Agnes Arellano Sculptor

On Music & the Moon


May 14, 1983


(Music; the breathing of statues. Perhaps: the silence of paintings. Language where Language ends. Time that goes downward in the direction of hearts that wear out.)
— "On Music," Rainier Maria Rilke, translated by Robert Bly

One afternoon last week, between a dental appointment and a shopping trip, I chanced upon an experience that brought magic rushing back to the rat maze we call life in the City of Man.

Heat was intense and the shaded parking space of the Museum of Philippine Art very tempting. Someone I know as a friend to my younger sister, a singer, a student of the teachings of the occultist Ichazo, granddaughter to the painter Juan Arellano and daughter to the architect Otilio had entered her nth incarnation - and was now exhibiting sculpture inside that cool looking building.

And so my precocious 10-year-old son and I entered Gallery One of the Museum of Philippine Art... there to be greeted by the work of Agnes A. Arellano.

In the expansive dimensions of an air-conditioned room stood a slim closed arch in humble plaster of paris, signaling a subtle welcome. It had a name, Hermaphroditic Homunculus, and from its arch emerged a face, pieces of limbs, like spirits fighting to break free.

We were hooked, my son and I. On the floor before the homunculus lay a pregnant woman, legs and belly emerging from white beach sand, next to her, on a long rectangular tray lined with mirrors were drawn - as if by the fingers of a child or a Navajo shaman - two circles with three crescent moons apiece; in different but related patterns of a primitive wheel or a flower. Mirrors glinted from under the sand.

Facing the door from the center of the room, we next saw a faceless Buddha, standing guard to entry and exit. His name, Babboldibooda, as in Buddha made of bubbles.

Now, the ovals, the crescents, the circles in the quiet glow of plaster of paris under fluorescent lights had worked their spell and the little boy and I left Gallery One chuckling, the years between us vanished in a wordless mutual appreciation for the work of the invisible Agnes Arellano.

Gallery Two was where our chuckle turned into raised eyebrows. Two heavy rectangular columns rose to the ceiling, looming over another rectangular tray of sand on which, in ordered progression, stood half-ovals - were they breasts or phallus tips? - like musical notes. Music for Making the Moon Rise was its title, under which was an invitation to go ask the guard for the cassette and the Walkman if we wanted to hear the music in the sculpture.

Can a mother and child at play resist this sort of thing?

Ears filled with music now, we examined the objects in the sand and began to understand the silent harmony that moved through objects we could see and touch. Do you know, I told the boy, that the ancient Hindus say that it was music, sound vibrations, that created the world?

He didn't think that an unreasonable idea.

On one end of the tray stood four more floor pieces, cave-like enclosures out of which emerged, one by one, a woman's breast, and hands of a old crone and a bird's long beak. These were The Temple Guardians. Above them, on the lintel stood a bas relief of the three faces of woman, The Triple Goddess.

Like initiates now finally taken into the inner sanctum, we passed under the triple goddess into a smaller room where stood a startling raised cenotaph on which lay: a plaster cast of the artist and her mate in coitus and under them, seen through a small square window cut in her back, two charred skeletons lying in brown dust, also in the act of love.

Recumbent Yabyum Sarcophagus the artist had called the compelling image of life and death together, male and female, flesh and bone, sun and moon -paired opposites that meld into the single major theme of all our art no less than all our little days.

In the ovals, the circles and the crescents, she had prodded us back into memories of birth - that faceless Buddha becoming the oval of ovals, as in the Cosmic Egg that carries the embryo of the ever-new man created through world ages.

Now, at the heart of the Temple of the Moon Goddess, the name of this exhibit and one of the many titles of that powerful ancient deity whom the jealous Jehovah had dethroned, moving past the temple guardians and that piece of silent music in the stone, my son and I stood. I lifted him so the could peer into the window - to look at the secret of secrets.

There was something, we both knew, that the artist Agnes Arellano has to say about our life, about being human beings. This she communicated to him and me together. My son revelled in a playfulness of symbols. In turn, I felt that Agnes had turned Galleries One and Two into a sacred space for God the Mother, older by far than God the Father, she who is calling the artists and prophets of our age back, far back to truths preceding Western civilization.

In more of Rilke's words:

("The deepest thing in us, that, rising above us, forces its way out...")