Art as weapon in a dark era
What do you think an artist is? … He is a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, of the delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. Painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.” Words from the great Picasso.
At the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) last Saturday, in the run-up to Human Rights Day (Dec. 10), was a gathering of artists — Artists for Human Rights (AHRT!) — who unfurled their “instruments of war.” Part of the seven-hour event was the Memory Project, where several 2018 Thirteen Artists Awardees spoke about artists in times of repression. Notable past awardees—Danny Dalena, Phyllis Zaballero and Jaime de Guzman—also shared their experiences of the Marcos dictatorship.
The works of the Thirteen Artists can be viewed at the third floor gallery of the CCP. The 13 are: Zeus Bascon, Bea Camacho, Cian Dayrit, Janos dela Cruz, Doktor Karayom, Carlo Gabuco, Dina Gadia, Guerrero Habulan, Eisa Jocson, Raffy Napay, Archie Oclos, Lynyrd Paras and Shireen Seno. Ronald Achacoso curated. The exhibit runs until Dec. 22. Go.
Perhaps the most daring “instrument of war” is Archie Oclos’ outdoor mural “Ang Mamatay nang Dahil sa Iyo,” not only because of what it portrays, but also because of its size (70 feet by 20 feet). It covers an entire lower wall of the CCP that faces the parking lot on the left side.
On a white medium, Oclos made 20,000 black line strokes to bring out folds and shadows that reveal the form of a dead human being wrapped in a shroud. The shroud of tokhang, if I may give a name to it. Earlier, at the Memory Project forum, we watched on video the making of it, the artist dwarfed by the enormity of the wall that was his canvas.
What’s a gathering of raging artists without a manifesto to be signed by as many as 20,000, if not more? In words, here is the art attack.
“We live in dangerous times. Witnessing relentless attacks on life, livelihood and lifestyle. We, Filipino artists and cultural workers, strongly affirm the human rights of all — the fulcrum upon which hinges the possibility of a prosperous, humane, and fair society that we all aspire to have.
“Today, we are hurtling towards another dark era. We live under threat of more surveillance, repression, arrests, killings and enforced disappearances. We are horrified by the terror that the brutal drug campaign sows on impoverished communities and how it has resulted in the massive, horrific loss of human lives.
“We lament the state of our nation where the marginalized sectors suffer most from grave abuses, if not massacres. We are angered by the orchestrated attacks to silence dissent, persisting socioeconomic inequalities, the disregard of the rule of law, the culture of misogyny and
violence perpetrated and the legitimization of a tyranny that has historically wounded our nation.
“As artists and citizens, we refuse to stay silent in the face of wrongdoings. We stand by the principles of human rights and dignity for all. Human rights must be protected, reclaimed, and upheld to give voice to the millions whose freedoms are denied.
“We express our commitment to action. We affirm the need for creative practice that pierces through the rhetoric of those in power and reflects the true conditions of society.
“We invoke the power of art to unite a nation divided and to empower the people to reclaim rights, narratives and dignity in the face of inhumanity, inequity and injustice.
“We call on our colleagues in the arts and culture community to defend our rights to freedom of speech and expression as we stand for justice and the people’s welfare. We urge other sectors and the rest of the Filipino people to do the same. We stand in solidarity and gather our strength against the attacks and threats to our humanity as Filipino people.
“We are artists and cultural workers. We are citizens of this nation. We pledge to make art our weapon to uphold truth, freedom, human rights and dignity for all, at all times.”
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