José Rizal, Leonor Rivera and Josephine at the Yuchengco Museum

MANILA, Philippines -- To celebrate José Rizal's sesquicentennial, the Yuchengco Museum organized "RIZALizing THE FUTURE," which renders Rizal in a popular light, surveying the brands, movements, industries, and directions that have pointed to Rizal as their root of inspiration."

Rizal's life and works have inspired art (and kitsch), fitting as he himself was an artist. Some of Rizal's drawings and a portrait sculpture of his wife Josephine are on exhibit, as are paintings he owned: his portrait and a landscape by Felix Resurrección Hidalgo and a Luna pen-and-ink, a nude.

Present-day works include Bencab drawings and prints; a Guillermo Tolentino bust; and an exceptionally instructive Napoleon Abueva sculpture entitled "José and Josephine in Bed," which is sure to be a hit among visiting nuns and grade-schoolers.

Writers and designers have also been at work-books, sculpture, films, installation art, currency, magazine covers, post cards, matchboxes, cushions, mugs, ternos and old-style jewelry that could have been worn by Noli me Tangere's María Clara and Doña Victorina.

Rizal relatives lent memorabilia-photographs; school records; violin, chess pieces, rosary, and a prayer book. Interesting are two tampipi (portable rattan clothes containers), the equivalent of today's Louis Vuitton and Samsonite. The Guardia Civil did not bother to check them, thereby saving the original Noli and Fili manuscripts hidden inside from confiscation.

Personal belongings of Leonor Rivera (Rizal's childhood sweetheart and the original María Clara) are on show-poignant items like her jewelry box, silver and turquoise brooch and earrings, peineta, locket, rosary, Chopin pieces, and part of her wedding dress.

The love of Leonor and José is a tear-jerker, better than your run-of-the-mill telenovela. The two met when Leonor was 13, fellow interna of Rizal's sisters at Colegio de la Concordia. They fell in love and wrote each other using pen names and invisible ink. José left for Europe two years later and they never saw each other again.

Rizal continued writing but Leonor's mother was against the match and intercepted the letters. The poor girl was helpless against her determined mother who insisted she marry Henry Kipping, a British engineer working on the Manila-Dagupan Railroad. One can imagine the dialogue, "Maliban lamang sa Dios, utang mo sa aquin ang buô mong pagca-tauo. Ang hinahañgad co lamang ay ang iyong capacanán. ¿Nais mo ba na mamatáy sa hinagpís ang iyong yna?"

Leonor demanded and got the intercepted letters but her mother insisted that she burn them all. She did, but kept the ashes on her tocadór in a box covered in cloth cut from the dress she wore when she and Rizal were betrothed (says the wall text). The box is on exhibit. In another version, Leonor spread ashes on the edging of her wedding dress and walked up the aisle scattering the cinders of a love that could not be. (Maybe she did both.)

The tragic Leonor died in childbirth three years later, age 26. She asked to be buried in a green dress, in whose hem, it turned out, she had sewn surviving letters from her hopeless love.

Comments are cordially invited, addressed to walalang@mb.com.ph.

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