How the ‘Gift of Self’ came to be

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People Power, prayers and paintings. These are often what the late former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino’s friends, relatives and closest allies talk about when remembering the beloved icon of democracy. Her David and Goliath fight in 1986, which put the Philippines on the map against an indestructible dictatorship; her unwavering faith that guided her in mothering the nation to the end of her life; and her generous gifts of self through her favorite hobby using a brush, easel and palette.

Deedee Siytangco, the former President’s longtime spokesperson and close friend, is at the helm of the exhibit “Gift of Self”

Deedee Siytangco, the former President’s longtime spokesperson and close friend, is at the helm of the exhibit “Gift of Self”

Fr. Gregg Bañaga

Adamson University president, Fr. Gregg Bañaga, shares his idea to stage the exhibit came during his visit to the Aquino Center Museum in Tarlac, Cory’s and his home province

Deedee Siytangco

Deedee Siytangco introduces Cory Aquino’s painting mentor, Jeffrey Consumo

But among the three, it is Cory Aquino, the artist that the public knows very little about, what with less than a handful of mini-exhibits organized for special causes during the latter part of her life.

“Painting was truly her form of self-expression,” the former President’s longtime spokesperson and close friend Deedee Siytangco told The Sunday Times Magazine. “But save for four paintings, which were auctioned off for charity, Tita Cory only gave her paintings away as gifts on special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries to some friends and a handful of supporters. She was very modest about her talent but she was a very prolific artist.”

Hopefully, come July 29, through the collaboration of Siytangco and Adamson University President Fr. Gregg Bañaga, with the generous support of The Manila Hotel, the public will finally come to know more about this side of the former President through the biggest exhibition of Cory Aquino paintings to date.

Titled A Gift of Self, the five-day exhibit, which concludes on Mrs. Aquino’s death anniversary on August 2, stemmed from the idea of Fr. Bañaga after he visited the Aquino Center Museum in Tarlac in 2009.

“I also hail from Tarlac,” the Vicentian priest said at the exhibit’s press conference on Thursday at The Manila Hotel. “There, I finally got to see a few of the former President’s works, and though they were just a handful of pieces, I was very impressed with what I saw and realized that while Mrs. Aquino may not be recognized as an artist, she truly imbibes the creative spirit. It was then that I thought that this is a side of her that should be made known to more Filipinos.”

Through The Manila Times president and CEO Dante Ang 2nd, a personal friend of Fr. Bañaga’s, he was finally able to connect with Siytangco early this year, and the project immediately went on full blast.

Siytangco—whose own family has always made it a point to organize simple but special celebrations to commemorate the former President’s death anniversary every year—enthusiastically called up Mrs. Aquino’s closest friends and associates, and an overwhelming number were more than willing to share their prized paintings for public viewing.

Project of love
Siytangco’s daughter, Sandee Marasigan, who enthusiastically volunteered to help organize what quickly became a large scale exhibit, told The Sunday Times Magazine that her mom and Fr. Bañaga initially planned on just mounting 20 artworks at a gallery in Adamson University.

“But as mom made the calls, friends called friends, and suddenly, we were counting to over 80 paintings with more coming in before Monday’s opening,” Marasigan enthused. “We’re thankful to the Manila Hotel for coming to our rescue because the venue became a problem since we could no longer fit the artworks in the space available at Adamson.”

But beyond showing Mrs. Aquino’s artistic side, Marasigan added that what is even more interesting about the pieces in the exhibit are the stories behind how the former President had given them to her friends. (See main article).

Sharing her own story, Marasigan who had the former President as principal sponsor when she married her husband Andrew, recalled that her family was gifted their one and only Cory Aquino painting when she gave birth to her daughter.

“By some twist of fate, my daughter Amanda was born on Tita Cory’s birthday. She was born on January 25, 1999, and even the President herself loved to tease my mom that she made it happen that way!” Marasigan laughed.

“Amanda was already a month-old when Tita Cory came to visit us at home, and she said she was sure my mom had already given the baby enough clothes and things to last her a lifetime. So she said, ‘I’ll give her something Lola cannot buy,’ and it was an oil on wood painting of flowers on a blue background.”

According to Marasigan, the artworks and the stories together show just how generous the former President had been throughout her life, sharing even the fruits of her personal hobby as gifts to her friends.

“That’s why we call this a ‘project of love’ because everything that will be on display were given by Tita Cory out of love, and now being shared by their owners out of love for the former President.”

Who’s who
The participating exhibitors of Cory Aquino artworks are a veritable who’s who of movers and shakers in government, business and civil society. Besides the personalities featured in today’s cover story, there are also pieces lent by the Aquino family’s spiritual adviser, Fr. Catalino Arevalo, SJ; Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima; business mogul Manuel V. Pangilinan; former Tourism Secretary Jose de Jesus; former Speaker of the House Jose de Venecia and his wife Gina; The Manila Bulletin’s Dr. Emilio Yap and his grandson Emil Yap 3rd; PCSO chairman Margie Juico; fashion designer Paul Cabral; Ambassador Howard Dee; and Justice Consuelo Santiago, among others.

Three of Mrs. Aquino’s daughters, Ballsy Cruz, Pinky Abellada and Viel Dee, have also pledged to lend a painting each.

“Ballsy has already sent her painting, and it bears three women side by side, titled ‘Four Sisters’,” Marasigan related. “We had asked President Noy but he was unable to lend us one since he was very busy with the SONA, and Kris is also very busy.”

As curator of the exhibit, Marasigan confessed that the challenge now is how to organize the pieces, which come from such prominent personalities.

“The best way we could think of is to display them according to the artistic phases of the President—her paintings of flowers, the ‘Roses and Rosary’ series, landscapes, faces, and even some abstracts.”

Moreover, Marasigan noted that the public will realize that Mrs. Aquino was not only a prolific painter but an adventurous one, since they will also display pieces of her paintings on stones, porcelain plates, wooden boards, throw pillows, and even bags.

“Once I joined Tita Cory and her friends during a painting class, and she told me that she really had the most fun when she painted,” Marasigan shared. “Painting was really her form of expression, and her use of bright colors in every one of them essentially showed what a beautiful and generous person she was, and how she has always been hopeful and positive, especially for our country.”

The Manila Times is a media partner of “A Gift of Self” exhibit, along with The Manila Bulletin. The show is made possible through the sponsorships of Smart, PLDT, Meralco, Philex Mining Corporation, Metro Pacific Tollways, Metro Pacific Investment, and the Wine Museum.

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