Secular Humanism: Margins of the Masses

One of my key interests in festival culture is its “mushroom effect” – it’s capacity to grow new worlds within communal relation. Mycelium is the mushroom network that grows in rich soil and nourishes its development –& this is how plants learn to speak to each other across distances.

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photo from Uplift Connect: “Plants Communicate Using An Internet of Fungi”

Festival cultures breed new modes of communal growth, gathering and assemblage, upon which future communication networks blossom. So when I heard of the Humanist Alliance Philippines International having their yearly General Assembly in Bacolod, coincidentally during MassKara Festival, I got excited about this happening.

In a country like the Philippines, forever transformed by Spanish Catholic colonization, notions of “secularism” fall far from the mainstream discourse. That this secular group organizes humanist-based community development projects without turning to the logics of “god as a savior” is a novel mode of service orientation for this society. Yet, it felt apt, that a festival like MassKara Festival –not based on religion, myth or history would be a meeting place for this kind of organizing.

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“HAPI promotes secular humanism as a progressive philosophy suggesting that human beings, given the right education, can be ethical and morally upright even without divine interference.”

from the Humanist Alliance Philippines International

Before the conference, I got the chance to speak with three coordinators in Bacolod’s chapter of HAPI, who illuminated the work of the organizationJuan Miguel Silva – auditor, Rayd Espeja – public relations officer, and Angelique Anne Villa, writer and SEO expert of Bacolod chapter.

HAPI operates a few working projects: Kids NutriCamp (group feeding), SHADE (secular advocacy in partnership with schools), Green Movement (see below), and Re-Kindle PH (to uplift artists in community).

“We’re like MassKara… We started with limited funds, we ‘pretend’ like it is going well and later on, we [do] succeed. Everything goes smoothly, everything goes well, we find partners along the way…”

“Humanism develops unity. With MassKara Festival, a lot of communities work together in creating beautiful masks, costumes, choreography to showcase talents. In a more humanistic sense, it brings out the best of each other.”

“MassKara is the only festival here in Negros that is non-sectorial, not influenced by the church, religion, saints, – it is solely made for the people. It makes MassKara somehow connected and relevant to humanism.

TRASH RAGE

As the kick-off of the assembly, a “Trash Rage” runway show at Robinson’s Mall  included a mall exhibit of gowns made exclusively of recycled materials. While the official MassKara Festival beauty pageant went on at the SMX Center, I went to attend the fashion runway show of these upcycled trash gowns! (Note: Unfortunately, my videos won’t appear to upload on WordPress right now, but I hope to find some links soon)

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Is it trash or beauty or BOTH? Designed by Entrepreneurial Eco Artists of Negros Island, their work challenged aesthetics of trash as disposable, instead using their materiality to envision future modes of art-making.

from Visayan Daily Star:

‘Trash Rage’ exhibit on
BY JOEVEL BARTOLOME

Local artists from the Entrepreneurial Eco Artists of Negros Island showcase Filipino culture and promote environmental awareness, at the launching of the “Trash Rage” exhibit at Robinsons Place Bacolod Saturday.

The members of Entrepreneurial Eco Artists of Negros Island created 16 Filipiniana-inspired gowns from upcycled materials, in partnership with the Humanist Alliance Philippines International.

Esdie Valladarez, Marlo Espanola, Leonard Andres Rodriguez, Mikee Guitche, Ronel Cordero, Gladys Cape, Augusto Murillo Jr., Jonan Arguelles, Chimbee Lee, and Mike Satander are some of the artists featured in the exhibit.

Most of the gowns were made up of discarded polystyrene foam, glass, yarn, aluminum pop tabs, sacks, and single-use plastics, such as utensils, bottles, wrappers, and cellophane.

Aside from promoting environmental responsibility and recycling, the exhibit aims to preserve Filipino culture through the art of gown-making, EEANI president, Ian Valladarez, said.

I also use trash as an art & activist medium. From a Public Performance Art Fellowship with Betty’s Daughter’s Arts Collaborative, I developed a  performance project, “Liquid Plasticity” or “Trashback to the Future.” Drawing from butoh dance, popular mythology of the mermaid and material reality of polluted oceans, I move slowly as a mermaid who arrives on the shore of the city streets to see her ancestors bones littered on the street. I have performed her in the streets of NYC and at Yale Divinity School’s Religion and Ecology Conference, exploring the boundary of the sacred and profane. In this way, I am less interested in the aesthetics of making trash beautiful to be seen, but more compelled to confront the dark truth of trash as embodied. Because we are trash makers and we live its fate. While they asked me to perform her for an event, I felt hesitant how to perform this character in the Philippine context; in the end, I fell into fever that day and meditated on healing in a toxic world.

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GENERAL ASSEMBLY

The highlights of Saturday’s conference, for me, were simply seeing topics at the near edge of social mainstream be discussed in community dialogue.

Digital Humanism: Providing Employment Capabilities Through Online Skills Training by Clarence Ruelos: Coming from Iligan in Mindanao, Clarence presented an overview of the growing service network of digital freelancers based in his town. Although digital workers get the reputation of being homebodies, by creating a social media platform for and with other web freelancers, Clarence helps to build a community around digital employment. Furthermore, the network continues to expand economic opportunities through teaching digital media skills with their community. In a country like the Philippines, whose main economy comes from overseas workers, tapping into digital skills as a resource and as a social network with net worth is an incredibly important future turn in financial direction.

Mental Health Awareness by Kates Ante: A poignant, powerful, entertaining and enlightening talk on the issue of mental health in the Philippines. Kates shared her struggles for mental stability amidst a society that often downplays its seriousness, and why it is so important for family and friends to be open in having conversations about mental health struggles.

<Currently, I have the audio files from these lectures, but not the time to go through and upload them all. If anyone reading this in HAPI or Bacolod is interested in getting an audio file copy, cutting, and uploading, hit me up!>

 

ORGANIZING BEYOND MAINSTREAM

The HAPI happening inspired me to think about how important it is that people organize beyond the social mainstream, and that talking about an idea is as important as doing it in action. Which is not to promote ‘slacktivism’ per se, but to suggest that rather than offer “critique” of society as academics or artists often do, it takes a network of movers, shakers and thinkers to shift the culture on the ground. 

“The outcome of all movement doesn’t grow over night. Change happens over 50 years. You have to invest in it.” –Rayd Espeja

Currently, Rayd is dreamweaving his project with local community members to develop an aquaponics farm in Barangay 29. At heart of the city, yet with no farm lands, he hopes to help introduce the use of aquaponics as a mode of communal livelihood. I appreciated his statement that as an activist, he invests in the present knowing that its outcome will require decades to ripple its effects. In this way, it makes sense to organize within the annual structure of the festival, continuously growing new branches with every year. 

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