Friday, July 10, 2009

The Abueva and the New Sisa Murals at the National Center for Mental Health

Napoleon Abueva, National Artist for Sculpture

Published in Manila Bulletin

“We want a few mad people now. See where the sane ones have landed us!”
~ George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950)

Even at the National Center for Mental Health in Mandaluyong City, art has found its place not only to uplift the souls of the mentally challenged patients, but also to signify as a historical symbol of those who served and those being served by the institution for almost a century now, or eighty years of its existence to be exact.

In this vein, two murals were recently re-dedicated and unveiled respectively known as the Abueva Mural, a 35-year old mural done by the National Artist Napoleon Abueva, and “The New Sisa Mural”, recently created by three Filipino artists known as the PST Muralists.

The re-dedication of Abueva Mural and the unveiling of a new one highlight the 80th year anniversary of National Center for Mental Health, one of the leading mental institutions in the country.

Condescendingly standing at the right side entrance of National Center for Mental Health compound is a 35-year old mural by National Artist Napoleon Abueva. Carved on marbles and embedded on the concrete, the mural is composed of geometric mass of blocks, engraved figures and portraits of NCMH founders.

Intriguingly, at the extreme right of the mural, are three womblike shapes and inside in each section is a figure of awkward body posture; a naked boy holding onto a metal bar, a man crossing his arms above his head, and a naked figure in a fetal position. Another arresting element is the pictorial narrative of two mentally challenged patients; two hospital’s male aides are holding a madman while the other, a woman, is sitting in a classic position of a “mentally ill” patient.

After cleaning and restoring to its former grandeur, which was initiated by one of the staff of NCMH and an artist himself Jonathan “Jonski” Olarte, the mural was re-dedicated with the presence of its creator, National Artist Napoleon Abueva.

Sitting on a wheelchair with his ever-loving wife, the former director of NCMH, Mr. Abueva could only quip and smile over his earlier opus, which seemed to be swallowing up his presence. The mural was created in 1974 at the height of the artist’s career as a sculptor.

Present at the event were Bernardino A Vicente, MD, MHA, CESO IV, Medical Canter Chief II, who gave an inspirational message and a welcome address by Dr. Venus Serra-Arain, MD, FPPA, MHA, Chief, Medical & Professional Staff Community Service and Chair of NCMH 80th Anniversary Souvenir Program Committee.

At the lobby of NCMH administration building is the “New Sisa Mural” with Sisa at the center, donning a sanely wide smile flanked by two children. (Sisa is one of Jose Rizal’s notable characters in his novel “Noli Me Tangere”.) The mural depicts the 80 years of NCMH service of treating and maintaining the mental health of Filipinos in Metro Manila and other parts of the country.

The mural is a collaborative endeavor of three artists Bing Siochi, Ernie Patricio, and Harry Torres, the PST Muralists; they are all members of Las Piñas Tuesday Group. Jonathan Olarte, member of NCMH 80th Anniversary Souvenir Program Committee, proudly presented the mural and its creators during the unveiling headed by Dr. Bernardino A Vicente, Medical Canter Chief II, and Dr. Venus Serra-Arain, Chief, Medical & Professional Staff Community Service.

The mural is made possible by the effort of Dr. Venus Serra-Arain and Jonathan Olarte, who conceived and raised the fund for the project. “The New Sisa Mural” is envisioned toward a sound mind and mentally healthy Filipinos, in honor of the 80th anniversary of NCMH.

The blessing and unveiling of two murals, the Pavilion 2, and the NCMH Museum & Souvenir Shop were done by Fr. Apolinario Matilos, NCMH chaplain last May 13, 2009.

© Danny Castillones Sillada

*Above artwophotos: (1) National Artist Napoleon Abueva, (2) 35-year old NCMH Mural by National Artist Napoleon Abueva, (3) Re-dedication of Abueva Mural at NCMH, (4) The New Sisa Mural at the National Center for Mental Health, (5) The new mural with NCMH officers and staff

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Something about Sarah & Her Art

Published in Manila Bulletin

“Because we are also what we have lost.”
– From the movie “Amores Perros”

“IF THERE'S ANYTHING bleaker and darker in this world,” says Sarah in the caption of her pen and ink drawing of a girl with a mask, “nothing can compare to a girl’s pain of being left orphaned by the deaths of her parents almost simultaneously.”

Perchance, tragedy happens for a reason; sometimes, it has no apparent reason, and whatever its reason, intrinsic or fortuitous, tragedy, as an inevitable reality in human existence, will either make a person’s life stronger or intolerable to live.


Some time ago, I met Sarah Demetria Gaugler at Cesare Syjuco’s art exhibit at F*ART (Fashion & Art) in Quezon City, which I attended as one of the performance artists. Sarah’s hair was purple, her eyes round, her smile mesmeric, and her face angelic. She was, then, a typical Fine Arts student of UST and a typical girl next door, whose bashful smile is incongruent to her hip personality.

She was there to interview me about my drawings on paper, as part of her college thesis. Her questions were scarce, reluctant and reserved. I spoke self-effacingly about the techniques and nuances of my works. I also mentioned some Filipino artists that I admired with their draftsmanship on paper, like Raul Lebajo, Amor Lamarroza, and Caloy Gabuco, to name a few.

As our conversation progressed, I noticed something about Sarah; it was something poignant that lurked in the depths of her eyes. As if those velvety, round eyes were inviting me to swim into a world laden with throbbing memories until, unknowingly, we had already barged in into each other’s private world.

I could not remember how she opened up the bleak pages of her life or how she spoke, in a reluctant manner, the anguish of her soul; all I remember was the sublime encounter between two people. It was not a romantic encounter, though; neither did it lead to something sensual or physical but, as the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber says, it was an “I & Thou” encounter in grace and compassion.

Like Sarah, I have had my own share of pains and tragedies in life; I lost almost all the people that I dearly loved and cherished. Consequently, as we laid our souls naked to each other, it was easier to open up because they were already broken. And that same human “brokenness” had become a transcendent encounter to acknowledge and embrace our respective wounds.


A few months after her father’s death, Sarah’s mother, a Filipino-American nurse, followed, leaving her and her younger brother orphaned in the heart of New Jersey, USA. The year was September 22, 1997; she was 10 years old and her younger brother was barely 5 - both are born to American and Filipino parents.

“I went across the street to my house, to my room, to where my lifeless mommy was…” she writes on her blog journal dated August 3, 2007. “My heart stopped… I didn’t know how to contain myself... I didn’t know anything else, but the horrible pain in my chest… We’re now alone and my fears have come… I didn’t know what would become of me... And I cried and I cried...”

Two days later, Sarah left the US with her younger brother bound for her mother’s homeland. “I was on a plane for the Philippines,” she says in the same journal, “leaving everything and everyone that I ever knew and loved behind.”

Since then, Sarah’s world took a 180-degree detour on a different path that would mark the beginning of her relentless struggle as a young girl and later, as a young woman. She would also later pour out all her pains and anguish in her blog on the internet in the form of journals, drawings, poems, and photography.

In the Philippines, Sarah and her brother stayed with their aunt. However, wanting to live on her own, Sarah would rent a place and continue her studies at UST. But during those times, she underwent a terrible crisis in her life. In one of her journals, she wrote, “I've got all these shitty problems right now… I don’t want to go back to the self-destructive person that I was…”

However, Sarah was also quick to regain the balance of her spiritual self and it showed how determined she was to overcome her torments when she wrote words that revealed her aplomb, “Everything is going to be all right! Cheer up! Pray! Work! Have faith in God! Everyone has his or her own problems to deal with! You’re not alone! Many people love you! Draw! Paint!

Don’t worry about it! Smile! Breathe! Count your blessings!”

Perhaps, no one would suspect that behind Sarah’s beguiling beauty, talent and brilliance, lay something gloomy inside her delicate world. As reflected on her drawings of lone and masked girls, Sarah dons an archetypal persona to hide the looming shadows of her soul. In fact, I attributed one of my paintings to her, which I titled “Behind the Mask of Sarah.”

In the painting, I portrayed a huge mask at the center of the canvas with vibrant color, echoing one of Sarah’s journals: “Most of the time I’m sad, but you’ll only see me smile and you’ll only see me laugh. And even though I get tired, you'll never know my pain and you’ll never understand, as long as I keep you at a certain distance.”You’re not alone! Many people love you! Draw! Paint! Don’t worry about it! Smile! Breathe! Count your blessings!”

It’s been a long while since I last saw Sarah. I heard that she already finished her bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts at UST, participated at group shows, won an NU Rock Awards as “best album packaging” for Orange and Lemons’ Moonlane Gardens, and worked as illustrator, graphic designer and part-time tattoo artist, aside from an occasional modeling stint for signature clothing.

Most recently, she has been performing as a vocalist of Turbo Goth band with Paofario. She is also “guesting” at some radio FM stations, either playing with her band or promoting her gigs at some music venues in Metro Manila.

I just can’t imagine how a young orphaned soul can rise amid the bleak conditions of her fragile world, transforming herself from a delicate, broken girl, into a very talented, strong and independent woman. But Sarah could not have been “there” had she given up her life too early or had she remained wallowing from the tragedies that beset in the early stages of her existence.

At the end of the day – after witnessing her joys and sorrows, strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and defeats – I can say that Sarah is my kind of heroine in real-life, who doesn’t give up hope in life. She uses her adversity, instead, as a vehicle to achieve her dreams.

Her self-respect and dignity as a woman remain integral, as she continues to embrace and live a decent life amid the temporal trappings of an indecent world.

*Above artworks by Sarah D. Gaugler

© Danny Castillones Sillada