Unmasking the City of Smiles at The Negros Museum

Bacolod has always been a romantic city to me, what with it’s glorious hedonistic past especially at the height of the sugar industry. I always equate Bacolod with mestizas and mestizos, of decadent pastries, of luxurious stews, and an old dilapidated train that used to carry sugar from one hacienda to another. That dilapidated train used to be the major attraction of the Negros Museum. Now, a decade after since my first visit, the museum has improved and it has unmasked the City of Smiles.

Photo by Joel Lopez.

I also equate Bacolod with MassKara, which means “many faces,” the focal point of its annual festival celebrated this weekend. The city sells the story of how MassKara came into being as a festival to lift the spirits of the city who suffered a tragedy when 750 Negrenses died in a boat collision in 1980. Interaksyon has another version, one that is more creative and tourist-oriented. I felt The Negros Museum at Gatuslao St. has unmasked the city of its smiling facade through the tearing of some walls, the elimination of dusty mementos from a bygone era, the repainting of walls, and the display of art that, to me, at least try to match the realities of Negrense life amid the romanticized haciendero myth.



At the second floor of the museum, we started with a series of art titled “Death Becomes Negros.” The series explained that the sugar industry in Negros came to life because of the death of the weaving industry in Panay, which was a leading producer of woven fabrics even before the Spaniards arrived. As a result of the conversion of vast tracts of land in Negros for sugarcanes farming, many endemic species were dislocated, with some eventually disappearing. The exhibit further explained that in the past three decades, when the sugar industry has significantly dwindled, there came another death — death of the livelihood of farmhands who eventually have to seek low-paying jobs in cities.




In the next gallery, I found most interesting Karina Broce Gonzaga’s “Blind Faith,” a depiction of the life of a female sacada from being a young girl to an old woman. I loved that the display of art in the galleries are not cluttered. The windows are also opened, letting in natural light.



The last gallery displays art with the theme, “Sugarcoating,” which, according to the write-up is how print and social media depict the city — “laidback living and calorific delicacies, romantic colonial-era mansions, and idyllic sugarcane fields, headdress-heavy dancers with perpetual grins, high-end real estate and luxury cars” when the ordinary Negrense, if not a real sacada, is an urban sacada. Through the exhibit, the artists “expose what touristic write-ups fail to see.” I loved it. I appreciate the museum’s direction of getting in touch with reality and letting tourists see it. I feel the museum did not just unmask the City of Smiles, it made it more approachable.

The Museum Cafe, the Souvenir Shop, and the Toy Museum

At the Museum Cafe.
Chica at the museum gift shop.
Oldie but goodie toy museum.

When you think you’ve had enough but want to bring back something from the now-unmasked City of Smiles, the museum’s souvenir shop at the first floor has select woven bags, fabrics, and accessories for sale. If you are traveling with kids, at the far end of the corridor, we headed to the toy museum (photographs not allowed) to let my nephew learn about toys from different parts of the world. Sadly, the toy museum has not changed a bit for the better. It still works for me, but I believe the display could do better. If you are feeling thirsty or your brain is drained from seeing too much of the bitter realities, head to the museum cafe outside the museum.

The museum opens at 9:00 AM. Entrance fee is P80 for regular visitors, including children. Students and senior citizens get a discount.


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