Sat. Dec 14th, 2019

The State of Art in Palau ( Last of the series):  In an artist’s perspective

After publishing a series tackling about the art industry in Palau, a Palauan artist, who read about the article, stepped in and showed that there is in fact an art gallery in Palau that is run by a Palauan. It is, perhaps, the only one of its kind on the island.

Unknown to many, a humble Palauan residence in Melekeok State had been transformed into a tiny art gallery since 2014, after the owner, Roman Ray Omengkar, had been inspired to depict the Palauan legends on storyboards with precision.

After seeing some storyboards that do not reflect the real story from the legend, Roman decided that it is time for him to take action. Roman said that this idea of him sparked from reading Palauan writer Steve Ometaru’s book about Palauan legends titled The Creation of Belau which was published in 1974.

Roman calls himself a designer rather than an artist as he works closely with his nephew, Abdul Marcil Omengkar, whom he referred to as “my artist” and “brother.” It is through the aid of Roman that Abdul carved out figures into the wood based on the legends as portrayed in Ometaru’s book.

“I’m an artist but I never really put my art to work. My brother here, without him, I would not really show my arts. It is him that pushed me into drawing and using my talent,” Abdul shared.

Abdul said that he never had formal training about arts and neither did he attend any classes on it. He noticed his fondness for drawing back when he was still in elementary school.

The young artist also recalled that when he was in the third grade, there was an art contest in their school whose theme revolved around Palauan legends. He signed up for it and won. It was in high school when he did more drawings and sketches.

Roman, meanwhile, said that he had never been an artist himself when he was young.

“I’ve never been an artist, but since I’ve read the book, it surprised me also,” Roman said, referring to Ometaru’s book.

It was in 2009, according to Roman, when he started to read the book and got captivated by it. As a Palauan himself, Roman confessed that he had so many questions about their legends and the names mentioned on these stories. He only started to make sense of it all after reading Ometaru’s book.

“When I read the book there were 85 pages and there were 16 arts [shown] inside [it] but the first art that came to my mind was the story of Belau,” Roman shared, explaining further that that’s when he got the idea of making an art out of the book by putting all the stories in order.

According to Roman, his brother, Abdul, had seen some of his old arts and that was when they decided to do more of it and eventually came up with the gallery.

Another instance that drove Roman to do the storytelling through the arts was after a fateful encounter with a foreign tour guide in Melekeok who told him about the story of one of Palau’s legends.

Roman confessed that he felt ashamed that a foreigner was telling him the story of his own people and country so he started picking up Ometaru’s books and began his journey with the arts.

Abdul and Roman had since then collaborated in producing storyboards with colors of Red, Black, Yellow and White. When asked why the duo only used such colors in depicting the legends on the storyboard, they shared that these colors were actually the original colors used by the Palauan ancestors in painting.

According to Roman, the color red was produced from a special fruit, black was made from ashes, yellow from ginger, and white from lime.

A few years had already passed since they started the artworks but according to Roman, they had still not come up with what they really want.

It was, according to Roman and Abdul, the lack of support from the authorities and the community to art that is challenging them. Aside from that, art has only come second on the list of their priorities as the artists themselves do not do this full time. Abdul, for example, works as a law enforcement officer while Roman also had to make ends meet not only for his daily expenses but for producing such works of art.

According to Roman, they had sought the help of various agencies including senators and other persons of authority but they never received the support they need.

“What the artists need is for the government to help us to get some fund so that we can provide [for this] because it’s been almost eight years but we never come up with what we want,” Roman said.

Roman emphasized that he is not doing this for his own sake but for promoting the stories of Palau through the arts.

“We want to show ‘our’ story to everybody,” Roman said.

“If we will show the true kind of arts, it’s gonna help the outsiders understand [our story],” Roman added.

But even amid everything they went through, the two artists are determined in finishing what they had started with their own means and on their own pace. (Rhealyn C. Pojas)

How to get to the Mesikt Art Gallery

 From Koror, drive North towards Melekok State. Take that road that heads to Palau’s National Capitol and once you passed by the Capitol building, follow the same road until it reaches to the end of the trail where there is an intersection with a signboard that points to the direction of the art gallery. From the intersection, turn right until you will see the art gallery which is just across the Old Age Center.