By Audrie Bernas
NOVEMBER 20, 2019 — The panopticon that is Manila Mayor Isko Moreno’s governance stiffly stands with eyes peeled. It marvels at the scenic discipline his political will has painted for the last five months.
Call it the sublime “art” of governance. And the folksy Yorme’s choice of brush? Public order and urban decorum, which he is now stroking ambidextrously to fix the once chaotic canvass that is Manila.
Just last week, Moreno came close to uttering colorful language after artist advocacy group Panday Sining “valdalized” the wall of a Lagusnilad underpass, calling it an artistic form of protest against the excesses of the Establishment.
As his team of watchdogs ensnared Panday Sining for their outright violation of the city ordinance, the population cheered for Yorme and jeered the people behind the act. Of course, no one touches Yorme’s city.
Moreno is pathologically obsessed with the sophistication, beautification and publicizing his all-encompassing, anti-crime campaign across Manila and its 897 barangays. It is brimming with the youth wanting to deliver a heavy message. So why the outrage over a controversial yet necessary commentary?
Manila and its change-seeking population want so much to be seen as a pristine facade of success that it almost exposes the broken system that excludes the minority and their struggles. Why the overt anger over a substantial message on a supposed public domain? It sure violated a city ordinance but why diminish the role of politics in art?
THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE
In Marshall McLuhan’s visionary “the medium is the message,” then the way to send and receive information is more important than the information itself.
Vulgar in red, the sprayed message obviously wanted to say something. As a response to the growing distaste over activism and progressive discussions, maybe the group had to divert its means of communication to a much larger scene, where everyone could see it. Lo and behold it became a nuanced social commentary.
To understand art and politics, one must always put in mind that art does not exist for art itself and self-fulfillment; it is there to stir social dimensions, to become itself a controversy. It is a source of a political surge currently neglected by the many. A city full of art cannot breathe if it is suffocated in mere color and design; it must be pregnant with meaning, bitterness, and truth.
Art should complicate our perception of the world around us, and should alter any discursive frames we have associated with our understanding: it should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. The writings on the wall were not poised and elegant. And so is politics: nothing is fluid and sinuous about fighting for what is right in the streets. Yet it is still the only choice.
Hong Kong’s daily fight against China’s puppet government is admired by many, almost canonizing every movement that occurs on its streets. We express awe for what their youth are doing everyday, lauding their decision to skip school and rally on the streets and fight bureaucracy. But we denounce in our country every form of dissent against the government. We succumbed to red-tagging. We are kidnapping our activists. We are killing them for speaking out.
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In all its forms, Panday Sining violated a city ordinance so sacredly kept by Yorme’s governance. But what makes it beautiful is the catalyst of dialogue it set to everyone: is art vandalism or a mere dirt on the wall for a country where the blood of people crimsoned the streets over the last three years? Is there art in violence in the first place? Or is art just turning violent in this day and age?
If it is not art, maybe it is high time we treat it as a warning, a call for action over the white noise that is apathy. Art and politics are highly polarizing matters, but the two coexist for its crucial and spiritual role in a society, especially ours. We tend to hate so much of how the youth practice democracy, but what if these practices serve as an ornament to a bourgeoning purpose to be heard?
The bulk of the moral brunt lies heavily on the shoulders of the tired yet fuelled youth of today. Although a bit disheveled by the windy turn of events, the youth will surely continue to shower with tones the deathly quiet nation over the current atrocities it is facing, one wall at a time.