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Resurrecting Folk Arts on Easter Sunday
(by Carlos Marquez  4/17/2017)

ON the evening of Easter Sunday, Heber Bartolome and Elito Circa gave the kiss of life to folk arts that today’s gadgets and social media are unwittingly killing. As Bartolome finished a couple of his 1970s signature protest songs, Circa was done with his four paintings before a visibly awed “A Night of Folk Music and Painting” audience at the Harvest Hotel, in Cabanatuan City.

The folk art dinner show was sponsored by the Rotary Club of San Jose Golden Harvest and Rotary Club of Cabanatuan North, Nueva Ecija.

Bartolome and Circa are birds of the same feathers. The former is a fine arts graduate from the University of the Philippines who became more known for his music that frankly discussed the ills the Philippine Martial Law years tried to slip under the rug. The latter saw and was part of the same bitter hues of the picture the government wanted to daub with vibrant shades in his raw age. Heber, now 68, is a native of Cabanatuan; Circa, two decades younger, is from Pantabangan, northeast of Cabanatuan. The former painted and sang, the latter painted his anger and appreciation of his environment – with his raw blood.

Heber Bartolome became known for his – among others – “Nena”, that articulated how poor Filipinas turned prostitutes, and “Tayo’y Mga Pinoy”, that proudly shouted to the world being a Filipino. He stirred the youth of his times with his “Pasahero”, “Almusal”, “Inutil na Gising” and “Karaniwang Tao”. While making gigs around Metro Manila’s folk houses at night, he taught Literature at the De La Salle University.

Circa wanted local youth immortalize Filipino folk artists like Heber Bartolome. He said in his Facebook post inviting for the show: “For the young people who do not know Heber Bartolome [and his group Banyuhay] here are some of his most remembered songs – “Tayo'y Mga Pinoy”, “Awit Sa Mga Magulang”, “Babae”, “Nena”, “Buhay Pinoy”, “Pasahero”, “Tawag Ni Ina”, “Ihip Ng Hangin”, “Awit Ko Soneta”, “Karaniwang Tao”, “Salome”, “Ako'y Mang-aawit ng Aking Panahon”, “Inutil Na Gising”, “Awit Sa Kasal”, “Prolema Ng Tao, Ng Hayop At Ng Damo”, “Almusal”, “Huling Awit Para Kay Pepe”, “Tagulaylay”, “Hanggang”, “Karaniwang Tao”, and “Pag-asa”.

Circa, popularly known as Amangpintor, shocked the Filipino artists community for dripping his own blood and applying it on his canvass with the strands of his hair. He called his collection of blood paintings “Buhay na Obra” (Living Masterpieces).

Amangpintor is an accidental artist. Then a grade school pupil at Saint Andrew’s School in Pantabangan the sight of his townsfolk fleeing the water engulfing the old town as the government started to fill the reservoir of Pantabangan Dam traumatized him. One day, while sharpening his pencil at home, he unintentionally pricked his middle finger. He dabbed the blood that spurted on the paper on which he was sketching the mass evacuation scene. Since then, he would always puncture parts of his flesh and apply it on his drawing pad – without his parents knowing. He got another idea. His father was a barber and one day he asked him to fashion a paint brush out his own hair. His father hesitated but gave in seeing the eager looks in his son’s eyes. Thus born the blood and hair artist of Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija.

“We do this to rouse today’s youth who are engrossed on modern gadgets and social media. There are also artists among them and their arts should be re-awakened. Their dead intrinsic art should be resurrected,” Amang Pintor said in Tagalog. He had travelled the Philippines for his actual blood paintings and he regarded his stint at the University of Southern Mindanao moved him for the enthusiasm shown by around 1,000 humanities students in his 30-minute “Sabayan Ninyo Ako” (Let’s Do It Together) group painting session. He lost count of his performances mostly covered live on television.

In about six minutes while Heber Bartolome was singing two last requested songs for the night, Amang Pintor finished four 22x36-centimeter water-based acrylic hand-painting he called “Kaparangan” (Forest), a scene familiar to him in his native Pantabangan. Heber sang an impromptu composition describing Circa's just completed painting “Kaparangan” for his finale.

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