Art for Oust’s Sake

The effigies, placards, streamers, shirts, songs, skits and speeches comprise an entire spectacle of protest that shows no sign of abating for now. As the rallies for GMA’s removal grow exponentially, so does the resolve to find more creative forms of articulation and expression grow.

By Lisa Ito

Art once again takes to the streets.

Overtly political, straight to the point, and often transient in nature, these images and scenes delight, educate, and agitate media crews, photographers, bystanders, and activists everywhere. Unlike mainstream cultural objects, they may be viewed and experienced without having to pay entrance fees and expensive tickets, without glass cases all around, and without the silence of a solitary viewer.

Art historians classify these various forms and practices as “protest/activist art.” Recent media reports have labeled such productions as “street” or “rally art.” To activists, however, the mix of images, words, and sounds are produced with a definite purpose in mind. “Art for Oust’s Sake,” as some term it.

Presidential parodies

Effigies – puppets or resemblances of unpopular figures – have always been around with the social protests in recent Philippine history. The rallies of the past two months are not an exception, such as the effigy of a desperate Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) being torched at the June 30 rally in Liwasang (or plaza) Bonifacio.

One of the bigger effigies, this time, is the yearly State-of-the-Nation (SONA) effigy sponsored by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) and facilitated by the artists’ group, UGAT-Lahi.

This year’s effigy depicts President Macapagal Arroyo as “Gloriang Tuko,” a gigantic gecko (a species of tropical lizard) clinging voraciously at a replica of Malacañang Palace (a traditional local symbol of political power). It measures 15-ft long and 9-ft. high, taking into account the vertical clearance of traffic overpasses.

Similar to other SONA effigies of the President (such as the “Bye-Glo: Pesteng Pangulong Arroyo” effigy during the 2002 SONA rally), “Gloriang Tuko” is also mobile and “mechanized, albeit in a Third World sense,” Raoul Rodriguez of UGAT-Lahi (literally, roots-race) says. Antonio de Guzman, an Industrial Design major at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts (UP CFA) and a member of UGAT-Lahi, says the effigy’s frame contains pulleys and levers that allow its head and tail to sway from side to side.

Hinalaw (ang structure) sa concept ng snake na laruan na gumagalaw rin” (Its structure is based on the moving toy snake), Rodriguez says, as he cuts out architectural details from cardboard in the Bayan office’s garage. A P20 bill, where an image of the Palace is printed, is pinned unto the massive wooden armature for his reference.

The symbolism of the “Gloriang Tuko” effigy is simple but sharp. As Renato Reyes, Jr., Bayan secretary-general, put it in a recent statement: “Gloria Tuko illustrates Arroyo’s insistence on holding on to power despite widespread calls for her resignation.”

Rodriguez says that the image of the gecko is an effective and literal illustration of the Filipino idiom, “kapit-tuko” (hanger-on) – a local term for someone who greedily clings to one’s position of power. The tuko has rounded toes with suction cups that enable them to hang on even to vertical surfaces. This characteristic has been used in the vocabulary of local culture as a derogatory description of trapos (a Filipino concoction of traditional politicians), bureaucrat capitalists, and “puppet Presidents” who cling to the U.S. and the military to stay in power.

Since geckos are not predatory creatures by nature, Rodriguez says that the artists distorted and exaggerated GMA’s facial features to convey her vicious and insatiable character.

“No offense to geckos, though,” Rodriguez wisecracks.

The imagery seems apt in the context of the continuing discontent with the Arroyo administration. President Arroyo has been continually been described by commentators and laymen like a “kapit-tuko,” ever since she ascended the presidency in 2001 and recanted her promise not to run in the 2004 presidential derby.

Earlier, the women’s alliance Gabriela came up with a small effigy of GMA as a smiling tuko stubbornly sticking to the Malacañang seal for the June 30 rally at Liwasang Bonifacio. Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiroz even ironically recalls in a column on Dec. 1, 2003 an anecdote about one of GMA’s speaking engagements at a school in Lucena City south of Manila, where a tuko “loudly made itself heard, while she was speaking, to the laughter of students.”

Collective efforts

UGAT-Lahi has traditionally facilitated Bayan’s SONA effigy projects since President Joseph Estrada’s term. But Rodriguez emphasizes that the effigy is not theirs to claim as their “own,” but is instead the collective product of the movement’s publicists, cultural workers, volunteers, and supporters to produce art that rouses the masses into action.

The effigy is a concerted effort among all activists, the “product and process of collective brainstorming and work,” Rodriguez emphasizes.

Up to 12 volunteers help out each day, while four artists work full-time. Production is fast and efficient. All are aware that their objective is to create an art work that will contribute to the success of the SONA mobilization on July 25.

Parte ito ng mga protesta, upang makamit ang mithiin para sa demokrasya at ating karapatan” (This part of protests in order to attain our democracy and rights), Domeng Ilag-ilag, one of the craftsmen who built the effigy’s frame, says. Ilag-ilag, who also produces some of the streamers, placards and props used by various people’s organizations and non-government organizations for rallies, has been active in political demonstrations since the Marcos years.

Political, as well as artistic, commitment is a primary consideration. After days of non-stop work and sleepless nights at Bayan’s garage, the effigy’s completion on the morning of the SONA protest does not mean the end of involvement for those who worked on it. “Sumasama talaga kami sa SONA at sa ibang rali pagkatapos, maliban kung may sakit,” Naldo Wenceslao, also a craftsman, says.

Wenceslao, “Mang Naldo” to friends, also helped build the pulleys and armature. He feels no remorse at seeing the elaborate parody of the President destroyed when it is set ablaze at the height of the rally. “Hindi ito sayang dahil kahit ang pagsunog nito ay may kahulugan” (It’s not a loss because the burning itself has a meaning), Mang Naldo says.

Galleries of the streets

Effigies are not only the sole forms of protest art proliferating in the current anti-GMA rallies. Street murals made out of sack cloth or canvas and industrial paint, a form popularized particularly during the mid-1980s by groups such as Artista ng Bayan (ABAY or people’s artists), are also produced by cultural groups in the course of their alliance and organizational work.

In past weeks, organizations such as the Promotion of Peoples’ Church Response (PCPR) also quickly produced murals to address burning issues such as the jueteng-gate and “Hello, Garci” scandals and campaigns. They did this, for example, in the protest against alleged human rights violations of Maj. Gen. Jovito S. Palparan and his men in Eastern Visayas and Southern Tagalog.

In cooperation with the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), an alliance called Artists for Democracy and the Immediate Ouster of GMA (ADIOS GMA!) was launched last July 12. “As artists and promoters of nationalist culture, we have to perceive, rationalize and give concrete situations a deeper meaning; envision what needs to be done; and depict these through our arts,” the ADIOS GMA declaration reads.

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