An independent bookstore in Naga is molding Bicol’s art scene

Independent bookstores are rare in the Philippines. When we think of bookstores, we envision them within the confines of malls, not as possible art hubs for artists and enthusiasts to flock to. But there are some changes happening around us. Microcinemas are popping up in different parts of the metro. Manila’s independent bookstores, on the other hand, exist in handfuls. But what about places in the Philippines beyond Manila?

“People here should even challenge their own sense of artistry. Enough of Mayon Volcano, Sarung Banggi, Butanding, pineapples, bakas, and abaca. We have to rethink these symbols and the meanings we accord upon ourselves.”

Nestled in the heart of Bicol at Naga City, Savage Mind: Art, Books, and Cinema joins other independent bookstores outside Manila that are spreading and supporting their respective art scenes. The art hub launched last year with Bikolano poet and filmmaker Kristian Cordero at the helm. Months after their opening, they’ve attracted regulars composed of local raconteurs, scholars, enthusiasts, and other young minds who want to dwell into Bikol art and literature.

Read more: 5 hidden bookstores in Manila that fit your back to school budget

We talked to Kristian about the Bikol art scene, the need for more art spaces, and the role of Savage Mind in uplifting Bikolano artists.

Where did this idea of forming a hub for Bikolano artists and enthusiasts come from?
When my friend and frequent drinking buddy Randy Dagooc offered me this space where he would also put up Pennsvla (Peninsula), his resto and coworking space/cafe, I thought of opening a bookshop.

Naga, being the heart of Bicol, should be able to develop more programs in the arts and culture to advance our intellectual life. If she has to continue being the heart of the region, she should nourish and promote its artists and writers. Savage Mind and Randy’s Pennsvla (Peninsula) serve as a hub for artists, dreamers, and what-else to come here and participate in our programs.

“But here, we say that there are no old books—only new readers.”

Is Savage Mind’s the first of its kind in Bicol?
There is one in Bacacay, Albay called Casa Simeon where I got a copy of a book, which I thought to be out of print already. Like our present location, they converted the house into a mini hotel with a restaurant and a small portion to Bikol books.

Most of the people who visited us since we opened last December think of our bookshop as something unique. I am not sure though if this is the first of its kind in the region. I don’t even bother to find out. Being the first does not mean so much to me. I’d rather focus our energies on how we can last, survive, and continue to respond to the challenges we have set upon ourselves.

Why call the place “Savage Mind” in the first place?

We named it after the book of Claude Levi-Strauss’ The Savage Mind. It is a pioneering work in cultural anthropology. It opens so many ideas and vistas which I gladly welcome as they, in a way, affirm your long-held thoughts and beliefs.

The Savage Mind is about diversities, about multiplicities, and differences. I think of books and cinema as works of the savage imagination. My friend Dada Docot, who is an anthropologist, alerted me about the use of Savage Mind because some scholars are already dismissing the name as “exoticizing” and “limiting.” Well, I did not listen to Dada!

“Savage Mind’s wish is to provide a one-stop bookshop for all Bikolano-related books.”

What kind of titles do you feature in your store?  
Most books here are related to Philippine arts and culture. I have also disposed of my collection of poetry and fiction. Some writers are selling their secondhand books here. But here, we say that there are no old books—only new readers.

Savage Mind’s wish is to provide a one-stop bookshop for all Bikolano-related books. We have Bikol books here from the Ateneo de Naga University Press and the Ina nin Bikol Foundation. We also have the books of Ateneo de Manila University Press, De La Salle University Press, Sentro ng Wikang Filipino, University of the Philippines Press, Visprint, Adarna, as well as other small publishing houses like Gantala, San Anselmo, among others.

We encourage our readers to do private readings by letting them browse and touch our books. We especially curate these books and remove them from their plastics. Most of the kids from a nearby Montessori would come here every lunch break. Seeing them marvel at our collection and the surprise in their eyes when they enter inspire us to proceed with our mission.

“We wish to provide that space for them, also for the visual artists as well. They do regular exhibits at the malls. So far that’s the most accessible space for the public.”

Out of all the titles so far, what Bikol or Filipiniana titles have piqued the visitors’ interest?

The Bikol translation of Antoine de Saint Exupery’ The Little Prince is the number one in our best-sellers’ lists, followed by Tito Valiente’s Tales from Ticao, a collection of short stories all set in this mythical island where he was born. We get orders from abroad especially the Bikolanos living in the US and in Manila. Young people are also buying books of poetry especially Emman Velasco’s Mga Sugat Ng Naligaw Sa Gubat, who recently won the National Book Awards for Filipino poetry.

How does Savage Mind provide a platform for Bikolano authors and artists alike?

The place is designed to be our hub, a place where we can gather and exchange ideas. Artists and writers have to be more involved in this kind of space rather than spending time on social media. We hope to turn the tide in actual meetings and convergences, in a room where people watch and read and listen—that in itself is a platform by which we can launch this new bookshop.

What can visitors do apart from purchasing books at Savage Mind? 

They can meet some writers and artists here. Our target is to bring these authors and artists to the communities. We have regularly scheduled poetry readings and book signings. Right now, we are partnering up with the Senior Citizens of Naga City to make use of our bookshop as a platform for storytelling and memory-making.

Every second Tuesday of the month, we have the “Tuesdays with Lola and Lolo,” where students get to listen to the stories of our elders. We need to return to this kind of ritual or gathering that may be similar to our liturgies that celebrate our stories and our struggles.

“Our target is to bring these authors and artists to the communities.”

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Savage Minds also have a microcinema and an art space as well. Randy and I would like to have an alternative space for these filmmakers to show their works. I am a filmmaker myself and I have other friends who are filmmakers, too. Some of the students in Ateneo are animators and are into cinema as well. It takes a long time for big malls to give in to these amateur and promising works.

We wish to provide that space for them, also for the visual artists as well. They do regular exhibits at the malls. So far, that’s the most accessible space for the public. However, these exhibits and film showings do not provide an avenue for people to discuss the works. Here, we provide that space for people to discuss with the curators and filmmakers and artists.

“Good governance is also about freedom of expression and the rise and development of creative endeavors.”

What can visitors watch inside the microcinema? 
We are partnering with some European embassies to screen some of their films here. Naga, through the initiative of the Czech Embassy in Manila, has been one of the hosts of the annual Cine Europa in the last two years. We will be doing the small group screenings every month to drumbeat the big event that usually happens in October.

People can also watch Bikol and other regional films here. We are also hoping to do screenings of the films considered as classic and masterpieces. We are readying our calendar and plan to launch this in April 2019.

Are there more art spaces like this in Bicol or do we need more artists spaces there?
Right now, we are building the brand and we are optimistic that more people will return to having physical books in their possession. I am overjoyed that our visitors are now increasing. Most of our visitors hail as far as Catanduanes and Masbate, the two island provinces in Bikol.

Local governments must be of help to these small shops. I hope Naga can also show the best example of how to celebrate and engage their artists and filmmakers. Good governance is also about freedom of expression and the rise and development of creative endeavors. Bikolanos should engage and do more.

“We have to build each other’s community. That is what books and films and arts do to us as human beings.”

People here should even challenge their own sense of artistry. Enough of Mayon Volcano and Sarung Banggi, Butanding, pineapples, bakas and abaca. We have to rethink these symbols and the meanings we accord upon ourselves. That is why we need critical imagination and creative engagement more than ever. Savage Mind aims to provide a platform for this kind of undertaking.

Why should people take notice of the art scene in Bicol?
I love what the writer Rebecca Solnit wrote, “A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.” That is how we can start forming new and changed communities where people can chart new paths for their communities, where we can challenge the prevailing systems and change it if we must. I have been described as the enfant terrible of Bikol writings, I guess Savage Mind is the fulfillment of this terribleness

We have to support one another. We have to build each other’s community. That is what books and films and arts do to us as human beings. It gathers us together and makes us imagine other possibilities, maybe a better world.

Savage Mind: Arts, Books, Cinema is located at #5 Peninsula St. Naga, Camarines Sur. For inquiries and other concerns, contact them on their Facebook page or through [email protected] 

Art by Aira Ydette
Photos courtesy of Savage Mind: Arts, Books, Cinema

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