The Mutya is a mythical character in Tagalog legends, a river-goddess and protector of our waters, especially the Ilog Pasig. Based on Dr. Grace Odal-Devora’s (UP Manila) cultural research, the Mutya is also a transcendent symbol of Inang Lupa, or Mother Earth, and even Inang Bayan, our Motherland. The Mutya figure is a persistent cultural trope that has survived our history, and has remained in the residual memory of our local communities.

Amidst a world consecrated to the ideology of manic, wasteful consumerism, a “re-enchantment” of our culture – a return to our shared and sacred relationships – seems to be the call of our times.

Prof. Felipe de Leon, Jr., the renowned Philippine Humanities scholar, also called for this re-enchantment project, wherein art provides a space where traditional values meet the aesthetics of the everyday.

With the heart-rending news of continued lumad (indigenous) killings in southern Philippines and the continuing global disruption of the earth’s cycles through climate change, we are reminded of the value of the Mutya’s persistent message on the sacredness of life and land, a message that has been lived and embodied from the time of our indigenous forebears, although waylaid in contemporary social discourse.

But now even the fields of art and performance are responding to the ecological dilemmas of our time.

Art critic Suzi Gablik has affirmed the "re-enchantment of art" as a call to reinvigorate our lives with the principles of nurture, connection and care – traditionally feminine values – that offer a counterpoint to the prevalent western modernist, Cartesian paradigm of ego-centered, isolated and commodified aesthetics that instead highlight the artist and the human being as a lone, independent entity who is free of any moral and social concerns and obligations.

Gablik uses the term 'connective aesthetics' to refer to art that deeply draws from, and responds to, the social and ecological relationships and challenges of our times. Shifting from egocentric art to eco-centric art, the self is now seen in relation to others, and in relation to the larger environment. Here, the artist works in collaboration and dialogue with other social players. His or her art is collectively born and worked out in sensitive connection with other agents in society and culture. No longer the misunderstood genius, the artist is now one who can embody art as a socially-conscious, morally-cognizant, and even ecologically-aware, practice. 

Performing the Mutya as an Invocation

Our short film on the Mutya ng Ilog is part of the performative panel “Letters to the River/Mga Liham sa Ilog,” which was presented at the Performance Studies Conference, De La Salle University, in November 2015. The panel aimed to offer a participative, experiential performance that marries elements of music, movement, meditation and ecology. It also aimed to heighten participants’ awareness on the importance of slowing down in silence, in natural places especially, as a form of self-care and sensitivity to the natural world.

By presenting an immersive experience of spiritual ecology through dance video, meditation and readings, we attempt to give flesh and blood to this integral connection of art and life, of art and our natural ecology, of art and our traditional Philippine values.

We are grateful to the artists who offered their time and energy to this endeavor. We used Jess Santiago's plaintive song, "Daloy Aking Ilog," which is evocative of the Mutya’s return, and is interpreted by Daloy Dance Company in movement. We are also honored to have Alma Quinto’s soft sculptures of the Mutya and some riverine animals, which may be touched and held, bringing in the aesthetic of comfort and softness into the visceral experience. The eco-poetry of Charlie Veric (the panel co-curator), Rio Alma and Mike Coroza also lent various layers of literary intensity.

“Letters to the River” reaffirms art as a place of encounter where we can experience our vital self in relation to our cultural values and the power of our natural world.

Rina Angela Corpus is an Assistant Professor at Department of Art Studies, University of the Philippines-Diliman. She is currently taking her PhD in Dance at the University of Melbourne. She is also a Raja yoga meditation teacher. Her research interests include art and dance in relation to traditional spiritual and cultural values.