artist Patrick Cabral, and Baby and Coco Anne’s tall helix etched with the names of Filipinos of different cultures, a towering upward spiral that sums up 65,000 years of genetic mixing in the Philippine archipelago.

For another room, Roces has also commissioned a video entitled ‘Our Gift to the World’, the Philippines’, a call to end racial divisions.

The video centres on contemporary dance that poetically gathers motifs of Filipino life, and is choreographed by Denisa Reyes and Japhet Mari ‘JM’ Cabling, to the music by young composer Teresa Barroso.

Roces said the pavilion exhibit is an amalgamation of architecture, design, art and music into a single narrative that tracks the history, culture and language of the Philippines, while reimagining it through a contemporary prism.

“It is special as the content of the pavilion is entirely developed by artists. The art was developed in relation to the spaces conceived by architecture. It is not a museum. It is not a contemporary art gallery.

“They chose artists who had already developed enough artistic vocabulary, but were willing to take a back seat as individual artists, and help drive the single narrative for the pavilion,” Roces told Khaleej Times.

Why coral reef?

The design of the ‘Bangkota’ (coral reef) pavilion is a tribute to the nature of Filipinos as a people, how they grow into communities yet remain connected through travel, migration and technology.

At the same time, it highlights the distinctive biodiversity of the country.

Chief architect Royal Pineda of Budji+Royal Architecture+Design said he wanted to showcase the Philippines as honestly as possible. “With sustainability at the core, we thought of presenting the nature of the Philippines that we organically own, and which defines us as a country. We chose coral reefs as the Philippines is the centre of biodiversity of the world. ‘Bangkota’ presents something that is very progressive, and yet very much rooted in what we are and who we are,” said the award-winning architect.

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