Sun. Nov 17th, 2019

The State of Art in Palau (1st of a series)

Much had been told about Palau being the “pristine paradise” destination but only a dearth is heard about its arts and culture industry.

Art had already been considered in many parts of the world as an important aspect of tourism. Tourists and travelers alike always find their ways to museums and parks that proudly displayed different forms of arts ranging from sculptures, paintings, architectures, dances, and films, among others.

Italy, for example, is visited by tourists just to see masterpieces of great artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Go to France and tourists always hit the Louvre Museum and the iconic architecture, Eiffel Tower. The United States’ Hollywood has also become synonymous to great films and so as Bollywood, India’s film industry in Mumbai. Say Japan and great works from filmmaker Akira Kurosawa and the ever lively animation film industry are very well-known. South Korea too is visited by many for its K-Drama and K-Pop, especially for the places and food featured in those television programs.

Palau’s closest neighbor, the Philippines, is also known for its National Museum which houses masterpieces from Filipino artists like Juan Luna or Fernando Amorsolo. One of the must-see destinations in Philippines’ Davao City that always makes it to tourists’ itinerary and bloggers’ lists includes the People’s Park which housed giant sculptures by Mindanaoan artist Kublai Millan. Baguio City is also famed for its rambunctious art scene, especially the works of artist Benedicto Cabrera which are available for the public to see at the BenCab Museum.

And so the list goes on.

Belau National Museum Director Olympia E. Morei, in an interview with Island Times, admitted that much is yet to be done for Palau’s arts and culture industry.

Not getting much attention

“We are promoting Palau outside and we are marketing it but here at home, we’re not really putting a focus in the artistic talents of the Palauan people,” Morei said, adding that art is another part of the society that is very alive in other countries.

“We are known for our environment – pristine – we’re so focused on the environment, that is very important, the environment is our economy, but also the people have a spirit, and our artistic spirit is sort of not as accentuated or not as promoted,” Morei expressed.

According to Morei, there is not a single art gallery that exists in Palau. If tourists want to experience Palauan culture through the arts, the only place available is the Belau National Museum or Etpison Museum. Unknown to many, the Judiciary Building at Palau’s Capitol is also home to great artworks that are deemed as national treasures.

A painting by Bernardeno Rdulaol (Rhealyn C. Pojas)

If tourists are lucky enough to visit Palau when the Night Market is staged, they will also witness pottery makers and wood carvers working live or the traditional dances and music performances by the locals themselves.

Morei said that most of the art-related programs that the Museum had initiated in the past were funded by outside grants.

Their last storyboard project, for example, was in the 1980s which was funded by the United States to support a series of workshops that went on for two years.

Some of the great Palauan artworks were also produced under the current Chief Justice Arthur Ngiraklsong who commissioned the paintings hanging at the Judiciary Building at the Capitol from the members of United Artist of Belau (UAB)

“Artists are struggling, they are underfunded and unsupported,” Morei said.

Palau’s Arts Appreciated In Other Countries

Given the artworks displayed at the Belau National Museum, Palau’s artworks gaining a spot in other countries’ museum or buildings, and gaining appreciation to foreign audiences, would not come as a surprise.

Palauan artifacts had found their way to Hamburg, Germany back when Germans during their time in Palau brought home some Palauan functional arts.

According to Morei, it was the Westerners who started collecting Palauan potteries, clay works, wood carvings, and others and started labeling them as arts.

Even the Bank of Guam Headquarters in Agana, Guam, according to Morei, holds Palauan Storyboard Masterpieces by some of their late Master Carvers.

“Art in Palau is very important because it makes the Palauan spirit visible to the eyes,” Morei said, adding that it also contributes to Palau’s economy.

More than anything else, Morei believes that art, in all its forms, defines Palauans as a people. (Rhealyn C. Pojas)