Graffiti Art and Street Art in the Philippines: Reflection of Social Issues in the Philippines
In the Philippines, people are known to be artistic and creative in different aspects of life. Even at the earliest time, these characteristics were reflected in the different remnants of the existence of humankind. Angono Petroglyphs was known as one of the earliest artworks in the Philippines dating to at least 3000 B.C. This petroglyph depicts 127 carved stick drawings of human figures and animals on the walls of a cave in Binangonan, Rizal. This discovery by Carlos V. Francisco paved the way for understanding precolonial history and how people during those times view their world (Caballes,2016). On the other hand, in a contemporary setting, this creativity was seen in various platforms such as in visual arts which is one of the major expressions of artistry in the Philippines today.
Graffiti which is derived from the Italian word sgraffio meaning ‘scratch’ has been around since the beginning of humankind (Ganz, 2004). This term was used to describe a variety of wall writings including prehistoric cave paintings and a wide variety of political, sexual, humorous, and self-identifying messages that have been scratched, painted, and marked on walls throughout history (Castleman, 1999). On the other hand, throughout the years of exploring and understanding the changes in the various scope of expressing graffiti art, this was now referred to as street art in the present time even though there were still a lot of studies and differences that experts try to consider on differentiating graffiti art with street art.
Up today, graffiti was very common for Filipinos as it can be seen almost everywhere in the everyday lives of people. When you walk on the streets of Manila, you can see murals and paintings on its walls, different visual advertisements on trains or even spray paintings on pillars of highways. Different schools and campuses around the Philippines also use graffiti art for various reasons. At the University of the Philippines- Diliman, when you visit the building of the College of Fine Arts, you will see classrooms and hallways painted with different themes and subjects that convey different messages. These simple depictions show that graffiti art has been a way of expressing different aspects of society.
According to Kim Dryden an artist herself, there are different grounds on why people engage in street art or graffiti art. She stated that on one end of the spectrum, there are artists whose work is very personal and sometimes rely on the purely aesthetic aspect of art because they simply love painting on the streets. Others wanted to use street art as an outlet of dealing with their identity and there are those people at the other side of the spectrum who conveys social and political critiques, issues and jumps out of the box of graffiti being just an aesthetic.
Given the reasons why artists convey graffiti art and the growing world and acceptance of street art in society, there were still lots of challenges and problems that this field encounters. Commonly, street art was referred to as a form of vandalism. However, in a study conducted by Gleacon, she defined vandalism as any action involving deliberate damage or destruction to public or private property. With this matter, it would imply that any forms of unsanctioned art occurring in a public space are, by definition, considered illegal vandalism. But she argued that not all forms of street art can be considered as a form of vandalism but only those that come up short on the aim to give a meaningful form of expression. She also added that many works on public space was made to aesthetically enhance the place and to communicate the message to passerby while there is no denying that all unsanctioned works are illegal, they are not necessarily all cases of vandalism.
Jayo Santiago, also known as Flipone was said to be one of the first or could be the first person to bring graffiti art in the Philippines. He came from New York City and was influenced by the growing hip- hop movement in the late 1970’s to early 1980’s (Lee, 2018). Later on, he started to incorporate “Pinoy” graffiti with his works by using baybayin, Kalinga tattoo patterns, and other various Filipino indigenous and ethnic cultures. His masterpiece reflected some of the social and cultural areas in the Philippines. In the present time, street art scenes started growing not only in the Central but also in different cities such as Cebu, Cavite, and Tacloban. Most artists see street art as a great and powerful medium to propagate information and messages as it is very accessible and can reach the maximum amount of people. In the book by Allan Schwartzman, it is stated that the work of street artists is meant to “communicate with everyday people about socially relevant themes in ways that are informed by esthetic values without being imprisoned by them.”
Archie Oclos, a street artist and painter who graduated at the University of the Philippines uses graffiti as a platform to depict socio-political issues and indigenous people’s concerns. Pula Ang Kulay ng Saya was one of the masterpieces of Oclos which depicts the killings and violence that was being normalized in the society today. He emphasizes that people should understand and be able to share the important aspects of daily lives such as education for all, conservation of the environment, and the preservation and loving of the cultural roots. Another work of art by Oclos was titled Tayo ang Gatilyo which highlights the killings and harassments of indigenous individuals in country regions of the Philippines who fight for their ancestral lands but were killed by armed people for the benefit of capitalists that desire to turn it to business and profitable lands. In lieu of this, he stated that street art can be a form of protest and activism. As he said in one of the blogposts by Native Province, he sees the potential of street art as a tool to drive social change in the aspect of engaging artists on the current situations of the people and together giving a voice to the voiceless. It was stated that “street art is a very effective tool for sharing an alternative truth, away from mainstream media” (Oclos,2018). This way of seeing street art was also supported by the claim of Lyman Chaffie back in 1993 that this art form “breaks the conspiracy of silence” in such a way that street art serves the role of forming social consciousness.
In the book Protest/Revolutionary Art in the Philippines, 1970-1990 by Alice Guillermo, various confirmations on how social issues were conveyed in art forms were expressed. The Nagkakaisang Progresibong Artista at Arkitekto ‘71 or NPAA ‘71 was the first militant artists’ organization made up of a large number of artists coming from different colleges of fine arts and architecture. For the reason of the danger and uncertain atmosphere during the early times of Martial Law, they were still successful in reflecting current issues through murals and street art. Due to the armed revolution happening in 1982, the growth of mass movement inflated and the strength and vigor of the protests were reflected in various forms of mass actions such as street graffiti. During this time, the campaign movements addressed different social issues such as the electoral exercises of 1982.
Through the years, graffiti and street art continues to evolve from its style to the different purposes that it conveys in the society. From using the walls of streets and subways as it’s canvas, street art became the tool for artists to communicate with the people as it caters a broad range of audience and also tend to carry powerful and rebellious messages for activism. This has been evident as this artform played a big role in the Philippine society as it was used to express different social problems especially during times where democracy was not in the hands of the people. It was also used to voice out various groups of people as it bridges the gap between the concerns, the people, and the involved environment. Street art also became a reflection of diverse cultural aspects of the community as Jeffrey Deitch, a modern and contemporary art dealer states, street art has “become the most influential cultural innovation of the past thirty years”.
Importantly, this art form develops social awareness as it also emerges because of the need for social change.
While many people tend to see graffiti and street art as a way of blanketing the walls of the streets for purely aesthetic purposes or as an illegal thing rather than in reality that this art form conveys social problems, serves as a genuine reflection of human existence and cites current situations of people’s lives. Graffiti art communicates alternative truths that were blinded by different factors such as mainstream media and it was able to deliver various messages in a way that people can understand. In conclusion for this, people should realize that this artistic expression is giving them the idea that they should be reflecting on their environment, assessing the current situations, and start fulfilling one of the main purpose of street art, which is for people to act as the real agent for social change.
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