The Filipina and culture: Her role in heritage conservation

No matter how light or heavy the jobs are, it is important to have women involved in rehabilitating cultural sites

Throughout history, we have seen women depicted in different forms of art. Women sat still as artists immortalize their beauty through canvases, capture their every curve with carved stones, and write about them in novels and poems. Women as muses played a viral role in helping to give the world the best masterpieces artists can create. And as time went by, some women even went onto produce art themselves. 

These days, the role of women branches out from being muses and artists. We may not know much about it, but here in the Philippines, women play significant roles in preserving heritage sites and art conservation, doing tasks from construction works to artifact restoration.

Through Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation, Inc., women were able to participate and help in keeping the integrity of some of the cultural spots of the Philippines. Started out as Escuela Taller de Intramuros in 2009, it was a project between the government of Spain and the Philippines, represented by the Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo (AECID) and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). Later in 2013, it transformed into an independent private foundation to ensure its sustainability. 

"Our female conservation workers do everything. They work as wood carvers, masons, painters, carpenters, etc. Some of them are even involved in the documentation of the heritage buildings,"  Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation, Inc.'s Philip Paraan tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. "As part of our training, they get to be exposed right away to work or heritage sites after their regular training in Escuela Taller Intramuros. As graduates, they are employed as conservation workers by the projects (funded by our clients, usually churches). Our trainees and graduates including the females have worked in almost every project that Escuela Taller has handled and managed."

Female woodcarver from Escuella Taller Bohol

The female conservationists help in the rehabilitation of heritage churches and sites in over 19 locations in the National Capital Region, Laguna, Pampanga, Cebu, and Batanes. While the pandemic has put a pause on their noble mission, their work went on and continued after the first months of the community quarantine.

What these women put to the table is far beyond heavy liftings. "They are patient and detailed oriented. Though they are not as physically strong as their male colleagues, they do almost everything except in lifting extra heavy stones or furniture, but they can lift stones," Philip says. "Our work entails carving stones, wood, etc. Women workers tend to be more polished in their output. Not all, but they give their work extra attention."

Female mason workers busy shaping stones in Angeles Church, Pampanga
Bernalyn Lucindo, an employee at the Cultural Properties Division of the Intramuros Administration which handles the care and restoration of artifacts

But no matter how light or heavy the jobs are, whether reworking sillerias (choir seats) or handling masons, it is important to have women involved in preserving heritage sites.

"It is because heritage conservation knows no gender. The skills taught and required of the conservation projects see no gender, only the skills itself and commitment," says Philip. "For us in Escuela Taller, we believe that women are just as good as men and the industry, the field of conservation should just be populated by women as much as men."

Ladies in training at the Intramuros campus

"Regardless of gender, what is important is that we are able to transfer the skills, the know-how, traditions, and building knowledge of the past to a new generation of builders, artisans, and skilled workers in conservation to ensure the protection of our built heritage," he continues. "We can say that the rise of women involved in any type of work including the heritage sector suggests a sense of advancement in society and these gender inclusive spaces should be widened and supported more."

Started her training at age 18, Kristine from Tondo has been part of several conservation projects including Paco Park, Sta. Ana Church, and Angeles Church in Pampanga

Philip also noted that apart from the power the women are bringing in the local heritage conservation movement, it is important to also get the public involved in the initiative.

"They can help the foundation by directly donating to the foundation to support its training and conservation activities. At the local level, they can help the churches, heritage groups in fundraising initiatives for the restoration of sites or just be mindful  of the importance of heritage in our collective identity as a people," he advises. "Tourism is also essential and can be a good start. Visit the heritage sites and museums to learn more of our history and culture. The public can also be part of advocacies that call for sustained heritage conservation in the country. Community and civic involvement is important in heritage management."

Images are from Escuella Taller De Filipinas.

Facebook: @escuelatallerph