While on vacation in the Philippines, my family and I visited the Ayala Museum. As a Pilipina American, I grew up not having been adequately taught about the history of my motherland and so in recent years, I have been more active in seeking out information about my ancestral history. I was excited to see what insight the exhibits of this museum had to offer, and it most definitely exceeded my expectations.
There are a total of 4 floors, and the museum guides recommended starting at the top floor and working our way down. We were warned that pictures were only allowed on the 2nd (and I believe the 1st) floor.
The 4th floor contains a variety of artifacts. One section was dedicated to over 100 indigenious textiles from different regions of the islands. The information cards next to the displays are very thorough in explaining the meaning of the different shapes and patterns of the textile, which each tell a story about the relationship between man, nature, and God.
Another area of the floor was filled with glass cases of ceramics such as vases and plates, which were acquired through trade with surrounding countries such as China, Japan, and Vietnam. It was interesting to see the distinct artistic styles present from different regions and how some of those styles are still present in ceramics today.
By far the most awe-inspiring pieces were the gold, many pieces of which were discovered in Mindoro (derived from Mina de Oro, or “gold mine”). From elaborate gold diadems and jewelry to funerary masks, it was surreal to see how our ancestors were able to create such intricately-designed accessories.
The 3rd floor opens up to a display of handwoven vestments for priests in virtually every color of the rainbow in correspondence with different religious occasions. We weren’t able to take pictures of the vestments, but you can see them for yourself on the museum website.
Off into the enclosed area are the art exhibits of Fernando Zobel and Arturo Luz, both of whom are Pilipino artists (primarily paint and sketch) during the 1950s and 1960s. While at the exhibit I learned Luz was a friend of my uncle, which made seeing his work all the more special.
The 2nd floor houses the Diorama Experience. Museum goers walk down hallways of windows that contain depictions of important events in Pilipino history from pre-colonial life to war and colonialism to independence and the modern era. There is also a room at the end of the exhibit that pays homage to Ninoy Aquino, with pictures and video footage of him as well as of the aftermath of his assassination. Photos of some of the dioramas have been shared online as part of the international Google Art Project.
One striking feature of the Diorama Experience was The Future of History: Dr. Jose Rizal’s Execution – A 360 Virtual Reality Experience. There’s a pair of virtual reality goggles and headphones that allow museum goers to simulate the experience of Rizal’s execution. You are able to watch “Rizal” walk in front of the crowd, escorted by the Spanish soldiers. You are able to hear whispers among the crowd from both supporters and opponents of Rizal. It seems so real that it’s almost uncomfortable—as it should be. I personally was unable to watch it in its entirety due to the uneasiness, but I do believe it’s an incredibly well thought out and thought-provoking exhibit.
The 1st floor displayed a collection of 70 drawings titled “Manansala and Manalad: Framing History,” which are similar to the dioramas of the 2nd floor in that they are artistic depictions of Pilipino history. Nonetheless, they provide a different artistic interpretation of these historic figures and events that is worth taking a look at.
There is plenty to see at Ayala Museum, so I would suggest carving out several hours of your day if you plan to look at every exhibit. However, it is located next to Greenbelt Mall, so you could also just stop by to look at a display or two as you take a quick break from shopping. It’s very accessible in terms of location, and they offer discounts if you are a student, senior, or balikbayan, among other discounts.
If you’re interested in Pilipino history, or if you’re just looking for something to do while in Manila, I highly recommend visiting Ayala Museum.