Memories of war, legacies of peace – Manila Bulletin

Ayala Museum opens a new exhibit the recounts stories of World War II

By Dexter Matilla
Images by Noel Pabalate

“In Liberation: War & Hope,” the exhibition launched recently by the US Embassy in the Philippines and Filipinas Heritage Library at the Ayala Museum, the World War II is shown from a different perspective—one that demonstrates the indomitable will of the Filipinos to survive even the most difficult situations in the most uncertain times.

What was supposed to be an exhibition in 2020 by the FHL to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II became one that highlighted the lives of Filipinos during the war and their emergence from the devastation through everyday objects, archival footage, photographs, and documents.

The concept for “liberation” began as early as 2019 but the onset of the pandemic put everything on hold, limiting movement due to quarantine restrictions.

According to the exhibit’s curator Ricardo Jose, they wanted to show materials from everyday life—now artifacts—that are of importance to the people who lived at the time.

Jose explains that while during the pre-war period, what tended to typify life were advertisements and during the Japanese occupation, what tended to be reminiscent were things like ration tickets.

“For the immediate post-war period, we also wanted to show what was there that we used everyday that we took for granted at that time but for today’s generation, it’s something really beyond imagination,” Jose says. “Within all that structure, the forced military system, the rationing, Filipinos managed to survive, we maintained a sense of humor—one way of surviving the difficulties was to make jokes about daily life. It brought out ingenuity and resourcefulness because we suddenly faced a shortage of things like rice, shoes, even tomato ketchup. Filipinos were able to rise up to the challenge and came up with substitute products like banana ketchup.”

Filipina food technologist Maria Orosa of Taal, Batangas, invented the banana ketchup, calamansi juice powder, and soyalac, a nutrient-rich drink that sustained thousands of Filipino and American soldiers during the war. The National Historical Institute would later recognize her as a war hero and humanitarian.

To complement the physical exhibition at the second floor of the Ayala Museum, “Liberation: War and Hope” also includes four workshops, four webinar lectures, and two videos that will be able to reach Filipinos here and abroad, or practically anyone interested in this particular time of the Philippines’ history. The process involved online and in-person correspondence with the minds behind Rubbertree and Sensibly Good Design, Ruben and Trina Flores, Melchor Silvestre and Desi Reyes, Suzanne Yupangco, historian Ricardo Jose and the Filipinas Heritage Library team.

“The challenge for us is to make sure that we would be able to convey that richness,” says Trina Flores of Rubbertree Design Studio, Inc. “Part of the creative treatment was largely the use of color. We started with happy colors and as you go through the exhibition, you’d notice that the colors are starting to become dark.”

Two videos were created, a mini-documentary with the help of Frames Per Story and a 360-video animation crafted by I Am Cardboard PH.

“Liberation: War & Hope” and its complementary programs continue the Ayala Museum’s omni-channel approach. The physical exhibit inspired by FHL’s Roderick Hall Collection forms the core of the complementary programs implemented through digital technology. Roderick McMicking Hall was a survivor of the Second World War who dedicated his life to honoring its survivors and veterans: the Filipino, American, and Japanese heirs of that history. Hall collected various resources of war memory and supported its preservation, digitization, and accessibility through his collection at the FHL. It was Hall’s desire to make the materials he gathered to be useful to people advocating peace beyond the moment of enmity. He championed the idea that no matter how deep the wounds of war, connection and meaning can be built past suffering.

“’The Liberation’ exhibit shows the power of the human spirit to overcome, which is really what we are all feeling now,” says Ma. Elizabeth Gustillo, senior director of the Arts and Culture Division of the Ayala Foundation.

This inaugural exhibition re-connects FHL with the public after the museum’s two-year renovation. The onsite and online elements together complete a new museum and library experience.

“Liberation: War & Hope” is located at the 2F gallery of the Ayala Museum Complex. The exhibition, free to all visitors, runs until Sept. 25, 2022. The exhibit is also in partnership with the Manila Bulletin.


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