“When you leave home to follow your dreams, your road will probably be riddled with potholes, not always paved in happy Technicolor bricks. You’ll probably be kicked to the ground 150 million times and told you’re nuts by friends and strangers alike. As you progress you may feel lonely or terrified for your physical and emotional safety. You may overestimate your own capabilities or fail to live up to them, and you’ll surely fall flat on your face once in a while,” wrote Kelly Cutrone, the founder of People’s Revolution, a fashion public relations, branding, and marketing firm.
And the words of Cutrone seem to fit the purpose and the philosophy of the upcoming exhibit of Monnar Baldemor (b. 14 February 1970) in Paris this September, for all of his artworks are all about leaving home, about staying in a “strange land,” for a long time with the possibility of not coming back, and about the memories of home.
A song of the famous band from Germany in the 1970s, Boney M. suggests, there many immigrants and migrant workers who were always captured by the melancholy of memories of the land of their birth, of their family and friends, and of course, of their “old” selves, for they were always caught in a dilemma of maintaining their “real” identity and their “adopted” one as they struggle to fit into the laws, customs, and traditions of the foreign land they are now living in:
By the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down;
There we wept, as we remember Zion…
They carried us away in captivity requiring of us a song
How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
Looking for a Greener Pasture
Filipinos leave for variety of reasons but oftentimes, Filipinos leave because of economic reason. According to an article published by The Manila Times, in 2016, around 6,000 Filipinos are leaving every day to work abroad.
In the Philippines, despite the high GDP growth of 6.9 percent annualy, many Filipinos still live below the poverty line.
The wages remain low, there’s no security of tenure for workers (since regularization at work is always dependent on the decision of the management), and the ordinary workers and employees are taxed to death (though there were moves to remove income tax for employees whose income is P250,000 per annum; however, there’s also a move to increase taxes in certain products and services, thus the tax exemption will be, somehow, useless). These are the reasons why, every day, more than 6,000 Filipino men and women are leaving their families behind to work overseas. In fact, there are around 47,000 to 65,000 Filipinos residing and working in France, and some 33,000 are living there illegally.
And Monnar’s current works are narratives of lives of Filipinos who opted to leave their homeland to try their luck overseas (but the artist says, he is also painting about that unusual desire of Filipinos to go abroad, to work and explore the possibilities of living in a foreign land.)
They are narratives of escape for they were stories of Filipinos who opted to go overseas, either by choice (as to explore and enjoy the beauty and culture and people of other countries), or because they were left with no other choice but to work abroad, to ease—even a little—their financial burden.
Yes, they are narrations of sob stories of sacrifices of the overseas Filipinos; the tales of their longing for the land of their birth, and their deep desire to see the smiles and hear the laughter of their loved ones back home; the ever-ending saga of dreams and the victory or the failure of realizing those dreams; and the whispering of their hearts, souls, and minds as they sleep at night or wake up in the morning in a foreign land.
I have worked as a journalist for different news entities and I have covered mostly the plight of OFWs (overseas Filipino workers). I have written stories of abuses, of unexplained deaths, of suicides at the sea as the poor Filipino mariner had gone mad because of sadness and abuses, and stories of small victories of fighting Filipino workers–small increase on wages, pardon for those who were imprisoned because of different crimes, among others.
And seeing the works of Monnar, I told myself – Indeed, the works of this artist truly reflect that difficulty of “singing” the familiar “tunes” like home and family and stories you share with friends over cheap wine and food and laughter, in a land where everything is different—a different yet defined set of rules to follow; a different language to speak; different sets of clothes to wear, for you not to freeze to death, or die from too much heat; and different kinds of people to socialize and to work with. Afterwards, after having that American, Canadian, or Kiwi dream, a different realization will follow—that the land that they thought will bring them enormous freedom, sometimes transforms into a prison that inhibits them to enjoy the freedom that they use to enjoy way back home—the freedom to take hold of their own time, to enjoy the leisure of being in the company of friends and family, and of course, the freedom to be himself or herself for the latter, sometimes, is being restricted by certain rules or regulations that being imposed in the land where they live and work.
The present works of Monnar also tackle that peculiar mindset of some Filipinos to go abroad to work; that unusual habit of being a “show off” when they come back home; and the strong dependability, the wrong concepts of some families of overseas Filipinos about remittances and financial management; and the unwritten policy of the State about labor migration, for labor export, aside from taxes, is one of the milking cows of those in the bureaucracy.
As you will realize, the works of Monnar are not mere doodles or lines or colors; they are reflection—and his interpretation—of the current milieu. And as he brings these lovely and meaningful works to the City of Lights, in Paris, his works will serve as mirrors that reflect both the beautiful and harsh realities of going to a foreign land where, like what the poet and revolutionary philosopher Jose Ma. Sison has said, “your heart yearns for mangoes.”
N. B.: Monnar’s show in Paris