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Greatness of Spirit and Asian Pride Through Culture and the Arts

Jun 15, 2023
10 min read

The value of art and culture is immeasurable—it brings communities together and bridges the gap between cultures. It induces wonder, delight, and wisdom; pleasing the mind and the heart. Needless to say, art has a positive impact on our overall health and wellbeing, society and education, and even the economy.

Among the 344 Ramon Magsaysay Awardees to date, 30 individuals who have contributed to the cultural preservation and development of their respective communities and countries have received the Award. Here are some who have showcased the Asian region’s excellence in the arts and promoting Asian pride through culture and the arts.

An internationally-acclaimed master filmmaker from Japan, AKIRA KUROSAWA developed a keen interest in literature and was introduced to films under the tutelage of his immediate older brother, Heigo, during his senior year in middle school.

KUROSAWA learned under the wing of one of the greatest directors of his time, Yamamoto, who became a mentor and a great influence in his life. KUROSAWA was taught about life, spending spare time with him at small bars in the amusement district. He learned from his mentor that "people are more important than causes" and was deeply influenced by Yamamoto's humanism.

AKIRA KUROSAWA received the 1965 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts for “his perceptive use of film to probe the moral dilemma of man amidst the tumultuous remaking of his values and environment in the mid-20th Century.”

KUROSAWA's own reaction to his fame is to say that he regards the purpose of a film to entertain and then to teach a lesson, not by preaching but by showing. He views the affairs of life as "a natural, ordinary man" and simply puts his feelings into his films, continuing to probe the possibilities of motion pictures, which have yet to be explored.

BIENVENIDO LUMBERA’s stay in the United States coincided with a dramatic period in the American civil rights movement. He remembers vividly an encounter with a black law student that fostered his own politicization. A black student asked him. "Would you endorse a move that would escalate the struggle of the blacks for their rights?" LUMBERA replied by saying that Black Americans had already been given many of their rights. "If you will be more patient," he remembers saying, "the time will come when all your demands will be met." At this, the black student retorted, "When you Filipinos wanted your independence from Spain, did you tell yourselves, Well, we’re going to wait until the Spaniards finally decide to give us our freedom?"

This pointed question, says LUMBERA, made him realize that "the platitudes I had grown up with were good only for orations. They cannot effectively change society." Thus it was with a heightened political awareness that he returned to Manila.

BIENVENIDO LUMBERA has since become an esteemed Filipino writer who challenged Philippine society’s colonial point of view and restored the poems and stories of vernacular writers to an esteemed place in the Philippine literary canon.

BIENVENIDO LUMBERA received the Ramon Magsaysay Award Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts for “his asserting the central place of the vernacular tradition in framing a national identity for modern Filipinos.”

A writer and journalist, NICK JOAQUIN’s prose and poetry illustrated the plight of Filipinos in a post-colonial society, allowing them to have a better understanding of their national identity.

Born in Manila in 1917, NICK JOAQUIN witnessed as a boy the slow metamorphosis of his home city as it awakened from three hundred years of languorous Spanish dominion and quickened to the newer rhythms of America and the modern age. While working as a typesetter for the Tribune newspaper at the age of seventeen, he submitted a poem to the editors. It was published and thus began his life as a writer.

As Quijano de Manila, his famous nom de plume, he chronicled the high life and low life of Manila’s politicos and crooks, starlets and famous lovers and, in trenchant essays and articles, examined intimately the mores and passions of the city.

In 1976, the year he was named National Artist of the Philippines, he also published lyrical translations from Spanish of the poems of Jose Rizal. JOAQUIN received the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1996 for “his exploring the mysteries of the Filipino body and soul in sixty inspired years as a writer.”

He is the greatest Filipino writer of his generation. Over six decades and a half, he has produced a body of work unmatched in richness and range by any of his contemporaries. Living a life wholly devoted to the craft of conjuring a world through words, he is the writer’s writer. In the passion with which he has embraced his country’s manifold being, he is his people’s writer as well.

A true child of Taiwan, LIN HWAI-MIN has drawn nourishment from the island and the world beyond and has given back to both his amazing gift of dance.

LIN established Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in 1973. It is the first modern dance company in any Chinese-speaking community anywhere in the world. The company takes its name from what, according to legend, is the name of the oldest known dance in China, a ritual dance of some 5,000 years ago. As the company’s founder, choreographer, and artistic director, LIN ran Cloud Gate almost single-handedly.

While addressing universal themes of struggle, freedom, and spiritual enlightenment, LIN’s dance compositions often depict or allude to real historical events, such as the Taiwan massacres of 1947 and the 1989 tragedy at Tiananmen. LIN, however, rejects interpretations that would confine the meanings of his work to a particular time or place.

In receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1999, he says, “If I were given an opportunity to make one wish for the next millennium, it would be thus: At the end of the next century, despite all the new technological developments, I hope that all the beautiful folk songs and folk dances from around the world will remain intact and alive... Dance should become more important, as people need to switch off and come to the dance gatherings, to share body warmth, energy, and spirit with others.”

The healing power of music is an idea that often does not rise beyond being a platitude, a comfortable truism. But a young artist in India is showing that music can indeed be a deeply transformative force in personal lives and society itself.

T.M. KRISHNA was born to a privileged, Brahmin family and was trained from the age of six in the aristocratic Karnatik music under masters of the form. Though he earned a degree in economics, KRISHNA chose to be an artist and quickly rose to become a highly-admired concert performer of Karnatik classical music, an ancient vocal and instrumental musical system ‘classicized’ to become the almost exclusive cultural preserve of the Brahmin caste—performed, organized, and enjoyed by the elite who have access to it.

While grateful for how Karnatik music has shaped his artistry, KRISHNA would question the social basis of his art. The efforts and advocacy of a Brahmin towards a more equitable society can often encounter controversy and resistance. Such a Brahmin is THODUR MADABUSI KRISHNA, who, in the process of maturing as a vocalist of the classical Karnatik music of South India, has come to realize the inequities of the caste system and has used his status as an artist to agitate for a more inclusive society.

T.M. KRISHNA received the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2016 for “his forceful commitment as artist and advocate to art’s power to heal India’s deep social divisions, breaking barriers of caste and class to unleash what music has to offer not just for some but for all.”

Now a leading advocate in India of “music for all and music for a better quality of life,” he says: “Music and the arts are capable of bridging cultures and civilizations and liberating us from artificial divisions of caste and race.”

A joyous Filipino artist, RAYMUNDO “RYAN” CAYABYAB is continuously nurturing young people's gifts through the power of music.

Born in a home filled with music, RYAN grew up listening to classical music, opera arias, and traditional native songs. Due to his mother’s admonitions to shun the musician’s financially unrewarding career, RYAN took up an accounting course, but to help pay for his university studies he took on side jobs as pianist or accompanist for musical artists. The parents of one such artist were so impressed with his talent that they gave RYAN a full scholarship to pursue a degree in music instead. From this point on, music would be his life-work.

RYAN CAYABYAB’s body of work, impressive in its originality and volume, has woven together the threads of the musical inheritance of the Philippines to create a sound that is uniquely Filipino. Yet to speak of him as a composer is to set limitations on him, because he is much more—an educator and mentor, and a visionary whose dream is to prepare Filipino artistry for the world stage.

In receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2019, he shares why he wanted to teach. “Teaching can transform lives. I want everyone I teach to discover their maximum potential. I also want them to be better than me. And because I think this was the basic track that I wanted to take, I was able to influence many of my younger colleagues in the music industry to adopt the same vision: to enable the new generation of songwriters to be better than our generation, so that our music community can move forward, and thus bring the entire creative music industry to new heights, and hopefully help the country to move forward by becoming leaders and songwriters of new music for the world to hear.”