‘AntingAnting Project’ launches at Asian Art Museum | Inquirer

‘AntingAnting Project’ launches at Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

/ 06:45 AM January 27, 2024

AntingAnting Project flyer

“AntingAnting Project” led by SF Legacy Artist Awardee and KULARTS Artistic Director Alleluia Panis happens at the Asian Art Museum on Saturday, Jan. 27 and Sunday, Jan. 28. CONTRIBUTED

SAN FRANCISCO – A culminating event for the “AntingAnting Project” led by SF Legacy Artist Awardee and KULARTS Artistic Director, Alleluia Panis, happens at the Asian Art Museum on Saturday, Jan. 27 and Sunday, Jan. 28 from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Presented by KULARTS and commissioned by the Asian Art Museum, the event features a ritual processional ceremony with guest artist and Sama Culture Bearer Al-Raffy Alnado Harun and the youth of KULARTS’ Agos Program.

This is followed by a lecture on anting-anting power objects by Carlo Ebeo, a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Museum of the Philippines, commissioner of National Commission for Culture and the Arts, national coordinator for the National Book Development Board’s Book Nook Project, researcher, producer, educator and festival organizer.

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“I’m giving a lecture on how we see anting-anting in terms of valuing but, at the same time, I’d also like to point out that these are scientific. It’s not a magic potion. There are scientific reasons why it heals,” says Ebeo.

Following the lecture is a performance of “AntingAnting Santo Diwata,” a multidisciplinary ritual performance exploring the talismanic power of movement and dance, directed and choreographed by Alleluia Panis.

“They can see artistry in it but also a deeper understanding of what anting-anting is with the lecture by Carlo, contextualizing the scientific, Catholic religion, and all of that, that it’s not black and white, the whole idea of relational outlook,” says Panis. “Be open and just accept it and energies might talk to you while you’re watching, and that’s OK. It’s just ancestors talking, you know.”


A two-year project commissioned by the Asian Art Museum, the AntingAnting Project began when former Senior Educator for Public Programs Indra Mungal, who spearheaded and ran the project before her departure, approached Panis about a possible collaboration centered around the museum’s collection of objects from the Philippines.

“Since I’m familiar (with the collection), I’ve been here in the community for so long, knowing these objects in the museum, I wanted to see what can come out of it in terms of my own inspiration,” says Panis.

In conjunction with the Asian Art Museum’s Re-History Project, in which the museum questions “the unequal power systems that support the collecting of cultural antiquities in museums globally, including its own collection,” Panis then worked with Associate Curator of Southeast Asian Art Natasha Reichle in examining objects in the Philippine and Filipino American collection of the museum.


“Alleluia was really instrumental in asking me to go back and look in our object files because a few of them came in before my time here,” says Reichle.

What came up for Panis in the process is the deep exploration of the meaning of these objects in the diaspora as well as the Philippines prompted by how she had always felt about these objects being at the Asian Art Museum, the notion that these objects were imprisoned behind glass.

“There’s a lot of these objects that are used for spiritual practice. I felt like they were trapped there.”

Contemplating on the meaning of the objects in the context of history and spirituality, Panis thought about the Filipino concept of power objects known as anting-anting as the basis for the project.

Alleluia Panis black & white photo

SF Legacy Artist Awardee and KULARTS Artistic Director Alleluia Panis leads a culminating event for the “AntingAnting Project.” Photo By Austin Blackwell

Anting-anting is a mystical belief system practiced throughout the Philippine archipelago that predates the arrival of Spanish colonizers. It incorporates the use of power objects, amulets, charms or talismans. In the predominantly Muslim population of Mindanao, an Islamic version of anting-anting also exists.

Most indigenous spiritual beliefs and traditions, including anting-anting, survived and flourished after the Christianization of the majority of the population through syncretism, taking on features and characteristics of the religion and culture that was imposed by the colonizers.

For the project, Panis went beyond the traditional concept of anting-anting as being mystical and even magical, “because it is also energetic movement of atoms within objects. To me, that’s what animism is about. Our ancestors were correct and finally science had caught up to it.”

Panis – who, for many years, has been practicing the pre-colonial Maguindanaon ritual called Ipat which, at its core, is the “understanding of the balance of the elements in the universe,” – has, in the past decade, been focusing her inquiries on “what is spirit, and what is spirit when it’s broken, what is spirit when it’s colonized and you’re so confused, what is spirit as it manifests in objects and manifests in us?”

With the inherent energy in the objects at the museum and in all objects for that matter, Panis believes that “what drives it and what makes it alive is the intention of the humans around it.”

She poses the question, “So how do we and the people in the diaspora, and having 400 years of colonization actually reclaim it and embrace it?”

Panis says that the performance piece is “not defining” an answer to the questions at large but rather “it’s really the questioning and investigating still and how do we pay homage to that. The whole piece that I’ve created is really about prayer.”

A component of the AntingAnting Project was a convening titled “Celebrating Culture with Sensitivity: Community Partner Conversation” held on March 25, 2023 at the Asian Art Museum.

Participants to the convening were invited to respond to questions and have an open discussion on how the museum should exhibit sacred and ritual items, how to honor the museum’s collection of sacred and ritual objects and how the museum can correct the history of acquiring objects through colonization, war and theft.

“These objects, in (the) context of colonization and subjugation, the ownership or the placement of these objects in an American institution, in America, which were colonizers, and a lot of these are booties of war; there’s a lot to that,” says Panis. “We had a convening with the community and there were a lot of emotional tears.”

Headshot of Carlo Ebeo

Carlo Ebeo will give a lecture on anting-anting power objects. CONTRIBUTED

In 2020, the Asian Art Museum kicked off its Re-History Project that was prompted by a global reckoning within institutions with social justice, equity, accessibility, inclusion, accountability and complicitness in histories of oppression.

“One of the sparks of that was that we realized that we needed to do something,” says Deborah Clearwaters, director of learning and civic engagement. “There was a lot of internal conversations happening. The museum was closed and people had the opportunity to step back for reflection. The murder of George Floyd really prompted a lot of social justice reflection at institutions like ours.”

As a result, the Asian Art Museum decided to remove from its lobby the bust of its founding donor and benefactor, Avery Brundage, an Asian art collector who donated about 8,000 pieces, comprising 40 percent of the museum’s collection, to the City of San Francisco in 1959. Brundage was known for his racist, sexist and anti-semitic beliefs.

Clearwaters shares that “Alleluia Panis was someone who was on top of mind for us when we did some outreach as part of the Re-History Project because there was this other phase of the project that we’re deep in right now, which is to do an exhibition that was talking about provenance, the history of ownership of the artwork, how did they get to the museum, because…that is really a question for many of our visitors.”

Part of what is in question are two objects in the museum’s Philippine and Filipino American collection that Panis had pointed out and has worked with as part of the project—limestone burial urns that were found in a cave in Cotabato, Mindanao in the 1970s and donated to the museum.

According to Reichle, these burial urns were “removed from the Philippines against the 1970 UNESCO Convention on illicit trafficking.”

Reichle says that the museum is looking forward to having further conversations with Carlo Ebeo regarding the provenance of the burial urns.

“Also, a very good point that the community and Alleluia brought to this conversation was how they’re displayed, which was part of the plan that was in place before I got here, but they’re displayed in a way where there’s little to evoke their original context.”

Panis asked the museum about the possibility of repatriating these burial urns. “I asked them the specific question, ‘how far do you want to go with this? Do you really want to talk about repatriation?’ They go, ‘yeah, let’s do it. We want to talk about what is right.’”

“But also I don’t want the Asian Art Museum to just return these objects and then clean their hands and say, ‘we’ve done it,’” adds Panis. “I think that there needs to be other benefits that need to be exchanged. Because maybe the final thing does not have to be repatriation but, if the Philippines decides, ‘we’ll allow you to caretake our objects,’ what are they gonna do in exchange, right? Is it money that they will give? Is it training? Is it residency? Something?”

Burial urn

Burial urn, approx. 600. Philippines; Mindanao. Limestone. Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of Marion Greene, 1991.323.2. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Early in 2023, Panis had a conversation about the burial urns with Ebeo and the Bangsamoro Museum in Cotabato, which, in essence, is the area that the burial urns are from and belong to, asking the question, “what does the Philippines want?”

According to Ebeo, from what he has heard from the Chairman of the Bangsamoro Commission on the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, “they also wanted to have these things back. But from the national point of view, the urns are not just owned by Bangsamoro.”

Ebeo adds, “Those urns are Manobo urns. From my scientific point of view and from a genetic point of view, they are not urns of that area alone. It also applies to other areas that are not part of Bangsamoro. So they are really urns of the first or second people in Mindanao which are Manobo people. For me, the rightful owner are the Filipino people.”

Even with the right intentions, the path to repatriation can be long and hard. This is complicated by the fact that the Asian Art Museum’s collection is owned by the City and County of San Francisco. “We can have all kinds of intentions but we can’t get ahead of the city with those intentions. We have to work with them and their legal department,” says Clearwaters. “Then we’d have to figure out who’s gonna pay for shipping it back and all of that.”

“But I think there (are) other options,” Clearwaters adds. “One option could be a kind of restitution, a payment, or a trade of skills and training, or a visit exchange where we’re doing collaborative learning and sharing of resources. I think, all of those could be great outcomes, too.”

In the process, the AntingAnting Project was a big learning experience for the Asian Art Museum.

“We’ve learned a lot. We’re really thinking differently about our collections; how we interpret art in other areas; if its original context was religious in nature, should we be isolating it on a pedestal in this way or should we be trying to more fully tell that story in its original context? There’s a lot of really nice impact basically from the partnership,” says Clearwaters.

“I think this is something that all museums are coming face to face with,” says Reichle. “In my opinion, collaboration is absolutely essential, and that’s why (working) with people like Alleluia, who help us look deeply at the objects in our collection (and) connect us with people in the Philippines who might be able to help with these types of restitution or repatriation efforts is really, really valuable.”

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TAGS: Alleluia Panis, Asian Art Museum, KulArts
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