Friday, November 13, 2015

IRRI, National Museum share treasures with the world

MANILA, Philippines – The late National Artist Vicente Manansala must have been smiling last night. Jointly organized by the National Museum of the Philippines and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Sharing the Harvest featured the public unveiling of IRRI’s three Manansala studies in the museum’s IRRI hall as well as the launch of the Guide to the birds of Philippine rice fields, and the 2016 Heirloom Rice Recipes calendar.

IRRI deputy director general Bruce Tolentino welcomed high-level Philippine government officials, members of the diplomatic corps, and special guests and dignitaries to the "trifecta of events only made possible by the the strength of partnerships."

The event was headlined by the formal turnover of three Manansala studies that had never been on public exhibit: studies of his two mural-sized paintings commissioned by IRRI in the 1960s and another of A prayer before meals—all part of IRRI’s art collection.  The studies and the large paintings are currently on a renewable five-year loan to the museum.

National Museum Director Jeremy Barns said the studies greatly enhance the IRRI Manansala collection, now housed at the museum’s IRRI Hall, inaugurated in May this year. “They are as important as the finished artwork themselves as they often give the back stories of the artistic process,” he said. “They make our research and interpretation for the benefit of all our visitors that much deeper and more compelling.”

Mita Rufino, vice president of the Friends of Manansala Foundation, Inc., shared personal stories about the legendary artist: his struggles before making a name for himself, his health problems that diminished his ability to paint—though not his genius—and his friendship. She mentioned Manansala’s last major work that had caught the attention of art collectors willing to pay good money for it but which he gave to Rufino as a gift for looking after him while he was recuperating at a hospital. “He had a loving heart,” said Rufino. “He loved to have fun and he loved to eat good food.”

Good food was certainly part of the evening, as top chefs of the country provided culinary delights featuring heirloom rice from the Cordillera Region of northern Philippines. Six rockstar chefs—Robby Goco, Chele Gonzalez, Gaita Forés, Anthony Raymond, Jessie Sincioco, and Sharwin Tee—each contributed two recipes for the 2016 Heirloom Rice Recipes calendar, a joint project of the Department Agriculture and IRRI, who co-implement the Heirloom Rice Project.

“The chefs generously shared their talent and creativity to create these recipes that capture the incredible flavors, textures, and versatility of heirloom rice,” said Casiana Vera Cruz, lead of HRP, during the launch of the calendar.

“When we think of great rice dishes, we think of rice from other countries,” said Chef Robby, speaking on behalf of the other chefs. “IRRI invited me to create dishes using heirloom rice for Fusion Madrid. When I tried them out, I noticed how strong the identity was of each variety.” He created even more recipes, which he now serves at his restaurants and have become very popular among his clients.

“The response has been very positive and I can confidently say the Philippine heirloom rice has a place among the great rice varieties in the world,” he added.

Also launched during the evening was IRRI’s Guide to the birds of Philippine rice fields, which features excellent photographs of avians that frequent the country’s rice areas. The guide offers photographs of common and rare bird species alike, and includes important information for identification of the birds as well as for encouraging a better understanding of the important role of these feathered creatures in the ecological balance of rice-farming systems and the larger environment.

“The book will be useful even for non-bird photographers,” said Tirso Paris, former UPLB professor, whose photographs are featured in the guide. “Through this book, I hope we can spread the message that we need to put a lot of effort in the conservation of birds.”

The three-part event was attended by dignitaries including Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food; Undersecretary Segfredo Serrano, Philippine Dept. of Agriculture; Major General John Gomes, ambassador of Bangladesh to the Philippines; Kok Li Peng, ambassador of Singapore to the Philippines; Aruni Ranaraja, ambassador of Sri Lanka to the Philippines; Jaroslav Olsa, Jr., ambassador of the Czech Republic to the Philippines; N. Ramakrishnan, first secretary for commerce and education, Embassy of India; Cecilia Honrado, ACIAR manager in the Philippines and representative of the Australian Embassy; and Alfredo Pascual, president of the University of the Philippines System.

Sharing the Harvest was held at the National Museum on 12 November 2015.

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