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Our Old Buildings Are Disappearing One By One, And This Exhibit At the Metropolitan Museum Seeks To Understand Why 

“When he had gone home, he had been frightened, he had refused to face what he saw. But he had not really wanted to come home to a land, only to a past; and not finding the past there, he had run away, fearing the reality, preferring the dream.” 
—Nick Joaquin, The Woman Who Had Two Navels



Whenever there’s news of an old, historical building located somewhere in Manila about to be torn down, my heart breaks. In the past five years alone, there have been at least twenty cases of buildings being demolished around the city: the Manila Army & Navy Club, the Carlos Palanca Mansion, the Capitol Theater, and the Angela Apartments, to name only a few. There are countless others, and it seems to be unending—an old building perishes in exchange for a parking lot or a condominium. We are taking up more and more space each day, displacing relics of our past and history.



“The City Who Had Two Navels”, Philippine Pavilion at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2018 is returning home. Inspired by the novel “The Woman Who Had Two Navels” (1961) by National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin, the exhibition highlights two “navels” that are in constant dialogue: the forces of colonialism and neoliberalism as shapers of the Philippine built environment. The exhibit opens on Tuesday, July 2, 2019 at 6:00 p.m. at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Complex, along Roxas Boulevard, Malate, Manila. The exhibit is free and open to the public. The Philippines’ participation to the Venice Biennale and homecoming exhibition is under the auspices of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the Office of Senator Loren Legarda in partnership with the Metropolitan Museum of Manila You may confirm your attendance through the following link: #PHPavilionHomecoming2019 #TheCityWhoHadTwoNavelsHomecoming #ArtForAll #METManila

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On July 2, “The City Who Had Two Navels,” an exhibit that had been on display at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2018 returned home. And home can be physical; it can be metaphorical. Home, in this case, is Manila. On view at the Tall Galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila until October 19, 2019, the exhibit is curated by New York-based architect Edson Cabalfin and inspired by National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin’s 1961 novel, The Woman Who Had Two Navels.



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The exhibit explores two “navels”—the relationship between the old and the new, the past and the present, the forces of colonialism and neoliberalism. It reminds us of our country’s history under colonizers, and after—from the moment our fellow Filipinos had been commodified and exhibited at the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904 to the construction of the MRT Line 7 on Commonwealth. It invites us to “anticipate possibilities for renewed life and hope,” says its curator, Edson. 


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To see these old buildings disappear little by little is a very tangible, concrete experience. It’s an assault to our senses, to our memory. What was once there no longer is, and we can compare this to our colonial roots. We can’t see them anymore, but does that mean we can escape them? It’s questions like this that the exhibit seeks to answer, or at least dialogue with. 



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Edson enlists the help and expertise of several individuals and groups—students from the De La Salle — College of Saint Benilde, the University of the Philippines, and the University of San Carlos, among others, and TAO-Pilipinas, a women-led organization composed of architects and planners based in Quezon City. In the heart of the exhibit is a multi-channel video installation by contemporary artist Yason Banal. Again, it’s metaphorical: exploring the intersection of the two navels, the old and the new, colonialism and neoliberalism, it also literally and physically intersects the two sections of the exhibit.




The Metropolitan Museum of Manila is located at the Bangko Sentral Complex on Roxas Boulevard, Malate, Manila. It is open from Mondays to Saturdays, 10 am to 5:30 pm, with free admission on Tuesdays. For more information, visit