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BANGSAMORO SPEAKS: Okir is part of what makes us who we are as Meranaws

bangsamoro speaks

(Speech deliverd by Rosslaini Alonto-Sinarombo, Director-General of the Ministry of Trade, Investiments and Tourism (MTIT) of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region at the opening of Okir Exhibit: Tales from Marawi at the SM Downtown Premier in Cagayan de Oro City on April 16, 2024)

Assalamu Alaikum.

Today we are surrounded by the Okir in its many forms, which is a privilege that not a lot of people appreciate. Growing up Meranaw, many of us have grown up with these colors and patterns in no short supply, because these are part of what make us who we are. This level of access to Okir, however, is both a blessing and a curse – a blessing because it means we get to appreciate Okir in all of its beauty; a curse because we are likely to take this beauty for granted.

This exhibition acknowledges both possibilities, and hopes to respond in equal measure. For those who appreciate this art form that is distinctly Meranaw, this exhibition also serves as an introduction to the culture and heritage of our people. For those who have come to take the Okir and its beauty for granted, this exhibition hopes to reignite interest and inspiration that our people instinctively derive from this great inheritance that we have the honor of receiving from our ancestors.

Apart from being an art form that is unique to our people, Okir is an expression of our long history and a depiction of the environment in which this history has been realized. The colors and shapes and motifs that occur naturally in Okir also occur naturally in our surroundings, adding to its effortless charm and easy familiarity.

The Okir links our people to the land and the lake, making it an essential part of who we are and where we live. As we exert every effort to rebuild and reconstruct the buildings and structures that serve as our home and shelter in Marawi City, we must re-establish and assert the intangible but no less important cultural links that anchor us to our land. Our history and heritage may not take the form of steel and concrete, but they form the foundations of our people’s strength and identity.

I encourage everyone to read the exhibition notes and to engage each other in conversation as you go around and take note of the artworks that our artists have so generously shared with us. Here today are the artists whose imagination and lived experiences enrich the work of their hands, and I hope you take the opportunity to talk with them and learn from them. Their wisdom and perspective can and will expand our understanding of who we are and what it means to live in a community where Meranaw heritage has defined not only our history, but also the landscape that we are also shaping with our own relationship with the land and the lake.

Thank you for being here, for making time to see the work of our artists, and for breathing life into this exhibition by sharing your own experiences with art and the Okir. Thank you to our artists whose hands have not only carved intricate designs onto wood, woven patterns into rich textiles and  painting a canvass with colors, emotions and stories  but have opened the windows to their hearts and minds through art – windows through which we now have the honor and privilege of witnessing our shared histories and imagining a future where we all have a hand in changing and blessing each other’s lives.

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