The Davao-based sculptor hopes to create harmony in the region, one monument at a time
Flying through Davao airport, you’ve no doubt encountered the so-called durian sculpture – an unmissable, 7.5m concrete version of the spiky fruit. Entitled Giant Durian Genesis Lore, it depicts three pairs of human figures symbolizing the people of Davao: the indigenous Lumad, the Moros and the Christian settlers. The sculpture is an unmistakable call for unity in Mindanao. And just 10km away, in the village of Ma-a, the region’s best-known artist is still devoted to this message.
Surrounded by stacks of wood, steel and found objects, Ray Mudjahid Ponce Millan – more popularly known as Kublai – is adding the finishing touches on what he considers one of his most important projects so far. To be installed at the newly opened Maguindanao Capitol, it is made up of 15m sculptures of three traditional weapons used by the Moros: the barong (a leaf-shaped sword), kampilan (a single-edged long sword, considered the national weapon of the Moros) and kris (a sword with a wavy blade). Kublai hopes to show how putting down weapons is an important step in working for genuine and sustainable peace.
Depicting Mindanao’s story is of paramount importance to the artist. Born in Cotabato City in the 1970s – during the height of the Moro conflict in the region – Kublai was given both a Christian and a Muslim name by his parents, and this dual identity would later inform his creative pursuits and advocacy work.
Raised in Davao, Kublai spent a few years in Metro Manila where he studied fine arts at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. But deep inside, what Kublai wanted was to go back to his hometown. “Mindanao’s landscape and realities have helped shape me as an artist,” Kublai says.
Another project currently taking place in his workshop is the renovation of a public park in Upi, Maguindanao that will showcase the diverse but interwoven narratives and cultures of indigenous Tedurays, Muslims and Christian settlers. While the artwork is still unfinished, the message is already clear: that people with different cultures and religious beliefs can share one place and call it home.
Creating art for peace is about planting the right seeds and symbolism, Kublai believes. “To some people they are just monuments. But I look at my works as a spiritual renewal of our vow to the land,” he says. “This is a land of peace. Let us unite. Let us [uphold] the right values.”
And while art will not change anything instantly, Kublai is confident that his gentle approach is effective precisely because it is neither combative nor preachy. For Kublai, the most fulfilling part of his job is seeing people interact with his pieces. “My works act like magic portals that create safe and sacred zones. When I see children playing, people smiling and taking pictures with them – that’s my work of art.”