This review was originally published on HellaPinay.com.
“We all have ghosts.”
The neon red sign on the facade of Bindlestiff Studio on 6th St. beckoned from afar. A huddle of black-clad figures hovered by the entrance, while a sudden chill breezes through. Past nights have been unusually warm but that Friday night, it felt as if the city joined in. The faces in the dim light all looked eager. And then the doors opened.
One of the markers of the fall season has always been Halloween and after a few years of staying in the country, I finally acclimated to the festivities towards the end of October. It hasn’t always been like that. Where I’m from, we never really celebrated October 31st or Halloween the same way. Growing up in a predominantly Catholic culture, what we celebrated was November 1st and 2nd, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day – “Undas.” And instead of wearing costumes, going trick-or-treating and indulging in good ol’ Halloween debauchery, we stopped to honor the dead.
As early as three in the afternoon, my family and I would start heading towards the PUBLIC cemetery in our small town in Pampanga, Philippines. We would bring food in Tupperware containers, flowers and candles. At the gate of the cemetery, vendors selling strands of sampaguita and candles would come up to us to try to sell some of their goods. The fishball vendors have set up their stands on the side, with jars of assorted sauces ready for dipping.
We make our way through a tiny city of tombs, past makeshift karaoke machines and groups of people either praying, laughing or eating. Most of the tombs are laid atop of each other, structures of solid cement. We find my grandparents’ tomb and already there are candles and wreaths of flowers. We pray, we eat, we tell stories. We honor, we celebrate. In the tiny city of tombs, we need not don masks or costumes because we are in the company of ghosts, of spirits.
I recall all of these things when I first started seeing photos for the MUMU show on Instagram. Along with rituals and traditions I grew up with, there were also ghost stories, sentinel spirits and the infamous “White Lady” apparitions I was familiar with. As spooky as this photo looked, it also felt strangely familiar:
Borne out of longing to tell the stories they heard from their grandmothers as kids, long-time friends and creative partners Irene Faye Duller and Julie Rosete Munsayac dreamed of turning these stories into an experiential project. MUMU was born, a multisensory, art-theater experience, a celebration of death and a meditation of darker selves.
“Mumu” is the Tagalog derivative of the word for ghost (multo) coupled with the Filipino’s linguistic penchant of repeating the first syllable of certain words (usually used on names i.e. Junjun, Tintin, Lotlot but also for other words that may be deemed “uncouth”). Mumu is ghost, spirit, anything haunted.
I was psyched. As a Pinay thousands of miles away from the homeland, this was the closest thing to the traditional Undas I grew up with.