Top Story, Arts, On Campus

A Journey Through The Philippines In ‘Discovering Kapwa’ Photo Exhibit

The exhibit on the first floor of O’Neill brings together a series of photos curated through Casa Bayanihan, an alternate service learning program in the Philippines.

For a couple weeks now, O’Neill 103 has an added touch of spice. The small space between the front desk and the stairs, beside one of the only official group study spots on campus, has played host to more than its usual pack of students laying into their studies between classes. Alex Gaynor, A&S ’15, has curated and contributed to a photo exhibit dedicated to her and others’ time in the Philippines.

“Discovering Kapwa,” as the exhibit is called, is what Gaynor describes as “a shared identity of solidarity: the idea that I am not me without you.” What the exhibit aims to do—and does—is offer for the viewer an experience of discovery. The students who’ve reported back with striking and poignant images have already been to the Philippines and they offer a glimpse into the communities they shared.

As we bustle from the lower end of campus to the University’s academic buildings, “Discovering Kapwa” is an exhibit that exists in passing. The exhibit is a product of five semester sessions for Casa Bayanihan, an alternate service learning program in the Philippines. The program highlights the reality, and apparent beauty, of everyday people and everyday life. 30 images and corresponding personal essays wrap around the study space in a horseshoe figure.

The exhibit centers around a couple central themes—basketball, water, children, and ates (older sisters). While the exhibit is most vividly one of photographs, snippets of personal essays and even poetry also make the exhibit.

The exhibit starts and ends with basketball and the sunset. The first by Jillian Baker, BC ’13, depicts a group of fishermen shooting hoops on a sandy court as the sun sets through the trees—a “Field of Dreams” like scene.

Many of the pieces are dedicated to the ates (meaning older women) who hosted and lived with the students. Katherin Borah of the University of San Franscisco ’14, made “Oh My Gulay!” which features her mother abroad at the market with a face-splitting grin as she reaches for a bushel of asparagus, celery, or some other green vegetable I’m unfortunately unable to identify.

“Ate Fe” by Juliane Peithman of UC Santa Cruz ’13 features another smiling ate. Peithman shares a message her ate shared with her over Facebook. “Maybe we’re miles and oceans away but you are very near,” it reads. “You’re here in my heart and I’m always thinking of you. I can whisper through the air and look up to the sky to get near you.” Peithman shares with us the intense connection in both picture and word.

Children are also featured heavily in the exhibit and each offering, in its own way, captures the shot of life these kids gave to the students. Of particular note were “Princess” and “Look, then Look Again.” The first by Baker features the child aptly named Princess herself. The whole exhibit is worth seeing solely because of her big, bright eyes that stare right into the camera unapologetically. Baker even writes in her short essay that Princess loved having her picture taken. It’s a simple, understated, beautiful image.

The next by Abbie Amico of St. Louis University ’16 features a host of kids climbing and grasping a figure already covered in kids. But it’s her short personal essay that makes this particular piece striking. In just a few paragraphs she reflects on Narnia, her own journey, and magic and how we encounter it the real world.

Finally, the exhibit ends with Gaynor’s piece “Discovering Kapwa.” The shot features three hands outstretched reaching for a basketball at the rim, cast in the shadow of a setting sun. (That is, admittedly, an awful description of a near perfect picture.)

I think it’s an acknowledged phenomenon that sunsets of and in places you don’t know seem more beautiful than those at home. But by the end of the exhibit, the sunset has become a bit of its own home as it was to the students. But thanks to the image, it’s as striking as the first sunset that it faces across the horseshoe. We’ve discovered a sort of home here—one that is vividly poignant and truthful.

Featured Image Courtesy of Abbie Amico

January 26, 2015