A wall of thriving field

Gian Carlo Delgado

Archie Oclos and Aleili Ariola, Magsasaka, 2016. (Image from artsatbgc.org)

2016 April 1. Kidapawan, North Cotabato. 500 farmers.

Being able to live, study, and work in a number of cities in Metro Manila has introduced me to the capacity of the streets for artistic expressions. One of which made my interest in the relationship of art, politics, and socioeconomic issues become more personal — how murals turn concrete into canvas. Within the highly urbanized metropolitan — a mixture of congested streets, high-end districts, and commercialized spaces — inspirations and provocations from murals that paint walls to speak of stories and struggles which exist beyond the borders of our locality are now growing in large numbers. One mural found in Bonifacio Global City (BGC) exemplifies this potential. Magsasaka, a 2016 collaboration by Archie Oclos and Aleili Ariola, features a subject that forwards into the urban consciousness an arcane rural struggle. Located inside the BGC, a premier lifestyle district in the city of Taguig, Magsasaka offers atribute to our local farmers — their hardwork and dedication. It depicts a farmer at the center, with his right hand holding a hat to his chest. On top of the figure is a head of a carabao, said to signify Filipinos’ resilience to their work. [1] On either side of the farmer are two huge hands, the one on the left clenches a sheaf of rice stalks, while the other is an open palm showing rice grains. The figures are rendered with varying strokes of black over a yellow base, with white highlights, which flaunt every vein, callus, and crease on the farmer’s skin, the wrinkling of his clothes, and the distressing of his hat.

2004 November 16. Hacienda Luisita. 6,000 farmers.

Apart from these figures, the mural also consists of numerous rice stalks at the back surrounding the farmer in the middle, seemingly depicting a rice paddy. A view of such parcels of arable land are very common in the Philippines as they cover up around 40% of our land. However, despite having large hectares of rich agricultural land, the country fails in exhausting these to benefit the local agricultural business which covers about 25% of the employment in the Philippines, most of which are farm workers and fishermen. This is evident as the country became 2019’s top rice importer[2], greatly harming our local industry. In 2018, IBON Foundation reported that a farmer has a monthly income of 6,000php, which is a far cry from the government’s 9,064php understated estimate and declaration of an average monthly income for a family of five under the poverty threshold.[3] This situation of our farmers is a contemporary example of a long history of the “growing competition of the bourgeois (capitalists)”[4] which makes the “wages of the workers (proletarians and peasants) ever more fluctuating.”[5] Even though a farmer can grasp a sheaf of rice stalks in his hand, fill a paddy field with it, harvest them as grains, they cannot fully gain what they yield. All seem to be dreams in their reality.

Sila ang nagtanim, Sila ang walang makain, Sila ang nagpakahirap, Sila itong mahirap.”

- from The Okayman’s song “Bigas”

1987 January 22. Mendiola, Manila. 2,000 farmers.

What makes it more frustrating is that our farmers are receiving less and less help with their livelihood, coming from the effects of the implementation of the Rice Tariffication Law in March 2019, worsened by the current pandemic. 9.7 million farmers, farm workers, and fisherfolks[6] are among the low-income families affected by the situation. Magsasaka delivers these facts into the consciousness of the urban working class who daily pass by the streets of BGC by showing a farmer’s image that reflects the cruelties they are facing. Such representation and choice of a farmer as an icon of a mural, inside a capitalist business district such as BGC is a statement that presents realities present yet inaccessible to many of us who are individually isolated with our own daily struggles. It is somehow also a reminder of the history of the art and the streets — Jayo “Flipone” Santiago pioneering the local graffiti style in the 90s, Ang Gerilya’s mural project in the beams under the EDSA Kalayaan flyover highlighting the cities of Metro Manila, Concerned Artists of the Philippines’s mural titled “Fight for 58” commemorating the victims of the Maguindanao Massacre, and the hundreds of demonstrations that witness the burning of many effigies in Mendiola, Manila. It is indicative of a strong movement, a rendezvous of the people, of their passion, and anger, and the arts all in one place — in the streets. All of which manifest how art, as Brenda Fajardo states, also create a “parallel reality of its own”[7 ]— that which values and recognizes art as agency against struggle. Murals solidify the capacity of the street as a public space for political engagement, may it be those along the urban slums, high-rise buildings,or upscale commercial hubs. The street has always been at the center for propelling change — as it has the flexibility to transform itself as a trope for social movement. Magsasaka, unique in its form and thought compared to some public works found in BGC, forwards itself among other works of street art that are at the forefront of grounding the public space for its constant purpose — representing for the people.

Oclos and Ariola’s mural creates a potential beyond the wall, a space further than realizations and recognitions, of a discourse penetrating through concrete and asphalt. It sows conscience with facts and figures that awaits a harvest, an uprising, towards a certainty of a thriving field, of something that is better than what our farmers have today — a fruitful yield from the sheaves of everyday plight.

[1] Artwork detail provided by artsatbgc.org (https://www.artsatbgc.org/mural_details.php?id=27).

[2] Karl R. Ocampo, “PH is world’s biggest rice importer for 2019,” Inquirer.net, 12 November 2019, https://business.inquirer.net/283145/ph-is-worlds-biggest-rice-importer-for-2019#ixzz6M2ztufjp.

[3] “Rice tariffication will displace rice farmers, worsen food insecurity,” Ibon.org, 22 November 2018, https://www.ibon.org/rice-tariffication-will-displace-rice-farmers-worsen-food-insecurity-ibon.

[4] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “The Bourgeois and Proletarian,” The Communist Manifesto (London: Vintage, 2018).

[5] Ibid.

[6] “On the sixth week of lockdown: Millions of Filipinos going hungry, suffer amid worst mass unemployment in history,” Ibon.org, 21 April 2020, https://www.ibon.org/on-the-sixth-week-of-lockdown-millions-of-filipinos-going-hungry-suffer-amid-worst-mass-unemployment-in-history. IBON Foundation is a non-profit institution that provides research and analysis on socioeconomic issues in various sectors in the Philippines.

[7] Brenda V. Fajardo, “Decolonization through People’s Art,” University of the Philippines, College of Arts and Letters, Department of Humanities, 1985.

Gian Carlo Delgado graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines with a degree in Art Studies (Interdisciplinary) in 2017. He previously worked for the Diliman Mapping Project as research assistant, and is now currently working as a museum assistant of the curatorial team at the UP Vargas Museum. Delgado joins Alain Zedrick Camiling in leading X+ Platform, a recent collective that initiates critical and creative educational programs and interdisciplinary projects on contemporary Philippine art and culture.

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