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Peripatetic artist & ambassador of goodwill

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BELOW THE LINE

By JOSE ABETÓ ZAIDE

Ambassador José Abeto Zaide

Ambassador José Abeto Zaide

President Fidel V. Ramos unveiled Filipino artist Manuel Baldemor’s 5 x 12 foot mural “Pasalamat” (Thanksgiving) on 18 September, 1997, at the United Nations Vienna International Center.  The epic mural was the Philippine gift to the United Nations on the 40th anniversary to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Baldemor, UNICEF artist and pro bono Ambassador of Goodwill, gifted the magnum opus. In handing over the donation, then President Ramos said that the mural is “a permanent presence in the UN…a manifestation of the permanent interest of the Philippines in the noble objectives of the IAEA.” Mr. Ramos pointed out that the artist used, besides conventional oil paint, “Mt. Pinatubo lahar … an example of a catastrophe and a symbol of hope — proof of Filipino resiliency to rise above adversity!”

Acknowledging the Philippine gift, IAEA Director Dr. Hans Blix cited the key role of the Philippines in the organization from the outset; and he expressed the hope that the Philippines will continue to draw practical benefits from its membership in the atomic agency.  The mural is one of only five artworks on permanent display at the UN rotunda. Other privileged contributions are the Hundertwasser tapestry, a Japanese screen, a carpet for peace from the Arab League, and another Austrian modern painting.

On the 60th anniversary of the opening of Bilateral Relations between the Philippines and France, Philippine Postmaster General Hector Villanueva caused the printing of commemorative stamps and First-Day Covers  issue postage stamps by Manuel Baldemor and a French artist.

The Basilica of St. Therese in Lisieux has marble side altars with artworks and sculptures donated by pious contributions from Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Croatia, Cuba, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Quebec, and even as far as Zambia. But the loudest silence is the absence of a contribution from the

self-professed “only Catholic country in Asia.”  My wife and I sulked over this on our drive back to Paris. I mentioned this void to the Vatican Observer to UNESCO, Francesco Follo, who would do something about it.

Fast forward in time and place. Msgr. Follo arranged for us meet the rector of the Basilica of St. Therese.  After a hearty repast (including a St. Therese cake dessert  —

a trinity of crust/lemon/cream accented by Carmelite brown rosary on the side, and quenched with Normandy water and heady wine), we visited the relic of St. Therese and toured the basilica. At the second landing, we turned a corner and the rector pointed to a 3 x 5 meter wall that he said he would assign to a Philippine mosaic.

The hard part was to put money where our mouth is. We tapped Manny Baldemor,

who visited Lisieux incognito, the better to imbibe the spirit of the place.  But nothing can be hidden to providential plan; Manny would be discovered and end up breaking bread with the rector, and prove a willing convert.

Two months later, Manny returned to present his study for a mosaic to the Lisieux confraternity.  The design was signature Pinoy —  “People Power” with the Blessed Mother Mary, the sun as her halo and three stars on triangular white field, the people and the army in a sea of red and blue. St. Therese, prominent with her bouquet of roses; and in the center, a Filipino couple with their child —  the Holy Family. As I feared, the epic mural would cost one more decimal point than our modest means.  The rector’s faith in us seemed greater than our strength.  But then again, if Filipinos could not come up to this, we would count for very little.  The mural would be executed by the French mosaic artist with Manny Baldemor assisting and learning the craft.

First to make out-of-pocket contribution was our former BIR Commissioner Jose

Mario Bunag and his wife Baby.  Three months later, Baby detoured touring classmate to Lisieux to hike paid-up contributions.

The mosaic was unveiled on 18 October 2009, the 20th year of the Filipino chaplaincy in France.  Photo-finish.  Pa piso-piso lang; but Filipino parishioners and pilgrims made it happen.

FAST-FORWARD TO TODAY.  This evening, there is an invitational opening of LUMIERE, Festival of Lights, an exhibition of paintings by Manny Baldemor at the EDSA Shangri-la Art Circle Gallery.   The Festival of Lights (French: Fête des Lumières) is held every December 8 in Lyon, France, in honor of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  Our peripatetic

artist shares his impressions with this exhibit which runs until 30 January 2019.  FEEDBACK: joseabetozaide@gmail.com

 

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