Mak­ing and pre­serv­ing mem­o­ries are vo­ca­tions of a life­time for the Azu­cars


“You think of sim­pler times when you don’t have the lux­ury of time any­more.”

José Acuzar, owner and founder of New San Jose Builders, Inc. and Las Casas de Filip­inas de Acuzar, had raised his three girls in the grass­lands by the beach, in a mod­est box of a house in Balanga, Bataan. “In front of the river, where the swim­ming pool is, was where the house used to be,” points out Jam, one of his daugh­ters. She goes on to de­scribe how the vast land is, where over 40 her­itage houses were re­si­t­u­ated and re­built; how small the river used to be be­fore her fa­ther carved out a lake that is now cen­tral to all the her­itage houses; how there were more stars vis­i­ble then; and how quiet the evenings were.

Las Casas de Filip­inas de Acuzar was the Azu­car pa­tri­arch’s brain­child. As his ar­chi­tec­ture busi­ness thrived, José be­gan up­grad­ing his own house and started a col­lec­tion of an­tiques. “He filled a house with his an­tiques, from old floors to old doors, then he re­al­ized, ‘Why col­lect parts of the house when I can buy the whole house?’” Jam re­counts. That’s when he thought of mov­ing old homes to one lo­ca­tion, bayani­han- style, but in­stead of nipa huts be­ing car­ried by men on their backs from one bar­rio to an­other, he moved Span­ish colo­nial struc­tures and even a tra­di­tional Maranao house across prov­inces and bod­ies of wa­ter. As he was in the busi­ness of con­struc­tion and real es­tate, José went the more in­ven­tive, bor­der­ing-on-crazy route of dis­man­tling an en­tire house, num­ber­ing each and ev­ery part, trans­port­ing them to Bataan, and then re­build­ing the house for restora­tion.

“Th­ese houses could no longer with­stand the pol­lu­tion in the city. A lot of them were be­ing aban­doned. They have no use any­more and were be­ing in­hab­ited by il­le­gal set­tlers,” says Jam, who is also very much in­volved in her dad’s pas­sion project. With a ma­jor in Art His­tory and Eco­nomics, she came home af­ter fin­ish­ing her stud­ies and do­ing sev­eral jobs abroad to help in the fam­ily busi­ness and with Las Casas.

She has a sup­ple­men­tary vi­sion of her own for Las Casas, though. Aside from cre­at­ing all the ma­te­ri­als and crafts for the restora­tion and recre­ation of

some of the struc­tures’ details in-house, she’s also in­cor­po­rat­ing art into the mix. “My dream was ba­si­cally to pro­vide a space for con­tem­po­rary art in a her­itage-in­spired lo­ca­tion,” she says. Thus, the old meets the new: while con­tem­po­rary art is more sym­bolic, her­itage houses re­flect the day and age they were built.

The first house re­lo­cated to and re­stored at Las Casas is the Es­cuela de Belles Artes or Casa Quiapo, which housed the first U.P. School of Fine Arts and was the for­mer man­sion of Filipino in­tel­lec­tual and painter Rafael En­riquez y Vil­lanueva; he would hold work­shops here with his peers José Rizal, Juan Luna, and Félix Hi­dalgo. The house was also the in­spi­ra­tion be­hind the Belles Artes Projects, which Jam founded in the be­lief that the first step in in­tro­duc­ing con­tem­po­rary art to a com­mu­nity is through an ex­hi­bi­tion. Con­se­quently, she in­vited artists Al­fredo Esquillo Jr., Re­nato Hab­u­lan, and Geral­dine Javier to show­case their works inside the his­toric space. “The best way to com­mu­ni­cate ideas and philoso­phies were al­ways done through art or vis­ual cul­ture. I strongly be­lieve that’s how cul­ture is built and how com­mu­ni­ties gather around a com­mon in­ter­est and even­tu­ally em­body the vis­ual cul­ture,” she says fer­vently. “Art pre­serves a mes­sage or a mem­ory that can­not be im­mor­tal­ized through his­tor­i­cal records, doc­u­men­ta­tion, or ar­chiv­ing alone. It’s im­por­tant that we treat it this way rather than just putting it in our pri­vate spa­ces.” Jam has also or­ga­nized a res­i­dency pro­gram for both lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional artists. Closely work­ing with cu­ra­tor Diana Camp­bell Be­tan­court in pol­ish­ing the pro­gram, she has in­vited in­ter­na­tional artists to pro­duce work that can be ex­hib­ited in Las Casas or in her new ven­ture in Makati, The Out­post.

With the goal of dis­sem­i­nat­ing art among a wider au­di­ence and cut­ting across dif­fer­ent sec­tors of so­ci­ety, The Out­post at the Kar­rivin Al­ley in Makati will serve as a com­mu­nity cen­ter, pro­vid­ing the youth un­in­hib­ited ac­cess. “Even if you’ve stud­ied art his­tory, con­tem­po­rary art re­mains a com­pletely dif­fer­ent lan­guage. You can’t sim­ply

My dream was ba­si­cally to pro­vide a space for con­tem­po­rary art in a her­itage-in­spired lo­ca­tion.”

study it; you have to go to ex­hi­bi­tions and see the works for your­self.”

With The Out­post’s doors set to open in Jan­uary of 2017, Jam in­tends to bring the works of Bataan crafts­men to the metro, as well as con­tem­po­rary art from both lo­cal and for­eign artists and books from dif­fer­ent in­sti­tu­tions, mu­se­ums, and gal­leries all over the world. “The whole point is to get peo­ple to un­der­stand that art should be viewed and ex­pe­ri­enced and talked about. It’s not some­thing you walk in and out of and then say, ‘it’s cool!’ or sim­ply take pho­tos.”

With big­ger plans ahead and more op­por­tu­ni­ties re­lated to her­itage con­ser­va­tion and art fall­ing onto the Azu­cars’ laps, both fa­ther and daugh­ter are al­ways in mo­tion, hop­ping from meet­ing to meet­ing, con­trol­ling the qual­ity of ev­ery as­pect of the busi­ness, and think­ing of ways to im­prove their cur­rent vi­sion. Look­ing back to when she was younger, Jam re­flects on how much the times have changed. “One of the most spe­cial mem­o­ries I have was when we would swim in the beach at night. Back then, no one was there, ex­cept for peo­ple from lo­cal towns. We would all just float in the wa­ter, watch the stars, and feel the soft waves. Now, it’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent; I can’t even get quiet time with my dad.” She ad­mits, how­ever, “I don’t think [I’d] want any­thing back, but it’s nice to hold on to those mem­o­ries.”

Even with the world now hy­per-con­nected, for­get­ting the past seems too easy. More than ever, her­itage and art are sub­stan­tive means for re­mem­ber­ing. “They are the eas­i­est and mildest re­minders of parts of our his­tory—the things we shouldn’t for­get. Now, we are fac­ing col­lec­tive mem­ory loss in our so­ci­ety; per­haps we should have done more with ex­pos­ing our ideas through art and cul­ture.”

The Acuzars built work­shops in situ to re­store, recre­ate, and con­stantly ren­o­vate the houses. But­ton down shirt, Mango H.E.,SM Mega­mall. Trousers, Sune,­

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