Trailblazers 2020: Cultural navigator Mona Lavina creates Filipino Canadian Art Museum for the digital age

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      One of the most enduring stories in Philippine folklore is the creation of the first man and woman. He was called Malakas, or “Strong” in English, and she was Maganda, the “Beautiful” one.

      The legend predates the arrival of western colonizers, who brought with them the sword and the Christian cross during the 1500s.

      Even though the tale of Malakas and Maganda shares similarities with the biblical story of Adam and Eve, there is an important distinction. Unlike Eve, Maganda emerged whole along with Malakas when a bamboo stalk was split in half. She didn’t need to be fashioned out of a man’s rib.

      It’s a story that speaks about the equality of men and women, and their shared role in humanity. Because of its timeless message, it is apt that a groundbreaking Filipino cultural-heritage project is drawing inspiration from the symbolism of Malakas and Maganda for its inaugural event.

      In December 2019, just weeks before the world became aware of the novel coronavirus, Mona Lavina founded the Filipino Canadian Art Museum. It’s an online art gallery and history museum that uses tools of the digital age, not only to reach more people, but also to push creativity in previously undreamed-of realms.

      “We need to engage people in new ways,” Lavina told the Georgia Straight in an interview through a Facebook chat.

      On June 11, the Filipino Canadian Art Museum will unveil its maiden project, Strong and Beautiful: Cultural Treasures From the Philippines. Strong and Beautiful is a virtual exhibition of traditional Filipino clothing, jewellery, bamboo and rattan craft items, video and photos, and works by B.C.-based visual artists Charlie Frenal and Ovvian Castrillo Hill.

      “Understanding that cultural heritage preservation is a global issue led me to think about how I can value my own heritage and promote it in Canada,” Lavina said.

      The concept for the online art gallery and history museum started back in 2013, when she began her graduate studies through distance learning with the University of the Philippines. She thought about a web-based educational site about Filipino heritage dedicated to children in Canada.

      Children are a huge part of Lavina’s professional and personal life. She worked in communications for almost a decade at the B.C. regional office of UNICEF, and she’s now a multicultural curriculum developer with UNICEF Canada. She’s a mother to two young and artistically inclined daughters. Her second-generation Filipino Canadian children helped develop the Strong and Beautiful exhibition.

      Last year, Lavina curated a couple of Filipino cultural exhibits in Kamloops, where she and her family are now based. The shows were so well-received that people encouraged her to organize travelling displays.

      In a moment of brilliance, the idea of an exhibition on the road and an educational website about Filipino heritage for children in Canada fused into the Filipino Canadian Art Museum project.

      “Art and culture, for me, are the best ways to connect with heritage in positive and memorable ways,” Lavina said.