March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD). In some countries like China, Russia and Kazahkstan, IWD is an official holiday. Tradition has it that mothers, grandmothers, wives, sisters, daughters, female friends and colleagues would get flowers and small gifts of appreciation from the men in their lives. In different parts of the world, IWD is celebrated to honor the contributions of women in the family and in society at large.
In the Philippines, the Center for Arts New Ventures And Sustainable Development (CANVAS) partnered with the Ten Outstanding Women of the Nation for Service (TOWNS) Foundation to drum up this special day for women through the launching of a children’s book of ecofables. As the term implies, the fables carry themes on ecology, nature and care for the environment.
Realizing The Vision
Since its initial foray in the children’s book industry four years ago, CANVAS has remained true to its vision and mission of providing avenues for the Filipino artist to grow and develop. It continues to put together an assembly of luminaries in the literati and in the visual arts arena for a worthy cause. This time around, its beneficiary is the TOWNS Foundation who, for the last 30 years, has recognized achievements and accomplishments of Filipino women in various fields of discipline.
That is why, last Sunday, March 8, 2009 at 3:00 pm, TOWNS awardees were present at 1/of Gallery in Serendra, Taguig City for the launching of the book Earth Tales: Three Ecofables for Children. To name a few, publisher Karina Bolasco, educator Dina Ocampo, geologist Alyssa Peleo-Alampay, and Filipino-Chinese advocate Teresita Ang See attended the event. More than a fund raising activity, the afternoon was an amalgamation of literary, performing and visual arts gems for the young and the young at heart.
While the gallery had the paintings of the book’s illustrators for interested clients and the culturati, Hazelle Preclaro-Ontengco, Executive Director of Wordlab School Manila, provided storytelling sessions to the kids who came. The competent teacher that she is, she was well prepared with props, visual aids and, a song and dance ensemble. TOWNS President, Atty. Lorna Kapunan came fashionably late but redeemed herself by sharing words of wisdom to the older set of audience. She harped on the importance of reading books. She added that the learning experiences of childhood are carried on until adulthood. Gigo Alampay, CANVAS head honcho, thanked everyone who came and supported the collaborative project with TOWNS Foundation.
Published by UST Press, the book Earth Tales: Three Ecofables for Children, gathers two fables from traditional folk literature and one original fable by Canadian scientist Paul Leet Aird. All three stories speak of the relevance in keeping nature’s gifts and treasures in a balance. Told simply and succinctly, all three fables are timeless. It appeals to readers of all ages. But what make the book extra special are the illustrations done by three fantastic Filipino women artists that the country has today.
Plet Bolipata, Liza Flores and Ivee Olivares-Mellor lent their artistic interpretations to the ecofables. The result was a visual delight that extended the narrative flow of the stories into powerful and lasting images.
The first fable, The Hummingbird, traces its origins from a Japanese folklore. It tells of the thumb-size bird’s effort to douse a forest fire using its small beak by fetching water from the river. All the animals fled for their lives save for the tiny hummingbird that did what it can to put out a raging fire destroying their home. Bolipata’s collage and digital art magnified the heroics of the little one. The last illustration for the story unfolds with a woman, the storyteller, whose yellow kimono contains the whole story of the little bird in silk tapestry. For Bolipata, the journey into illustrating the ecofable had been most challenging since her paintings were stand alone pieces and do not follow the structure of a story grammar. But she succeeded because her vivid colors and inventive style are a wonder to the eyes.
Flores, on the other hand, is a seasoned illustrator for children and former Ang Illustrador Ng Kabataan (INK) president. She found the whole project a liberating experience. Working on the illustrations of The Star Thrower did not confine her to any agenda except her own. As it often happens to author-illustrator collaborations in children’s book production, the author has his or her own viewpoints and messages to put across. In such a partnership, the illustrator is a conduit to communicate whatever purpose the story has.
For this endeavor, it allowed her the artistic freedom to visually interpret the story. Her star thrower, a little girl in red summer dress seem to dance by the sea shore as she throws each starfish back to the sea. The peaceful blue of sky and sea agreed with the quiet and neutral creamy yellow of the sand. The whole effect is sentimental but pleasantly playful. It evokes joyful memories of trips to the beach with family and friends many summers ago.
The last fable, The King and the Forest, an original by Aird was illustrated by the UK based Mellor. Her circles gave characterization to the south wind that frightened the King to his downfall. By using spheres and elliptical shapes, she has shown the relationship of the elements of air, land and water with humanity. Aird invites us to examine our fears as we relate to the living and breathing creatures around us while Mellor presents patterns of life cycles in her bright and intense colors of red, yellow, orange, blue, green and purple.
This book of ecofables is labeled for children to read and enjoy. Above all else, it attempts to reach out and make art accessible to young people. CANVAS has been successful so far. Here’s looking forward to its next literary and visual feast for the young reader and their reading guardians.