The role of art in cultural diplomacy

PH Consulate in NY’s art collection showcased at the National Museum

At a glance

  • ‘All of these works reflect the great Philippine culture and tradition and also the work of many of our national artists. I think it’s important that our people experience the pleasure of seeing our own art and to really gain some of this knowledge of our own culture and traditions.’

STRENGTH IN DIVERSITY Malaysia's cultural dance show highlighted the different cultures of its people (Photo from Tourism Malaysia)

One of the most intriguing aspects of the portrayal of diplomats in popular media is the misconceptions it can perpetuate. In a recent episode of Netflix’s hit series The Diplomat, Hal, the spouse of US ambassador Kate Wyler (played by Keri Russell), dismisses the idea of career diplomats bringing art with them to their postings. He expresses disdain for what he perceives as a frivolity, suggesting that art is reserved solely for political appointees.

This notion, however, couldn’t be further from the truth.

Art has always played a vital role in cultural diplomacy. As a journalist who has covered diplomats for the past decade, I can attest that some truly remarkable art collections can be found in the homes of ambassadors, regardless of whether they are career diplomats or political appointees.

Embassies and consulates often transform into art galleries, showcasing the works of talented local artists. In the case of the Philippines, one such post is New York, where the consulate, the Mission to the United Nations, and the Philippine Center (PCNY) have become homes to art that has grown in significance over the years.

HOMECOMING SFA Enrique Manalo and his team visit artworks from  PCNY at the National Museum. With him are Usec. Antonio Morales,  chief of staff Ma. Teresa Almojuela, chief coordinator Bernadette  Fernandez, and Asec. Arvin de Leon

Now, some of these exceptional artworks have finally returned home and are on display at the National Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibition titled “The Philippine Center New York Core Collection of 1974 —A Homecoming Exhibition” can be found in galleries XXVII and XXVIII. It features 115 out of the 120 meticulously selected artworks that were expertly curated by the esteemed National Artist Arturo Luz in 1974. These remarkable pieces were initially assembled for the inauguration of the PCNY. For the first time since its arrival at the PCNY, this illustrious collection is now loaned and exhibited within the borders of the Philippines.

During his recent visit to the museum, Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo expressed the importance of Filipinos, regardless of age, being able to witness our national art and heritage. As he made his way through the galleries, he remarked, “All of these works reflect the great Philippine culture and tradition and also the work of many of our national artists. I think it’s important that our people experience the pleasure of seeing our own art and to really gain some of this knowledge of our own culture and traditions.”

Important works from National Artists like Cesar Legaspi’s Procession, Vicente Manansala’s Kalabaw, BenCab’s Nine Figures, Ang Kiukok’s White Fish on White Table, White Line by Arturo Luz, and Blue Apostrophe by Jose Joya are part of the exhibit.

Furthermore, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is in the process of cataloguing artworks in foreign service posts and identifying the necessary measures to better preserve Filipino art. Asec. Arvin de Leon of the DFA’s Office of Public and Cultural Diplomacy emphasized the significance of this endeavor, saying, “This presents us with an excellent opportunity to address the needs of showcasing and preserving our artworks abroad.”

COLLABORATION, NOT COMPETITION Dato' Dr. Ammar Abd Ghapar, director general of Tourism Malaysia, is seeking to collaborate with the Philippines (Photo from Tourism Malaysia)

Time to revisit Malaysia

With the goal of attracting a greater number of Filipino tourists to explore the captivating destinations and exciting activities in our neighboring country, Tourism Malaysia has launched its inaugural sales mission to Manila and Davao, ongoing until May 28.

The event in Manila transported tourism industry players to various Malaysian states, including Melaka, Perak, Sarawak, and more, through vibrant cultural presentations, informative sessions on new destinations, and delectable Malaysian cuisine.

Tourism Malaysia’s director general, Dato’ Dr. Ammar Bin Abd. Ghapar, was also in the country to push for diverse niche segments such as family travel, Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE), medical and wellness tourism, education, and options for digital nomads.
During discussions with journalists at the event, Dato’ Ghapar highlighted the potential for collaboration between the Philippines and Malaysia in boosting tourism. “I think we are moving toward complementing more than competing with each other,” he said, particularly when it comes to attracting similar markets such as the Chinese tourists. Encouraging them to visit both Malaysia and the Philippines allows them to explore two destinations while also benefiting both countries.

The medical and wellness tourism sector is a growing market in the region, and Malaysia is making significant strides in catering to such travelers. Already known for its excellence in oncology, dentistry, and fertility treatments, Malaysia is continuously enhancing its offerings. The development of KL Wellness City in the capital is expected to attract more travelers seeking luxury healthcare options in the region. The project includes wellness suites, an international tertiary hospital, golf courses, and parks.

Before the pandemic, Malaysia welcomed an average of 400,000 Filipino tourists annually. While travel restrictions have affected these numbers, we are beginning to see growth as travel within the ASEAN region gradually resumes. Last year, 159,442 Filipinos traveled to Malaysia. Dato’ Ghapar acknowledged the need for aggressive promotion to further increase these figures, saying, “There’s still a gap that needs to be filled—aggressive promotion and also having an ambassador that is passionate will really help in promoting Malaysia in this region.”

Tourism Malaysia is committed to further increasing this number by promoting segments showcased during this sales mission. Currently, there are 64 weekly flights connecting Manila and Malaysia via Malaysia Airlines, Philippine Airlines, AirAsia, and Cebu Pacific.