He wasn’t. Nor did he claim to be deity in any of his writings. But the photographs of his monuments for a show entitled Over Rizal at the Vargas Museum would make you believe otherwise. Employing the lighter tone and the touristy production, the exhibition retells history from the people who read about it, reflecting how the iconic representation of a hero affected the collective unconscious of an entire people. From the Latin word “monere,” which means ‘to remind’ or ‘to warn,’ a monument is a type of structure either explicitly created to commemorate a person or important event or which has become important to a social group as a part of their remembrance of past events. Here Rizal monuments are shown to be treated also as shrines and temples—a place for public adoration not different from Buddha or the Virgin Mary.
The ambiguities inherent in this reevaluation of Rizal Monuments all over the country point to the question how the icon of Rizal—the legend behind it and not necessarily the person—affects us in a culture that has become so obsessed with heroes and monuments in a time and place so consumed by so many other images and multimedia. On top of this, the exhibition mends many instances of understanding and veneration of Jose Rizal. It is interesting to note that in contrast to predictable modes of presentation, this exhibition shows why it seems naïve to ask merely about Rizal’s relevance. The better question perhaps is why like a few other exceptional cases is Rizal an enduring image that we can connect to just about anything, from cigarettes to terrorist bombings.
A stone’s throw away at the Atelyer of the Bulwagan ng Dangal, An exhibition focuses on the connection between our national hero and the University of the Philippines. Like the one in Vargas, this exhibition employs the rather ambiguous and ambivalent relationship of UP and Rizal mostly manifested “between the texts” written over the past century. In this exhibit Rizal is seen and used as a standard role model to stress and advance the concept of an Iskolar ng Bayan as an idealized agent of rational nationhood. This is evident in Rizal’s “textual presence” within UP either as academic structure on campus, heroic image in art, and national genius in course curricula, from the early period of UP in Padre Faura, until its transfer and growth in Diliman.
While the exhibition appeared too wordy in my opinion, the treatment of Rizal as a text complements the exhibition at Vargas which deals mostly with images. Looking at Rizal through this academic treatment likely stresses the impact and also the uselessness of these texts and images, especially when they are examined in such a way and in such terms. For example, the photograph of the Rizal monument in Dumaguete failed to show that behind the monument to Rizal is a monument to his fictional character Maria Clara, depicted bound and forlorn by its sculptor. Most monuments do not idealize and more so in photos; aren’t they supposed to appear larger than life? And in Bulwagan ng Dangal books—Nick Joaquin’s, A question of heroes and Flor Quibuyen’s A nation aborted: Rizal, American hegemony, and Philippine nationalism—are displayed like museum pieces! Aren’t these books better perused than displayed in a glass box? Oh well!
Celebrating Rizal through exhibitions like these is also a nostalgic . Our generation, deprived of the equally heroic concept of heroes and monuments, tends to blend Rizal into the realms of communication and entertainment—of questions of archetypes and semantics. But then again, even if passé, what more fitting way to reconcile Rizal—the life and the legend—than to produce and study new meanings for a new generation?