Unhappy with our situation
“Those who tell you ‘Do not put too much politics in your art’… are the same people who are quite happy with the situation as it is… What they are saying is don’t upset the system.”
—Chinua Achebe, Nigerian novelist, poet, professor and critic
The release of the four members of the cultural group Panday Sining, charged with vandalism and malicious mischief for the slogans they painted on Manila’s walls, could not have been made possible without the outcry from the arts community nationwide.
The city of National Artist Nick Joaquin’s affections is experiencing a cosmetic facelift, which has been considered a morale booster for Manila residents who have had to live with blighted walls and congested streets for decades.
But beauty, as they say, is skin-deep. Otherwise, the facelift is no different from The Imeldific One’s attempts to hide Manila’s informal settlers and their shanties by erecting dangerous walls whenever foreign groups and attendees of international conferences visited the country. The walls were dangerous because they turned the communities into virtual fire traps.
If I sound like the Grinch that spoiled Christmas, let me explain further.
True beauty is superficial if it is not accompanied by kindness, social justice, peace. It took rock star Bono to remind us that “you can’t compromise on human rights.” It took the same Bono to focus on the outstanding women who have stood up for human rights before the world stage: Cory Aquino, Lidy Nacpil-Alejandro, Maria Ressa, Joan Carling, among others.
Bono and U2 did their research. More than that, they have shown that politics and art are actually compatible, very much what Panday Sining members were applying in paint and words when they were arrested and manhandled by the police.
Do we need persons of the stature of Bono to keep reminding us of the human rights awareness and practice that we should have imbibed long after we kicked out the thieving, murdering Marcos family in 1986?
Existentialist philosophers and practitioners Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus had reiterated in their writings how freedom and notions of social justice are key to becoming authentic persons.
And yet here are the authorities tagging Panday Sining, even the much-lauded environmental activist Joan Carling, as vandals or terrorists. When will the Red-tagging end? Communist rule has ended in Russia while capitalism is the norm in China, and yet the military mind here still considers radical change activists as enemies of the state.
In a position paper on the Panday Sining case, one artists’ group exhorted the Manila city government to “remember that the drive for the city’s beautification is for naught if it will only enable authoritarian measures against citizens and activists who call out what is wrong with society.”
For the coming year 2020, may the Manila and national governments achieve clearer vision (no pun intended) as the sincere elements in them strive for the deeper attainment of what is true, good and beautiful.
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Elizabeth Lolarga is a freelance writer and painter. She has a collection of selected essays, “Catholic and Emancipated,” published by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House.
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