Meet Fil-Am artist reviving ancient PH script
LONDON - Thousands of miles away from its origin, the ancient Philippine script Baybayin resurfaced in Europe this month through a series of exhibitions and workshops led by a passionate Filipino artist from the US.
Tagalog words and phrases were once again seen in traditional Filipino text, written in a modern version of Eastern calligraphy using a nearly forgotten script called Baybayin.
Filipino-American artist Christian Cabuay brought the Philippine script to life through his artwork showcased in exhibitions in Madrid, Paris, London and Brussels, alongside workshops and lectures.
Inspired by graffiti and calligraphy, Cabuay uses paint and brushes to imprint Baybayin characters on paper or canvas, which often has an abstract visual quality.
“I could have done clean art but I’m not clean as an artist,” Cabuay told ABS-CBN Europe at the opening of his exhibit in the Philippine Embassy in London.
“I like to make mistakes, and when you make mistakes like in the specific art that I do, I’m very influenced by abstract art as well. So you can make a mistake and come back to it and it may turn out beautiful.”
The 38-year-old artist also uses Baybayin in everyday objects, including accessories, clothing and ornaments, as well as designs for personal tattoos.
“It’s not just art - art is a good tangible aspect of it and it’s something that is visible, but the ultimate goal is to use it as to identify us as Filipinos,” he enthused.
Born in Mandaluyong and raised in San Francisco, Cabuay first encountered the Philippine script as a child in 1995, from an encyclopedia and an old image of the revolution which had the flag of KKK in Baybayin.
His curiosity turned into passion over the years and in 2007, he started to pursue the art of Baybayin more seriously and publicly. He has since created numerous online blogs to promote the script, and has published a book entitled “An Introduction to Baybayin.”
He is about to release his second book, “Sulat Ng Kaluluwa” (Writing of the Soul), a collection of stories from people he encountered through his work with Baybayin, most of whom have developed a personal connection to the script. He is also developing a film.
Cabuay said he would like to see the script widely used and recognized in the Philippines and the diaspora. He is a supporter of House of Representatives Bill No 4395, otherwise known as Baybayin Bill or National Script Act of 2011.
The legislation states that Baybayin should be recognized as the national script of the Philippines, which must be taught in schools and used in Filipino products, organizations and establishments.
On his recent trip to London, he recounted: “I was walking to Chinatown and you see all their stores have their own script. You see a sushi place, they have their own script. I bet if you go to any Filipino restaurant here in London, it’s just going to say some generic name. You may not know it is [Filipino] because Filipinos look Chinese, Japanese, Cambodian, Thai. We look white, we look black, so we don’t have anything appealing to the eyes and the senses. An Englishman comes into a Filipino business, how do they know it’s a Filipino business?”
As part of his mission to promote Baybayin, Cabuay engages with crowds through talks, lectures and live performances. He previously appeared in the Stanford University, Asian Art Museum, the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco, and the University of the Philippines.
In his lecture in London, he regaled a group of second-generation British Filipinos and embassy staff with personal stories of his experiences with Baybayin, as well as a brief history of the script, from its roots in India to its gradual decline into obscurity through colonialism and Westernization.
“I use Baybayin as my fountain of youth: when you leave a legacy, you live forever,” he concluded.
Cabuay plans to continue his work with Baybayin, not only in overseas Filipino communities but also in the Philippines, where more work needs to be done to raise its profile. His upcoming projects include work for the 20th Pistahan Festival and Parade in San Francisco on August 10-11.
Baybayin derives from the Tagalog word “baybay,” which means “to spell.” It is considered as a native script from the Philippines, believed to be in existence between 13th to 19th centuries and can be found in some historical documents and artifacts.
It is also known as Alibata, a controversial term coined by Paul Rodriguez Versosa in 1921, which was widely accepted in the 20th century but is now being challenged by some as incorrect primarily due to its Arabic origins.