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Moving Histories

How do you move six hundred years of arts and letters from point A to point B?

With hands.

That isn’t a set-up for a bad joke, even if the construction of the question and answer seems that way. That’s how the Lopez Museum and Library’s collection of 19th century art and beyond, numerous artifacts, manuscripts, forgotten letters, (the list goes on), was moved.

With hands.

Riffling through the camera roll of the institution’s relocation documentation, you will find various photos of hands:

Hands holding up cabinets, vitrines, pedestals. Dusty hands pulling thick green straps knotted unto palettes supporting a mountain of library documents, hands pushing on racks of fine art. Nineteen pairs of hands, lifting a crate (half of the hands under the rain, half of them dry under the wing of a ten-wheeler truck) all drenched in sweat and marked with red by the sharp edges of the large wooden boxes. Vaguely seen hands holding up glass. At quarter to seven am, those hands can be heard ripping out nails, dismantling what they’ve built to make way for other structures to be created.

If one can believe it, those hands are the same ones that wrapped 19th century art, carried each individually packed work into self-made shelves and handmade crates. Those are the only hands trusted enough to handle Lunas and Hidalgos, Olmedos and Edadeses. The hands that have touched versos of frames, surfaces that many eyes cannot immediately envision given that they are surfaces rarely seen by the public. Perhaps, those are hands that know more about the collection more than the hands typing these words at this moment will ever know. For they’ve brushed glass particles off of prints of Lunas whose original canvases have been destroyed or stowed away where they cannot be seen.

They are easy to forget, rarely are they seen in exhibition openings or public programs. It’s only when exhibitions are half-alive in galleries, when microphones do not amplify, and when half-finished exhibition texts are plastered unto walls that these hands are seen. When they are recognized, they are bunched together under a banner of Acknowledgements. And how many of us actually pay attention to the credits?

To the hands that moved a library and vastness that comes with it, the hands that packed thousands of news clippings, boxed a gargantuan amount of periodicals, from shelf to shelf, book end to book end, the Lopez Museum and Library thanks Ronnie Cabigon, Jemmar Distarin, Billy Macario, and Robert Molina. Mountain after mountain of museum and library materials could not have been brought unto trucks, and safely transferred out if not for the steady hands of Ogie Agaton, Ed Degorio, and Jun Catambay.

The hands that have known pages and pages of rare manuscripts, hard-to-find newspapers, created the resource for the institution’s digital library, LML continues to thank Julius Oligo, Ramon Sison, and Rochelle Barcelo.

The hands that helped build the museum’s former home, Benpres, and therefore were able to take it apart with care, the institution thanks Domeng Magaling. From all the intricacies of the museum, from the artful tables in the former museum cafe, the panels that create new spaces and realms, to the mundane such as stools, desks, shelves containing theses, his hands are the creator.

The museum would not be able to mount exhibitions, let alone boast of its collections management prowess if not for the pairs of hands that know the collection by heart, not only through tactile recognition, but also through the years of experience with the canvases tucked away in vaults. It is difficult to fully entrust national treasures into any person’s hands and in the Lopez Museum and Library the few hands trusted are those owned by Rodrigo Enano, Romeo Jalandoni, and Ricardo Calizon.

Collectively these names were and are integral to moving a museum and a library; the clanging seeming disarray of a B-side to the quieter tracks in the mixtape of museum sounds. And they are ones, this institution hopes to continue to remember, and to strengthen.

Museums do not just happen. They are made, dismantled, and moved by hands. And where would our histories be if not for those hands?