TWO days ago, an Official Gazette tweet announced that Imelda Marcos’s jewelry collection was to be auctioned off. The link brings you to an excerpted article about the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) getting the approval of the Privatization Council to sell seven Marcos properties.
It also spoke of how the PCGG will seek the clearance of the same council to auction off the Marcos jewelry based on the appraisals of Christie’s and Sotheby’s.
I say: consult the people about those jewels, talk to the academia, bring in the cultural institutions. Because unlike real estate acquired by the Marcoses, these jewels (as with Imelda’s clothes and shoes), are artifacts of our past that we can learn from, that are critical to our education as nation.
And if we are smart, it can also be a gift that will keep on giving, a national treasure that we can keep earning from, for generations to come.
The gift of provenance
David Warren, from Christie’s, had said late last year: “Provenance is a big seller. People love the story, they love to know something more about jewelry. A lot of jewelry unfortunately carries no story. So when you have something like this where there’s a big story, a big provenance, it’s a provenance that some people are not going to like, it’s a provenance that some people are going to find interesting, that some people will love. It’s a mixture, it’s a mixture of emotions, obviously because of the history behind it. But it’s still provenance, it’s a very big provenance, whatever you feel about that.” (ABS-CBNNews.com, 24 Nov 2015)
It’s that provenance, obviously, that government has a problem with. The fact that this was ill-gotten wealth by one of the most notorious characters in Philippine history and politics, makes us want to make money out of it now, and get it out of our sight soonest. It seems these jewels are reason for embarrassment, like an ugly part of our past that we would rather not remember.
And yet it is precisely that dark oppressive violent past that should make these jewels a critical part of our present. It is the dynamic between the beauty of the jewelry, and the crisis of nation during its acquisition, that should make it one of the best education we might receive about Martial Law and the Marcoses.
There is nothing wrong with keeping these artifacts of one of the most oppressive and violent times in our history. If anything, it is the perfect context for these jewels and its provenance, it is the best reason to keep these jewels and engage the younger generations of Filipinos in an intelligent conversation about our Marcos past, and our political present.
Beyond artifacts of women
Elsewhere in the world, this is how famous jewelry and clothing collections are handled: these are exhibited, over and over, in multifarious ways, and allowed to speak not just about the women who owned these jewels, but more importantly, about what these women stood for given the roles they played, the images they portrayed.
In 2001, the Metropolitan Museum of Art for example, had an exhibit of Jacqueline Kennedy’s jewelry, clothes, and other artifacts from her years as First Lady, which was not just about capturing her iconic style, but about proving her “visual metaphor for her cultural aspirations for the White House. Under her aegis, it would become an exquisite and stylish showplace, and a background for a worldly and sophisticated mix of guests drawn from the realms of arts and culture as well as national and world politics and diplomacy.” (MetMuseum.org, 2001)
This was merely a selection of what is kept and is exhibited by the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, all year.
In 2012, an exhibit of Princess Diana’s clothes as a modern princess became part of “transforming visitor’s experience” of Kensington Palace. Another exhibit of Diana’s clothes and jewels traveled North America from 2003 to 2014, one that had also been in her ancestral home in England since 1998. It displayed not just the gowns and tiaras, but also the history of a public icon who went beyond princess. Art handler Graeme Murton said: “It tells a story of a legend, a woman who married into royalty, but used her status to bring people’s awareness – HIV, landmines, things people didn’t want to talk about. Being a princess, she didn’t have to but she did.” (Cincinnati.com, 14 Feb 2014)
And because you might say how dare I put Imelda in the same league as Diana and Jackie O.! How dare I imagine that Imelda is on the same level as this style icon and this princess!
It doesn’t take daring to admit to one basic fact: Imelda was First Lady. She was, and is, of course many other things. The latter is what we can discuss in relation to these jewels.
The fact of culture
One hopes the PCGG and this matuwid na daan would be more creative, more imaginative, when it comes to thinking about what can be done with these “ill-gotten assets” of the Marcoses. Because there is a cultural response to the political insistence that these jewels must be auctioned of.
It’s all pretty obvious: as cultural artifacts, these jewels will be cared for by the State, for the people. As artifacts, it can make for countless exhibitions, ones that nation can earn from, but also one that can reveal Martial Law for what it truly was. It was about these jewels and Imelda’s cultural institutions, yes, but also it must be paralleled with the greed and violence, oppression and repression of the Marcos regime.
A cultural perspective will allow for these artifacts to carry the weight of that past. But also it will allow the present to inherit what it might, for as long as it can, from these jewels. We can earn from this forever, instead of selling it in one go. We can also learn from it forever, instead of losing sight of everything it stands for in our history, and in the present.
According to Chairman Richard T. Amurao, one of PCGG’s major tasks is “to privatize surrendered and recovered ill-gotten assets of the Marcoses and his cronies with proceeds going to its true owners, the Filipino people.”
Well if the Filipino people are the true owners of these jewels, shouldn’t we first be allowed to see it? Shouldn’t we have a say in where these jewels will go?