By Sheila Mariano
PARNELL, Auckland – As I was casually walking along Parnell Road recently a flamboyant rooster sculpture in one of the shop windows caught my eye. I did a double take, because it was stunning and vaguely familiar. On a card at the feet of the rooster it said: ‘Ang Sarimanok’ designed by Louie Bretana.
I had to investigate further. The shop attendant at Trenzseater informed me that the rooster sculpture was not for sale. It was one of 38 life-sized rooster sculptures by various artists that are being showcased at art galleries and select retailers till 12th February as part of a unique ‘Year of the Rooster Exhibition’ to welcome in the Chinese New Year. At the close of the exhibition the roosters will be auctioned for charity on 16 February. Profits from the auction will go to the National Air Ambulance Service.
At pinoyculture.com ‘Ang Sarimanok’ is described as the legendary bird of the Maranao people who originate from Mindanao. It comes from the words ‘sari’, colourful cloth or garment and ‘manok’ for chicken. The Sarimanok is said to be a symbol of good fortune.
The creative genius behind this spectacular sculpture is Louie Bretana, a Filipino artist based in Auckland. “I created ‘Ang Sarimanok’ for the Parnell Business Association’s rooster exhibition,” Louie confirmed when I contacted him. “I hope you liked my homage to our heritage?” I responded. “I didn’t like it. I loved it! I took a photo of your work of art and posted it on my personal Facebook page and now I’d like everyone to know about it.”
“Ay wow, salamat ha!” said Louie. “ That’s very flattering at nakakataba ng puso to hear it from my kababayans. And of course it would be my honour and pleasure to be featured in your paper.”
“Are you an artist by profession?” I enquired. “I was a graduate of UP College of Fine Arts and I used to be a creative director in advertising in the Philippines,” explained Louie. “But I found it hard to break into the New Zealand advertising industry kasi wala akong local experience. So I decided to focus on art. I am currently in my last year retaking a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) at the ELAM School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland.
“I plan to continue my practice and establish myself as a contemporary artist here in New Zealand. But the key to that is for me to recognise my identity and heritage as it will define me and my work. Becoming a migrant has given me a renewed appreciation for the things I took for granted and I am on a personal journey of rediscovering my love for art and my heritage.
“I’ve been here in NZ for the past 5 years. I recently got my citizenship, so I feel a little bit of nostalgia for the Philippines. I guess that is part of what inspires the direction of my work – to revisit my cultural heritage.”
The inspiration for ‘Ang Sarimanok’
By Louie Bretana
The Sarimanok is an iconic rooster in the mythology of the Maranao, an indigenous community in the southern Philippines. It has numerous origin stories, most connecting it to the union of nobility, heroes and deities; a rich and brilliant creature that bridged the world of the seen and the unseen.
Its palette of bright colors and gold have made it a symbol of wealth, power and prestige. Its characteristic depiction with a fish clutched in its beak or claws can be seen as a sign of providence and good fortune in the context of a culture borne from an archipelago surrounded by the sea.
With this as the inspiration ‘Ang Sarimanok’ comes to life with an unabashed riot of colours that reflect the vibrant Filipino culture. Gold accents inspired by ethnic patterns, wire sculpture flourishes and over 400 Swarovski crystals elevate the majestic rooster to a regal and royal stature befitting a homage to my cultural heritage and a tribute to my adopted home.