The keys to a long-lasting relationship between French & Philippine cultural & artistic institutions [fr]
French-Philippine cultural cooperation has been nourished over the years by many cross-influences, some of which occurred before any official exchanges. Such examples include the personal ties forged by illustrious personalities like Paul Proust de la Gironière, a Nantes-born French adventurer who settled in the Philippines in 1820, and the long-lasting influence of major historical figures like the national hero of the Philippines, Jose Rizal, who visited France between 1882 and 1887, and again in 1889, during which he encountered and exported many of the values and principles that shaped his intellectual path and his future political thinking. His most famous novel, “Noli me Tangere,” written in Paris, drew heavily on the values of the French Revolution, and remains a bridge between our two cultures in the present.
The French-Philippine relationship has regularly been strengthened by artists who have built cultural bridges between our two countries. The painter Juvenal Sanso, a Spaniard who emigrated to Manila at an early age, taught at the Ecole supérieure des Beaux-Arts and mounted his first exhibition in Paris in 1957. His work is a declaration of love for France through paintings which depict the landscapes of Brittany and the scenes of Paris with particular sharpness and clarity, and in which the warmth of the Philippines can always be felt. Recently, Juvenal Sanso has been honoured through an exhibition at the Alliance Française de Manille, organised with the support of the French Embassy and the Fondacion Sanso.
Even closer to home, French orchestra conductor Olivier Ochanine skillfully conducted the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra between 2010 and 2016. Ochanine, the youngest musical director in the history of the orchestra, has won numerous awards as the head of this prestigious ensemble, brilliantly embodying the closeness between French and Filipino musicians.
This bond was once again the occasion to bring French and Filipino musicians close together last June for a grand celebration of the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship between France and the Philippines. The French Embassy organized on June 22 a prestigious musical evening at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) where French classics from masters such as Ravel (concerto in Sol, the Bolero) and Debussy (the Sea) were interpreted jointly by French pianist François Chaplin and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Yoshikazu Fukumura.
Marked by numerous exchanges among a long list of artists whose lives and works are too extensive to fit here, cultural cooperation between France and the Philippines is also built on a bilateral agreement signed in November 1978. Although a Department of Culture has yet to exist in the Philippines, France is able to count on the close relationship it nurtures with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
Many partnerships have been forged over the years with major Philippine cultural institutions, including the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the National Museum of the Philippines, and the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, which have come to represent the true cornerstones of our institutional cooperation in the arts.
These prestigious venues have often been the backdrop for major cultural exchanges between the two countries and continue to play a leading role in a variety of areas such as the visual arts, dance or architecture.
For example, French choreography, which is well-known all over the world, has gained an unexpected foothold in Manila. The Philippines is, after all, more accustomed to ‘traditional’ shows inspired by American-style mega-productions than contemporary dance performances. The collaboration with Ballet Philippines, one of the most prestigious in Asia, is part of an innovative and promising cooperation: the consecutive visits in 2016 of two leading French choreographers, Redha Benteifour and Emmanuelle Huynh, is an example worth following. Discussions are already underway to add a famous French contemporary piece to the ballet company’s repertoire in 2018.
The National Museum of the Philippines, the country’s national art depository, is also an important partner for France. France is developing areas of cooperation with the National Museum in aspects that may seem unexpected, but could most likely open new opportunities not only for the creative arts but also for economic and commercial exchange. The objective is to build bridges between different institutions and to encourage crosscutting initiatives.
This was certainly one of the goals of the major exhibition devoted to French architect Jacques Ferrier in 2016. In order to bolster our relationship in this particularly promising area in the Philippines, for which there is an ever-growing number of urban development projects, this exhibition was an opportunity to organise a major architecture forum, in partnership with the Intramuros Administration, the Philippine Heritage Society and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, among others.
The groundwork is also being laid for new initiatives on the same foundation. In addition to this area of cooperation, the National Museum of the Philippines is naturally involved in the 70th anniversary celebrations of diplomatic relations between our two countries. In this context, it will organize, at the end of August, a major retrospective of the work of French photographer Pierre de Vallombreuse, who, over the years, has built a unique photo library devoted to the Pala’wan, one of the indigenous ethnic groups of the Philippines. The exhibit will run until next February.
France is not only increasing the number of its initiatives aimed at exporting French culture to the Philippines. It is also actively working to support this country by organising events to raise awareness about the richness of Philippine culture, such as the major exhibit entitled “Philippines: An Archipelago of Exchange” at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris in 2013, considered as the biggest exposition dedicated to Filipino culture in Europe, and the retrospective of works by 23 Filipino contemporary artists mounted in the same year in the French city of Sète.
To continue this rich and eclectic heritage, the cultural programme of “PhilFrance: Feel French!” for 2017 and beyond will include a wide variety of events, some of which will be held annually, as is already the case for the French Film Festival, which is enjoying ever-greater visibility.
The spotlight is on the French “Art de vivre,” especially thanks to a fashion week organised with the participation of French and Filipino designers, where some fashion shows took place, as well as conferences and workshops with students from De La Salle - College of Saint Benilde. Gastronomy is also on the programme through a number of initiatives aimed at promoting French cuisine and products.
The Embassy is also working to launch a festival of photography.
The Fête de la Musique, which has been held in the Philippines for over 20 years, will be elevated in the following years, through the French Embassy’s proposal to give the Department of Tourism of the Philippines a bigger role in the organisation of the event, which has principally been mounted by the Alliance Française de Manille in the past years.