Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VI, No. 42      Nov. 26 - Dec. 2, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines








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Shared Perspectives

The works in Perspektiba attest to the growing discontent and clamor among the visual arts community against the assaults on human rights under the Arroyo administration.

By Lisa Ito

Up in arms over the assassinations of activists and civilians under the Arroyo administration, visual and performance artists have joined hands to organize Tutok Karapatan, an art project aiming to initiate dialogue and intervention among the visual arts community on issues pertaining to political, ecological, social, and human rights.

The Parable of Those Who Refuse to See, by Don Salubayba

Tutok Karapatan’s first university-based exhibition, Perspektiba, is currently on view at the University of  Santo Tomas Fra Angelico Gallery on España Avenue, Manila until Dec. 2. The show opened last Nov. 21.

Perspektiba is comprised of works that reflect on the overtures of state violence: literal and metaphorical dislocations, disappearances, and demises associated with the rising wave of political repression in the Philippines. It was initially conceptualized as a show which would chronicle the making of martyrs and heroes vis a vis struggles against reigns of terror. However, in the course of the artists’ exposure and interactions with victims or survivors of human rights violations, the show evolved into a general remonstration against the cases of political repression besieging the nation.

In particular, Perspektiba addresses the continuous political assassinations of members of the legal opposition and progressive people’s organizations under the Arroyo administration. From 2001 to date, over 791 activists and civilians all over the country have been murdered inside their homes or in transit to work, usually by masked, motorcycle-riding gunmen. Others have been killed and considered as “collateral damage” in the course of the government's military campaigns in the provinces: strafed or intentionally shot at by soldiers, tortured or summarily executed.

While local and international organizations, non-government entities, parliamentarians and personalities are sounding the alarm over President Gloria Arroyo's refusal to stop the six-year killing spree, artists have added their voices to the growing clamor for truth and justice by producing works addressing the murders.

Plaster casts of bullets

Lyra Garcellano sets up an installation entitled No Letup from ink on paper riddled with plaster casts of bullets, alluding to the shower of steel mercilessly unleashed by the state machinery against hundreds of fallen human targets. White Lies, an installation by the multi-media artist collective UGAT-Lahi, delivers a symbolic indictment against the whitewash perpetuated by the state machinery in response to the killings. Pale dummies are piled on a bed, one covered up by the others, enveloping the gravity of the murders in a blanket of lies.

Anak ng Tinapay, an installation piece by Mark Ramsel Salvatus III, utilizes food art and video documentation to gather public reactions to the killings. Salvatus enjoins the audience to partake of bread shaped into human figures and guns, displayed on a glass cupboard. The artist documents the entire selection and feeding process among gallery visitors in this premeditated “taste test”, delivering a tongue-in-cheek message against the carnage and militarization that the public is forced to consume daily. Neither Left nor Right by Claro Ramirez makes use of counters to parody the propensity to treat the killings as mere statistics, as figures that mechanically rise or ebb with the political tide.

Satiric commentary against the military’s involvement as a perpetrator or accomplice to the killings is reinforced in the work Sir Yes Sir (a common phrase used in military-style drills to signify subservience to one’s superiors) by Jef Carnay. This interactive installation is comprised of a mechanized, hand-made dog (or tuta, a popular symbol for lackeys) which bows at the viewer’s patting and dips its head into a feed bowl filled with miniature human figurines. 

While these works were produced by young artists who were perhaps only toddlers at the onset of the dictatorship in 1972, an oil-on-canvas work entitled Daet Massacre by Social Realist painter Gene de Loyola attests to the chilling similarities between incidents during Martial Law and today. De Loyola depicts a scene from a massacre of unarmed protesters in Daet, Camarines Norte in 1981, shortly after the “paper lifting” of Martial Law that same year. Shot at by police forces during the dispersal, the protesters, with the dead and injured in their ranks, are depicted against a blood-red backdrop, with one bearing a placard calling for the boycott of an impending election believed to be fraudulent. Nearly 25 years later, this scene would be reenacted in the bloody dispersals of activists calling for President Arroyo's ouster in Bicol and in the massacre of striking sugar mill and farm workers in Hacienda Luisita on Nov. 16, 2004. 

The current assaults on press freedom are also addressed in the work by multi-media artist Ed Manalo. A typewriter – a common symbol for writers and journalists-- is tightly-wrapped in a straitjacket of cellophane sheets, alluding to the muzzling of the press under the Arroyo administration. Acupuncture needles piercing through the cellophane may represent both anguish and healing in response to the iniquities that the muzzling of expressive freedom has brought about.

Not possible to ignore

The ferocity and frequency of such atrocities has reached the point where it is no longer possible to ignore the gravity of the entire situation. Buen Calubayan demonstrates this through a sound installation on an armchair. “Hindi naman talaga kailangan ang mata upang makita ang realidad” (You don’t need eyes to see reality), the artist asserts. One only needs to listen to the cues pointing to an entire epic of injustice.

On the other hand, many nevertheless remain blind and deaf to social iniquities. The Parable of Those Who Refuse to See, an installation piece made out of wood cut-outs and video animation by Don Salubayba, sets up a parade of shadowy figures on the venue’s glass façade as metaphors for repressive societal structures whose influence pervades up to the present: the fraile of the Church, the ubiquitous figure of Uncle Sam, a bloated government functionary, and three blind mice led by the recognizable Mickey Mouse. The ultimate victim here remains the figure of Juan dela Cruz, bent and hobbling in the foreground.

The works in Perspektiba also depict the victims of such rights violations. Pyeta by Emmanuel Garibay utilizes the undertones of Catholic iconography in the Madonna and Child image in his work, where a woman, mouthless and clad in a black mourning shroud, holds up a portrait of a man (her son? Husband? Father?) crowned with thorns. Viewed in the context of the Philippine human rights situation, the absence of a mouth, symbolic of the right to expression, raises questions: Is the woman a metaphor for Inang Bayan (Mother Land), denied of the right to speak or to be heard, with the death of her sons? Or are words insufficient to express the pathos and anguish of losing a loved one? Garibay’s depiction of the victim of persecution as Christ crowned with thorns likewise elevates him/her to the status of a martyr, a hero/ine worthy of honor and emulation.


Perspektiba testifies to how the propensity for fascism is systematically embedded not only in policy but also in consciousness. These histories and narratives of rights violations are contextualized in light of ongoing peoples’ struggles for national liberation and self-determination, as seen in the installation work Rebo (Series 2) by Social Realist veteran Antipas “Biboy” Delotavo, Jr. In the work, Delotavo wraps the letters ‘R-E-B-O-L’ in bloodied gauze bandages, military camouflage, and flags of the United States and the Philippines.

The letters, still to be completed, may comprise the word rebo, slang for the word rebolusyon or revolution, or conversely, the word eboluyson, the entire historical process of development implied by the clash of societies and classes. This historical—and repeated—emergence of fascist repression, born out of the material exigencies of imperial expansion and its ideological justifications, is addressed in Jose Tence Ruiz’s Supa series, where figures of Mussolini and a Nazi dominate the picture plane solidly filled with red.

Nevertheless, many continue to believe that another world without exploitation and repression is possible, and work to achieve it. The aspirations behind this driving force is reflected in works such as Boy Dominguez’ Salladan (Ancestral Domain). The artist, himself a member of a national minority, represents the aspirations of Filipino indigenous peoples to a society where development is based on the peoples’ needs and welfare. The work also underscores the interdependence of human, cultural, environmental rights in building a more secure world for the majority of the population.

Taken as a whole, the works in Perspektiba attest to the growing discontent and clamor among the visual arts community against the assaults on human rights under the Arroyo administration. Hopefully, this continuing process of “dialogue, exploration and intervention” that Tutok Karapatan hopes to initiate will also prompt a younger generation of Filipino and Filipina artists to question the roots of political repression. Bulatlat



© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Media Center

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