Marrz Capanang is co-founder of Alima Community, Artivism Iloilo, and Himbon Contemporary Ilonggo Artists Group. He took part in a week long-residency with Haarlem Artspace in July 2019.
This day was my schedule to finish the mural. I was a little bit worried of the details that I need to put based on the mural’s initial raw/wild/epic rendition. There was this little thing bugging me, something that must connect the whole story in the mural. I remembered we (me and Livvy) visited the local church, the building was made from limestone and the windows were embellished with very ornate and artistic stained glass art. In one side, Livvy showed me the “miner” it was funny that at first I heard it as “the minor” so I expected a young boy or girl working and earning at a very young age. When we were about to leave we stood in front of a very old tablet created between 2000 to 1000 B.C., and I got struck by an interesting feature - a dragon. The tablet was a carving of two separate events; the top portion were images of angels whereas in the lower portion was where the lonesome and what-I-felt-a-desecrated dragon is situated.
Questions blurted my head “why the heck there was a dragon in the first place?” I immediately researched about the dragon and its significance in UK. In my surprise, I found what I need and this is how it reads: “Saint George slew the evil dragon” in all of my readings. However, something inflamed my interest, a phrase from one of my readings and it says “Saint George converted the whole village to Christianity before he slew the dragon.” As far as my perception permits, in Asia the dragons are revered as a very essential symbol in history and culture. In most of the countries the dragons are keepers of the natural realms may it be of waters, of skies, or of mountains – all of them symbolize nature. These made up my decision and I was so excited where to paint the dragon.
Unlike the other day, I painted early in the morning and the sun was very giving. For three hours I worked heavily on the details on the mural: I added houses, distant villages, sporadic trees, vibrant patterns, the sun and directional lines. Around 12 noon, Dermot promised to pick me up and drive me to the Nine Ladies which I insisted to go there. It is like a younger sister of Stonehenge from how I understood. So we drove there. Along our trip he shared to me tad bits of interesting information about the different places as we pass by. I told Dermot how happy I was to be in this place surrounded by pleasant hills and towering trees like how I feel the same with everyone from the Haarlem. Then he sincerely responded about his initial years here in UK as immigrant. We have a lot in common; especially how close our hearts with Nature. We both love the idea of Permaculture and Animism, our conversation intertwined fluidly like how the earth accepts the roots of a young plant – so natural. Dermot is the husband of Livvy, he is also a painter. He was originally from the Caribbean the same climate as where I live, yet it does not justify our soul-connection.
Few minutes later we arrived in our destination but we have to walk a mile to reach the Nine Ladies. Along our path we spotted some raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries and bilberries! So we foraged while talking about the dire things happening in this world. The path we took led us to gateways formed by the trees and towards the shades formed by welcoming leaves. We passed these alternating scenes that swell our hearts until we arrived at a clearing where you can witness waves and waves of bilberries and heathers – he shared to me that the name Heather came from the plant heather. He reached his
hand inside his hand-woven bag and then grabbed a plastic-kind-of-a-tool to rake in the bilberries and it was his first time he said. I even joked that his way is how capitalists work and mine was more animistic. Nature is just way too giving; we both like the idea that the cities should have been growing fruit trees instead of foreign-decorative trees if we want to stop the hunger problem.
We went on and we reached the longest meadow. It was mostly scenic and exhilarating as well as I still could not believe it was really happening. After a long walk we saw couple of boulders, it was probably at the edge of a hill. We continued with a flurry of soul-to-soul conversation about the simplicity of life and why most people wanted it to be complicated then suffer from it and end up blaming anything then finally seek the simple life. The damage brought by money added to the complexity and how it ruptured the innocence within us and our connection with the earth. Then there was silence, a great silence that most people do not appreciate. We basked there for almost an hour when I opened up to Dermot about the dragon story. He listened to me and he felt the same. We both concluded that the dragon was the emblem of nature and the people who were considered pagans are also animists; most of the common misconception that Animism was a religion but it is not, it is more of a “way of life”. I pointed to the horizon, using my hand I mimicked the dragon’s movement and Dermot saw that the motion replicates the flow of the hills. And the dragon is the hill itself; the waves, the mountains, the rivers, the falls, the invisible thread that binds everything in place or the soul-to-soul connectivity.
Dermot continued to lead the way and finally we arrived at the Nine Ladies. We progressed closer to the landmark which made me wonder of “the little sister of the Stonehenge”, like literally they looked like stools for 9-year olds. Although that did not dishearten me since we imagined how our ancestors gathered here for cultural rite and festivities. They were more connected with nature, yet “pagans” to the eye of the colonizers. I was caught up by my imagination for a while about what really happened when suddenly my made-up images vanished through thin air was then replaced by the view of an army of Silver birch. Dumbfounded I was, memories of Van Gogh’s artworks blew my mind – yes! I saw it in his masterpieces. For a while I got connected with Van Gogh. He is one of the artists that I really admire because he view the world differently and appreciate nature intimately. He even captured the synergies of elements within the natural world thru his distinguished strokes. Because of my curiosity, I hurriedly stood near a Silver Birch and scrutinized the phenomenon behind its sheen and it was monumental!
We took a breather not so far from the Nine Ladies. Some folks passed us and were also bewildered of the Nine Ladies’ appearance. Dermot took out some of his homemade sandwiches and gave me one, on one side was a box of strawberries. While we were munching a vegetarian treat, his tattoo on his left forearm grabbed my attention. Similarly we don’t like to have tattoos but it was so fascinating that we both have tattoos on the same side of forearm. His tattoo was colourful and only composed of lines whereas mine was only black and minimalistic which is akin to Filipino traditional tattoo. We experienced significant, consciousness-uplifting encounter the reason we needed the tattoo. Moreover, that was how we end up talking about the layers of the earth, interconnectivity, spirituality and the depths of the unknown.
Around 3 PM we drove back to the Primary School and then he left for work. Before that we passed by the narrow road like a tunnel full of trees and vines, it was Dermot’s favorite road. I got back to the mural with enthusiasm multiplied significantly and was revved up to finish it. I was detailing the mural then suddenly the air changed, the kids now love the mural. Most of them were surprised about the drastic change from yesterday. Words from their mouth were more pleasant to the ear. Even the parents and teachers could not believe the transformation. It was also a lesson: one cannot judge the surface because even the basic element holds a great potential. In the morning, one blond girl with ocean eyes was mesmerized by the patterns and overall visuals of the mural though it was 80% done at that time. She uttered with her tiny voice “you are great and talented”. I turned and look at her eyes, they were the sincerest. I honoured her words and then blissfully replied to her “oh, thank you” then I smiled. Meanwhile the other kids showed their interest and asked me “when will you finish it?”, “what else do you want to add?” The same questions echoed from other kids. So I told them, it is almost done perhaps around 98% and I am thinking of adding the dragon. “Woah!”, “I love dragonsssss!”, “You should paint one that flies over the village”, their unhesitant replies. “You know what, I will paint the dragon behind the hills”, I responded. “Why?!”, “But it should spew some fire!”, announcing it repeatedly. “The dragon is sleeping because he is tired of the problems around the world”, they were puzzled by my statement.
Finally the mural was finished. A lot of parents observed me while working and praised me. There was a moment when I shared the whole concept to a grandparent and fully agreed about the connection of Paganism, Animism and the dragon. In addition, the mural depicted the history of massive quarry and how it transformed thru time with the help of the community and nature’s way of recuperating; also it showed the transition from summer to winter. When I was about to leave, the same grandparent came back with his granddaughter who was the blond girl in the morning. She looked at me straight in the eyes and gently said “Thank you”. In her eyes I saw the innocent spirit that used to rule the world.