The State of Art in Palau ( 2nd of a series ): The Empty Halls of Palau’s Hall of Fame
We’ve heard about the great works of Leonardo Da Vinci, the artist behind the famous Mona Lisa portrait, Michelangelo and his marble sculpture, David, or Salvador Dali’s famous painting depicting melting clocks that never fails to give audiences an unexplainable kind of nostalgia – The Persistence of Memory. Thanks to the many people who made sure that great works of art persist through time.
Now, zoom in to Palau and who do we have?
Many. In fact, there are too many that it is impossible to fit all their stories on a single page. And these names, although known to the older generation, may have been unknown to many of the younger Palauans, if not all.
Palauan artists Bernardino Rdulaol, Ngiraibuuch Skedong, and Baris Sylvester were just few of the names behind the many great Palauan artworks. Some of their masterpieces had found their way to the Belau National Museum, safe and sound. Not all of their beautiful works though were displayed on the walls of the museum. Some, due to lack of display space, had been safely kept in a storage.
These artists’ names, according to Belau National Museum Director Olympia E. Morei, are just few of those who are worthy of the “Hall of Fame” accolade but so far, none of them had received the honor yet.
Four years after President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. signed on July 25, 2014 the amendment to Title 19 of the Palau National Code, also known as the Hall of Fame Act, the halls of the supposed Hall of Fame remained empty, or worse, inexistent.
Morei, in an exclusive interview with Island Times, said that the museum had been mandated to house the Hall of Fame but years had already passed and they are still far from fully implementing the mandate. The lack of funding and space to accommodate the artworks for display at the Hall of Fame are slowing the process, according to Morei.
“There was a law enacted in 2014 creating a Hall of Fame to recognize artists and composers and creative Palauans and the law mandates that the museum push forward with that, that we housed the Hall of Fame. The Committee has been formed but we’re still working on re-enacting it,” Morei said.
The Hall of Fame Act provides that a Hall of Fame Board shall be formed to “designate individuals to be honored in the Hall of Fame.” The designation does not come easily though as the Board is also tasked to establish policies and criteria in the choosing of the Hall of Famers.
Hall of Fame Board members are tasked under the law to honor Palauan citizens for their “extraordinary achievements in the field of sports, arts, literature, or music.”
According to Morei, an amount of at least $20,000 is needed for them to be able to start the work.
An artist, a teacher
If there are Palauan artists who are entitled to the honor of finding a place in the Hall of Fame, then that would include artist Bernardino Rdulaol whose works span from painting, carving storyboards, and composing songs, Morei revealed.
Rdulaol, according to Morei, was not only an artist and a song composer but was also a school teacher. He was known to be fond of mentoring young Palauans back when he was still alive.
Morei said that Rdulaol had been very well-known in the past. He was exposed in the fields of arts during the Japanese Era.
Morei recalled that one of Rdulaol’s artworks was found just lying on the yard in his neighborhood. People, oblivious to the fact that they were stepping on one of the works of a great artist, would pass by the yard and step on a board as if it was some ordinary wood platform. At one point in the late 1990s, some curious passersby wondered what the board was, so they flipped it around and found to their amazement one of Rdulaol’s paintings.
“So they brought it here in the Museum. It was in the late 1990s. We bought it for like $100,” Morei said.
One of the famous paintings of Rdulaol is the “Klechedaol” which depicts dancing Palauan women that are wearing traditional dress who are welcoming visitors.
“He was very famous and he would be considered the grandfather of drawing, painting in watercolors. He was the one who taught a lot of school children to draw,” Morei shared.
An artist who found his calling in jail
It could not be denied that the late Baris Sylvester’s storyboards are great works of art in spite of him being a convict. Regardless of his personal background, a great work of art is a great work of art nonetheless.
One might wonder when the storyboard making inside the correctional facility in Koror, Palau started. It was actually Sylvester, who was then incarcerated, who began making storyboards to make use of his time in jail. Sylvester had learned the art of carving from a Japanese ethnographer, anthropologist, and artist by the name of Hizikata Hishikatsu who came to Palau in the 1930s.
It was Hizikata, according to Morei, who started the concept of storyboards. Amazed by the beautiful engravings on the Bai Beams which depicted many Palauan legends, Hizikata, was inspired to apply the concept on pieces of wood. This then became known as the storyboards which were originally created to serve as souvenirs for Japanese people who were returning to their country after being destined in Palau.
By the time Sylvester was put in jail, he began to ask for materials which he could use in carving. With his request granted, Sylvester found his hands getting busy with art.
Many of the prisoners, seeing his works and how it could help them earn money while locked up in cell, had also began to carve. To date, prisoners are still carving. Sylvester’s style influenced the type of storyboard carvings produced in jail, that even after he passed away, some of those who come after him still follow his style.
Storyboards with Colors
Like Sylvester, Ngiraibuuch Skedong, a great Master Carver known for his colorful storyboards, also learned the art from Hizikata.
Morei described the works of Skedong as “really well-formed” and “neat”. According to Morei, Skedong was known for carving figures with rigid postures.
What sets Skedong’s art apart from other carvers is his style of combining the tricks and skills of painting and wood carving.
Echoing the words of Belau National Museum Director Morei, indeed “artists are colorful people.”
“They (artists) are not just your normal everyday people,” Morei said. (Rhealyn C. Pojas)