ARTS

Works of Filipino artists are headed to the moon

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Through the efforts of Filipino-Candian physicist and author Samuel Peralta, paintings and other creative works by Filipinos will call the lunar surface home come December 2021. In photo: “Madonna and Child” by Ben Cabrera (2015). Photo courtesy of SAMUEL PERALTA

Soon, when you look to the moon, you’ll be gazing at the direction of a lunar art exhibit — one that includes the works of various Filipino artists.

The Lunar Codex, a digital and analog collection of artwork stored in time capsules, is scheduled to travel to the moon through two landers in unmanned operations. The launches are a part of the U.S. National Space Administration’s (NASA) Artemis Program, a moon-bound human spaceflight program, whose initial phase includes the delivery of scientific equipment and commercial payloads.

Through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Service (CLPS), the private sector can send packages into space. And in July 2020, via Astrobotic and DHL’s MoonBox initiative, Filipino-Candian physicist and storyteller Dr. Samuel Peralta jumped at the chance.

“At first [it was] only to put something of mine on the Moon, to be a small part of the Artemis program,” he shares. This wish is well-founded, after all, Peralta’s fictional writings have been previously featured on Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller lists, and in his teens, his poetry earned him a Palanca award.

The diversification of a personal project

What was initially Peralta’s personal payload — filled with his acclaimed novels and writings — eventually grew to include artwork from other artists, starting with the creations of his family members, his parents being renowned abstract artist Rosario Bitanga-Peralta and Palanca award-winning playwright Jesus T. Peralta.

“Moon Leaves” by Rosario Bitanga-Peralta (1987). Due in part to the aptness of this work’s title and theme, Samuel Peralta thought it impossible not to include Moon Leaves on the Lunar Codex. Photo courtesy of SAMUEL PERALTA

Also part of the initial compilation was his short story anthologies, which featured other writers.

“I saw that all the writers I included were so happy to be part of the project, so I included more and more until I basically outgrew the space I had,” Peralta says.

Eventually, he acquired more ridesharing space to make up the capsule he calls The Peregrine Collection, named after the Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander that carries the payloads.

The Peregrine Collection is the first of the three moon-bound capsules, and it is currently onboard the lander awaiting launch in December 2021. It now represents work created by a diverse set of artists, coming from countries across multiple continents, including Canada, the United States, Singapore, Belgium, Australia and the Philippines.

Early this year, the Lunar Codex received a substantial expansion when a second capsule was negotiated. Dubbed The Nova Collection, after Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C Lunar Lander, the capsule features a similarly diverse body of work but incorporates different methods of curation. “We began working with organizations like The Bennett Prize whose foundation awards the largest prize to women artists in the world; by doing this, we had the benefit of curation by their awards jury,” he says.

For the Nova Collection, he again included some Filipino work with personal significance: a Malang piece, his first self-purchased artwork, and an Arellano inscape, an ode to a sentimental visit to Agnes Arellano’s exhibit. The digitized images of the works are stored in a nickel microfiche time capsule that reportedly has the capability to last thousands of years.

“Flying Dakini” by Agnes Arellano (2014). Photo courtesy of SAMUEL PERALTA

“Coming Storm” by Mauro Malang Santos (1978). Photo courtesy of DR. SAMUEL PERALTA

“All in all, although I have a connection to each work – through the editor, gallerist, curator, publisher, collector, and so on,” divulges Dr. Peralta. “About 90% of the Lunar Codex has been curated or co-curated by a professional with a background that more than complements my own.”

An achievement of today and tomorrow

As it stands today, The Lunar Codex carries around 5000 creative works created by over 1500 artists. The project is also the first of its kind in various ways, the first to bring female-made art and figurative realist art to the moon’s surface. “The Lunar Codex is the most expansive and diverse collection of contemporary art launched to the Moon, in terms of gender, styles, and nationalities,” Peralta explains.

Around fifteen of these artists are Filipinos (although there are bound to be more, given the scale of the project) in varying areas of practice: painters such as Ben Cabrera, writers such as Ivy Alvarez, musicians such as Francis Paul B. Peralta, and sculptors such as Michael Cacnio.

“Calesa” by Michael Cacnio (2011). Photo courtesy of SAMUEL PERALTA

More than its technical achievements and titles, the project is a testament to the creative resilience of humankind, especially in these turbulent times. “The Codex is also a message-in-a-bottle to the future, so that travelers who find these time capsules might discover some of the richness of our world today,” says Peralta. “It speaks to the idea that, despite wars and pandemics and climate upheaval, humankind found time to dream, time to create art.”

And there’s set to be even more art for future lunar travelers to discover. Just this month, Peralta acquired space on a 2023 launch, marking the Lunar Codex’s third capsule. The collection is named Polaris, like the north star — the one everybody seeks out when they look to the night sky.

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More on the Lunar Codex here.