Books & Art

UAE Art Exhibit Features Filipino Artists and Tackles 'The Mindanao Problem'

'A Tripoli Agreement' is named after a diplomatic treaty that promised to create the first autonomous region in Mindanao.

On August 6, President Duterte is set to ceremonially sign the Bangsamoro Organic Law, finally passing a measure that has taken on several iterations and forms since the very first peace accord was signed between the Philippine government and a Moro rebel group. Some four decades ago, President Marcos had consented to signing an agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front after the Middle Eastern oil-rich members threatened an embargo on the Philippines unless peace talks were started. On December 1976, with some finagling from Imelda  Marcos, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi facilitated the signing of the Tripoli Agreement, which promised to create the first autonomous region in Mindanao. 

This treaty forms the point of departure for the timely research project and exhibition titled A Tripoli Agreement curated by Renan Laru-an, the recipient of Air Arabia’s Curator in Residence program, a residency hosted by the Sharjah Art Foundation in the United Arab Emirates.

Curator Rene Laru-an leads a tour of the exhibit.

Laru-an himself grew up in Mindanao, and so putting together an exhibition which presents Mindanao through a different lens was particularly meaningful for him. “Mindanao is framed as a place of insufficiency, a cultural ground displaced and fragmented by conflict and poverty. In other words, it is rarely approached as a source of knowledges and a horizon of diverse imaginations,” he says.

Since the colonial period, the region has always been equated with its troubles: “The Mindanao Problem” or “The Moro Problem.” With A Tripoli Agreement, Laru-an is not only interested in the political biography of a foundational peace document, but is curious about the artistic and intellectual lives in Mindanao and how they emerged.

The research coming from the three thinkers still resonates today. As Laru-an explains, Najeeb Saleeby’s role in the ethnographic study and the development of education in Mindanao during the American occupation was crucial in understanding the limitations and possibilities of a singular voice of criticality. Co-founder of Aga Khan Museum of Islamic Art and the Mindanao State University, Mamitua Saber theorized the need for a marginal leader who is sensitive to culture and promotes a civil society where tensions of different cultural relations can coexist. In Cesar A. Majul’s magazines and newsletters, he identified Moro society and Islam in the Philippines within the larger region and the Arab world, and was an early proponent of reading the region’s history outside the Hispanocentric framework of American scholars.

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Cesar A. Majul, "A selection of international and local newsletters, 1961–1979"

Salvatus’ contribution is an installation from 2015 centered on the recordings of the Philippine Army Band, which were part of his father’s vinyl collection. In this new context, the work is reframed to reveal the deterioration of the Armed Forces as represented by the army band, an ensemble used for the entertainment of brute forces. Meanwhile, media art historian Dayang Yraola’a archival installation connects Jose Maceda’s composition Agungan and his field work in Mindanao to the musical and cultural practice of the gong.

Jose Maceda with Dayang Yraola, "Agungan ReSounding South" (2018)

Mark Salvatus, "Notes from the New World" (2015)

Mark Salvatus, "Notes from the New World" (2015 b)

Returning to the protracted peace process that has spanned seven administrations and has been interrupted by numerous armed conflicts, insurgencies, misencounters, and most recently the Marawi siege—an important question is asked by Prof. Rufa Cagoco-Guiam in the exhibition essay: “Would the present peace process and the passage of a truly CAB (Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro)-compliant BBL have succeeded if the circumstances surrounding the signing of the first Tripoli Agreement had been ‘proper’?” She is referring to the vague wording used in the original agreement, which contained a lot of phrases like “to be determined later,” and “to be discussed later,” a devious strategy on Marcos’ part, rendering the accord toothless and mostly for show.


“Would the present context of the peace process have changed if the Tripoli Agreement had had a rational grounding, i.e. an understanding that it was time to address the long years of historical injustice and the legitimate grievances of the Bangsamoro people rather than buttress the political interests of a dictatorship?” Prof. Guiam concludes, “Such rhetorical questions lead us to a future that will recycle the lessons of history that have never been learnt.”

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Audrey N. Carpio
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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