For a lovely bowl
Let us arrange these flowers
For there is no rice
– Matsuo Bashō:
The profound yet delicate simplicity of these words can conjure a multitude of thoughts, much like the medium of clay. Pottery making is deeply fused into the economics and culture of civilizations, and in many cases, integral in the telling and record keeping of their stories. A clear example comes from recent anthropological studies of rice terraces in the Philippine Cordilleras. An analysis of organic residue inside clay pots unearthed by archeologists has revealed new discoveries on the age of the terraces, dating them to be only 500 years old (versus the former assumption that they are 2,000 years old), attributing the necessity of terrace building to people migrating upland as an escape from Spanish colonial rule. These studies on material culture are important in understanding pre-history and migration patterns. In our current era, the economics of rice has lately become increasingly political with the controversial rice tariffication law, resulting in farmers losing billions in revenue, hitting the poorest sector of society, followed by a recent election campaign built on the pledge of implementing a price cap on rice.
The poet Angela Aliamo O’Donnel posts an analysis of Bashô’s haiku: “The sparseness of haiku suits its subject—the finding of plenty in the midst of dearth, of presence in the empty fact of absence, of affirmation amid the cry of lamentation. And what are these flowers that substitute for food if not words—bright blooms we cannot eat, that won’t sate our human hunger, yet feed the ear and eye? And what are haiku but small bowls of roses offered on the altar of our mortality, momentary flashes of Being that enlarge and amplify our own?” Perhaps this is the most important role of art. These objects empower artists in making a stand and lending their voice. What we have here is a tiny exhibit; nonetheless, showing that contributions to progress can be made in small steps, not necessarily through the grand gesture, and big statements can be condensed in a humble object, as in a haiku.