The Filipino Unmasked

By Alejandro Roces

George Farwell entitled his book on the Philippines, The Mask of Asia, based on the observation of a Filipino who sees his compatriots as people who go around hid­ing their true identity behind several masks. (In maskery, the ultimate in mystifi­cation is the double mask; the mas­querader removes his mask and unknown to his viewers, he is wearing a second mask.) The ironic part is that masks hardly exist in our culture. Other than the morion, it would be difficult to find another rep­resentative Philippine mask.

If those who advance this onion-skin theory of culture are correct, then the Filipinos are like actors in Eugene O'Neill's The Great God Brown, who all appear on the stage with masks and have to put it on and off to distinguish between their assumed and their real selves. If they are wrong, then, it is they who are wearing an intellectual mask to hide their cultural ignorance.

Claude S. Tayag's The Moriones Unmasked provides an insight to this question. It is not surprising that the Moriones of Marinduque has become a favorite subject of Filipino painters. When the Moriones was discovered more than two decades ago, CarlosV. Francisco and Vicente Manansala were among the very first to fly to Marinduque to witness this previously-unheard-of spectacle. Since then, there has been no Moriones without a delegation of artists present to witness the affair. Claude S. Tayag made his pil­grimage to Morionduque in the Holy Week of '81.

One has only to see his watercolors to realize that the Moriones is indeed a Filipino festival. True that it was not part of our indigenous tradition, but it certainly has become part and parcel of our national traditions. The morion is not an indio hid­ing behind a Hispanic tradition; he is a Filipino at home with his Hispanic herit­age. That is why he has become one of the favorite subject of our painters. Unmask a morion and you find not a Spaniard or a Mexican, but a Filipino.

There is a fable about a man who wooed and won a girl behind a mask. After being happily married to her for many years, he decided to tell her the truth. So he told her that, for fear of losing her, he had not revealed his true face. Now, he could not deceive her any longer; come what may, he had decided to remove his mask. He did! Lo and behold - he still looked the same!

Longinus recovered his sight when the b lood of the Lord spu rted i n h is eyes. The onion-skin theorists may recover their cul­tural perspective by observing Longinus' Moriones.

Claude S. Tayag has not unmasked the Moriones; he has unmasked the Filipino.

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Notes on the
Moriones and Tayag

By ROD. Paras-Perez

CLAUDE TAYAG'S series of Moriones Unmasked follows the modernistic obses­sion with the revelatory aspect of the crea­tive act: from the expressionistic masks/or unmaskings in the works of Ensor to the more methodical re-statements of mask­motifs in Picasso. Even the literature of the 20th Century is replete with the concern to reveal - with the same simultaneity as Cubism - the inner voice or reality. It can be noted in the uttered thoughts of James Joyce's Ulysses, or even, in the attempt of Marcel Proust to retrieve forgotten sensa­tions in Remembrance of Things Past and give them the revelatory concreteness of new realities.

THE modernistic unmasking tradition which harks back to the turn-of-the­century now confronts the eastern norm of masking things. In Japan politeness serves as a many-layered mask. Among the Filipinos, speech is itself a mask: indirect­ness of thought, couched in metaphoric language is expected especially in formal, traditional dialogues like the occasion of asking for a bride. The poetic game recited during wakes, known as bugtungan is an elaborate word-mask. And among the Ifugaos, the faces of their anitos are equally - veritable masks.

THE question is: how is the tension bet­ween the two cultures resolved in Claude Tayag?

THE Moriones motif is inescapably subject oriented: nothing can be done or ought to be done to efface the fact. The imagery thus becomes the basic premise implicit in the choice of the subject. Formally, the usual solution would have been an attempt to achieve a stronger definition of forms. Yet Claude Tayag opted for another way. The faces and masks are still suggested in adequately clear shapes, but their rela­tionship with the other shapes in the for­mat is left ambiguous-giving each paint­ing not only its peculiar festive air - but also, a frenzied activation of the visual field that borders on the informel. What is arrived at isastate of definition and annihi­lation of imagery-of simultaneous reve­lation and masking, rendered with the casual ease intrinsic to watercolor.

IT is to credit of Claude Tayag that, whether consciously or not, the gesture of unmasking the Moriones succeeded in articulating the inherent tension between two cultures and at the same time indi­cated a visual option that unifies without effacing identities.