An online forum at the crossroads of art and activism

Artist groups pushing for social justice converged to examine how art and activism intersect to rally and protest against oppressive regimes.

In the recent online forum titled “Intersections of Art, Activism and Social Justice in the Philippines,” several art movements discussed their role in the critical discourse and protest movements of the Marcos dictatorship in the Duterte administration.

In his opening speech, Patrick Flores, professor at the University of the Philippines-Diliman and curator of the Vargas Museum, addressed activism in the visual arts field in the country. Militant intervention and militant subjectivity are all-encompassing, he said, and to situate activism in the art world is “to be governed by the internal dynamism of this context”.

“That said, it is also a question of moving in the constantly expanding perimeters of the art world, because it responds to the persistent urgencies of the world and to the responsiveness of contemporary art, aware of its time and its place, “he added.

Flores also noted that the power relations in the production of the art world make the methods of institutional criticism productive, as they expose asymmetries within the system.

“Such criticism inevitably widens when the colonial condition is made constitutive of the art world and the criteria of art,” he declared. “Institutional and postcolonial criticism must therefore shed light on our mediation of the contestation of all claims to art. As the structure is constantly reconsidered, the agency is made finer and more sensitive, which can only mean that the energy to resist a structure which resists said energy stokes a generating tension and a necessary volatility. In other words, the relay of forces and resistances underlies any effort of affirmation and reconstruction.

Flores is the director of the Philippine Contemporary Art Network, or PCAN, a recently launched public contemporary art institution. The group is a partner of the main broadcaster of the event, the Transnational Coalition for The Arts. According to its manifesto, Transnational is a “necessary and immediate response” to threats to the life and democratic freedoms of fellow artists, cultural workers and people around the world.

“Intersections” was the second edition of “A 100 Days Conference Series” by Transnational and PCAN. The program had two segments. One was hosted by PCAN’s Tessa Maria Guazon, featuring members of the Yadanar Win, Alon Segarra and Cian Dayrit artistic alliances. The other was moderated by Renan Laru-an also from PCAN, with Concerned Artists of the Philippines General Secretary Lisa Ito and London artist Pio Abad.

In the first section, mixed Burmese artist Yadanar provided an overview of the current situation in Myanmar as the country continues to grapple with the effects of the pandemic and the February coup. The artist, also a member of Transnational, said some 132 artists in Myanmar have died in the past month, mainly due to Covid-19, highlighting the lack of access to appropriate health care and restrictions on mobility.

Meanwhile, Segarra and Dayrit discussed their groups’ struggle for social justice in the country.

Segarra is a member of Respond and Break the Silence Against the Killings, or RESBAK. She said the range of interventions produced by the group, which includes short films, exhibitions, intergenerational forums, etc. demanding an investigation and accountability for the murders.

Segarra also shared a statement of unity from RESBAK in 2019 which she said still feels relevant today with the continued attacks on the poor, farmers, human rights lawyers and activists. The statement ends with the line: “Stop the killings, stop the attacks, because no matter how you try to kill us and threaten us, people will – and can – fight back. “

Meanwhile, Dayrit of the Artist Alliance for Genuine Land Reform and Rural Development, or SAKA, highlighted the persistent and growing socio-economic gap in the country.

“The Philippines is an archipelago with a total area of ​​30 million hectares. With its fertile soil, 12 million hectares are used for agriculture, which should be more than enough to feed the population. Despite this, we are the 28th worst country in terms of GDP, ”he said. “The total net worth of the richest 25 Filipinos equals the combined income of the poorest 74 million Filipinos.”

Asked by Guazon, the moderator, on what programs of protests can perhaps trigger what Flores called “generating tension” or trigger “necessary volatility” through an intersection of allied groups, Dayrit pointed out none in particular.

“It’s consistency in how we do it,” Dayrit said. “In the context of the upcoming elections next year, it is not so much about who will reign, but more so as long as we continue to address the issues and put forward the pleas and agendas of the grassroots masses.”

Segarra confirmed that it was more about “continuing the conversations and also the involvement of the communities we are with”.

“What we are doing now, speaking,” added Yadanar, “is solidarity.”

Meanwhile, in the second section of the program, Laru-an started a conversation about the status of using context today. Very consistent in discourse and articulation, he said, the context serves all paradigms of activism and artistic activism. But there is a danger for it as a tool which can be routinized and used to extinguish certain vitalities, phenomena, experiences.

“Reflecting on activism as it occurs in social media, how political emergencies rise and fall so quickly, there has been an ease with which things are decontextualized and therefore diminished,” said Abad, adding that the demand for context has given rise to what others call an obsession with establishing it.

“I agree that this commitment to context is really part of the whole process of not just producing but acting,” Ito joked. “I think that in practice, whether it is individuals or groups of artists, the engagement with the context takes many very concrete forms. “

“As artists,” Abad added, “it’s also our job to insist on the historicization of things. So images of the history of the protests, of activism in the Philippines, alongside the he urgency of the present is the insistence on learning from the lessons of the past. I think these two working in synergy will allow us to, you know, at the very least imagine a possibility, and then maybe, later. , to build it.