Posted on May 12, 2013
Charisse Aquino-Tugade, Philippines
Anthropologist, Cultural Explorer, Founder of The Manila Collectible Co.
Weaving through the cobble-stoned streets of what was once a fortress-city, I wondered how I would be able to spot The Manila Collectible Co (TMCC). Its home, tucked within an enclave of Spanish colonial shops and galleries and sitting behind the iconic Manila Cathedral in Intramuros, is a charming, light-coloured baroque building with a little signage bearing the name, Villa Blanca. I had the privilege of interviewing its founder and owner, Charisse Aquino-Tugade, an anthropologist and cultural travel guide who was happy to share the story behind her shop and advocacy with Open Brief.
What is the story behind The Manila Collectible Co.?
My background is in anthropology and I’ve always been really crazy about our (Filipino) indigenous cultures and history. As a cultural travel guide, I would organise tours and go on expeditions to various parts of the country. The Philippines is so rich with artistry, ingenuity and craftsmanship, all of it deeply rooted in multi-cultures and history. Yet, (I noticed) not everyone really knows much about these artisans and craftsmen and what they create. By everyone, I mean, most of their own fellow countrymen. The reason for this is really geographical accessibility. Being an archipelago with over 7,000 islands, it’s just not easy to get around. Most of these indigenous artisanal communities dwell in obscure, tucked-away corners all over the islands. Their craft is a prime source of livelihood, yet how do they reach their market? How can they put a premium price on their work, when they themselves don’t actually realize the high value of their creations?
I am passionate about indigenous cultures and artisanal crafts, so I felt drawn to create a way — an actual physical space — to bridge this gap and just help make it more accessible. Also, my experience of working with museums and my love for the curative experience have shaped the concept of TCMM—which is a one-stop-shop anthropological gallery of art, crafts, and functional products for daily living, wherein everything is direct from the source and not mass produced for mass consumption.
What is TMCC all about? What does it aim to do or be?
We envision TMCC to be more than just a souvenir shop, but to be a lifestyle boutique and creative space that promotes Philippine pre-colonial history, indigenous communities and local artisans. The aim is to create the experience of going to a live gallery, more than just exhibiting or selling stuff, but where you can both visually and actively learn about the history and culture behind these pieces. The place is comprised of a lifestyle shop (which carries local food, furniture, toys and costumes for kids, replicas of indigenous arts and crafts), an exhibit gallery for artists, craft workshops for children and adults, a rooftop garden event space, and a laboratory or collaborative workspace. The aim, really, is to be inspired by our own people’s creative identities and works, and also serve as an actual physical space with tools for people to release their own creative energy.
Who do you work with?
We work with local artisans and craftsmen, particularly those who are in need of a platform or opportunity to reach an audience or a market. At the moment, we are working with a group called KULISAP, a group of fine arts students from a college in Manila called Earist. These kids are brilliant painters and visual artists with so much potential and could do so much more with some opportunities and a little encouragement, as well as access to tools, a creative workspace and community. They created these paintings and murals, practically effortlessly, for an exhibition we will be running this coming June. The theme is Freedom and Independence, to coincide with National Independence Day.
Who is it for?
On one hand, our primary stakeholders are the indigenous communities and artisans themselves. Not just to help bridge a gap in market or audience, but also to preserve traditions (many of which are dying) and skills. Most of the skills needed to produce these crafts are traditionally inherited or passed on, but due to several factors, the younger generations don’t learn and continue the craftwork and so, production dies. After all, nowadays, why would people go through the laborious process of creating their own clothes or household tool if it’s much easier to purchase? It’s no longer seen as practical, and it’s really just for the love of creating and tradition. This is something we’d like to preserve and promote.
The shop is generally open to anybody and everybody who cares about local culture and has a love for creating. We welcome travellers, creatives, and especially women and children. Women and children come to the shop to buy, but they also come to learn. When they join our workshops, they won’t just learn how to carve wood or create terra cotta pots, but they will learn from who and where these crafts came from and the cultural symbols they represent. A lot of artisanal work are unique and specific to respective indigenous societies. Through these workshops, the next generations appreciate and actively participate in keeping these skills and traditions alive.
Charisse Aquino-Tugade is an anthropologist, cultural and travel guide, and avid museum nut. Her passion for heritage preservation and local artistry has paved the way for a multi-disciplinary career, and created a nexus through The Manila Collectible Company. If you find yourself in Manila, drop by and say hello.∗