Manila’s mean streets: The Filipino Street Art Project – part 1

A feature-length documentary and multimedia project bring Manila’s flourishing and evolving street art scene to a global audience.

In the first installment of a three-part series, Art Radar introduces the Filipino Street Art Project, a transmedia project that delves into the Filipino street art scene in and around Metro Manila. Talking to artists, documenting and archiving walls and artworks around the city, the Project explores the broader meanings of street art and its universality.

Kookoo and Ku. Image courtesy the Filipino Street Art Project.

Kookoo and Ku, ‘Welcome 2014′, 2014, spray paint. Image courtesy Kookoo Ramos.

Street art: “Anyone can do it, everyone can view it”

Street art is one of the most public art forms, utilising the cityscape and urban space as its canvas. The phrase “street art” is an umbrella term encompassing the various facets of this form of visual art, ranging from an unsanctioned, barely legal sub-culture that involves graffiti tagging, stencils, stickers, mosaics, installations, video and even “yarn bombing”, to more mainstream commissioned murals and artwork used during urban regeneration. In recent years, street art has even found a place in auction houses.

In the Philippines, street art has recently become widespread in cities such as Manila, Cavite and Cebu. It is this diversity and vibrancy that attracted Kim Dryden, a documentary filmmaker, and Austin Smith, a Filipino-American storyteller with degrees in South and Southeast Asian studies, to Manila’s street art scene. They started the Filipino Street Art Project in 2013.

Kim Dryden says:

Street art is accessible in so many ways – anyone can do it, everyone can view it. It’s a really populist medium, an amazingly powerful way to communicate big ideas to the maximum amount of people.

About the Filipino Street Art Project

The Filipino Street Art Project is a multi-fold endeavour combining several approaches. Through the project Dryden and Smith aim to learn about the local street art scene, engage new audiences and build bridges between existing artistic communities.

To these ends, the project encompasses a website, a fortnightly newsletter, partnerships (such as with Wika Magazine and Wake Forest University), internships and fellowships, as well as a class at Wake Forest University in which students will make films and create e-books based on one chosen artist. A central aspect of the Project is a feature-length documentary film that follows the journeys of two artists. The Project was recently invited to be a part of the Google Cultural Institute.

Some of the Filipino street artists featured in the project are:

  • Lee Salvador
  • Triskaideka Masuerte
  • Basic Lee
  • Gerilya
  • Whoop Wonka
  • KooKoo Ramos
  • Elli Killingwithcuteness
  • Blic Pinas
  • Brian Barrios
Gerilya. Image courtesy the Filipino Street Art Project.

Gerilya, ‘NCCA Urban Artscape Project’, 2013, acrylic paint. Image courtesy Jano Gonzales.

The rise of street art in the Philippines

Artist Mark Salvatus, one of the founding members of Pilipinas Art Plan (PSP), started out as a street artist. He said of the Filipino street art scene:

The street art scene in the Philippines is getting bigger, with many crews, collectives and groups presenting different kinds of aesthetics, agendas and voices – political or apolitical. It is not only centered in Manila, there are also initiatives in other emerging cities like Cebu, Cavite and Tacloban. Compared to before, street art is well accepted now; you can see it in the streets and also in galleries, events, advertising, fashion, etc. It is youth culture and urban culture.

The streets give a voice to members of a society, allowing them to express themselves in various ways, whether artistically or to make socio-political statements. Kim Dryden told Art Radar:

The artists we work with all have their own reasons for being involved in street art. On one end of the spectrum, you have artists whose work is a very personal thing, sometimes purely aesthetic because they simply enjoy painting on the streets. On the other end of the spectrum, some artists’ work is very direct in what they’re trying to convey – they contain very clear social and political critique, for example. And then in the middle, you see artists using street art as a way to deal with identity, discuss big issues like globalization, or make people think about how public space is used.

The street artscape in the Philippines is currently very active. Like any artists, street artists here have diverse styles, messages, inspiration and reasons for painting what they paint. Lee Salvador, whose artworks feature a blue character with a monster emerging from its chest, said in an interview with Dryden that this motif “represents that everyone has a bad side, but that we can work on it”. He elaborates:

I’m trying to tell everyone that life isn’t fair: we struggle, feel pain, and are uncomfortable, but it’s there that we need to fight and realize that we can turn negatives into positives. I’m doing street art for the kids who can’t go to an art gallery or malls to see colourful posters and artworks, and for those kids who don’t have [a] TV in their homes.

Gerilya, an artist collective formed in 2008, explores socio-political issues and national identity through art. Inspired by Filipino culture and history, they seek to make their art as relevant as possible, explaining:

Our style is very similar to comic books – graphic images, colourful, bold lines and playful use of typography. We’ve tackled a lot of political issues since we started doing street art. The earliest was a road painting protest about the militarisation in universities and campuses. Our most recent mural was a commentary on the Pork Barrel corruption in the Philippines’ government.

Lee and Rai. Image courtesy Filipino Street Art Project.

Lee Salvador and Rai Cruz, Untitled, 2012, acrylic paint. Image courtesy Filipino Street Art Project.

Whose streets?

While names such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey have been synonymous with the art form for years, street art has also taken off in other parts of the world. Often employed as a method of social and political critique, this form of art also throws open the definition of the public sphere and to whom the streets belong.

According to Rai Cruz of Cavite-based Filipino street art group Cavity Collective, quoted in, street art is like

reclaiming an urban space. It’s communication. […] There’s always the risk that either someone paints over it or the structure later gets torn down. So we know [the artwork] is just temporary.

In the same article, Maiquez of Pilipinas Street Plan adds, “We don’t mind if they repaint it. Anyway that’s the sense [of a public space], it’s free for all.”

B.B. Marshal. Image courtesy the Filipino Street Art Project.

Brian Barrios, Untitled, 2011, acrylic paste on manila paper (wheatpaste). Image courtesy Anakbayan.

Archiving street art

Unlike many other art forms, street art is, by its nature, temporary and ephemeral. This makes its documentation and archiving vital. Mark Salvatus said:

PSP also archives street art in the Philippines through its blog where you can see the development of it since 2006. The blog is a big help in archiving those images because maybe 90 percent of the works on the streets are gone.

The Filipino Street Art Project, similarly, is committed to not only bringing street art around Manila in the spotlight, but also documenting it through their blog, website, film and social media. According to Austin Smith of the Project,

[street art] has been around for a long time in western countries but is recently really taking off. In developing countries like the Philippines, street art and graffiti really got going at the same time that social media did, and I think this has a lot to do with its popularity.

Social media assists street artists to reach out to an even wider cross-section of audiences, while at the same time allowing them a means to document their work. Since street art is site-specific, the internet plays its role in helping it go from local to global.

Dee Jae. Image courtesy the Filipino Street Art Project.

Dee Jae Paeste, ‘Animal Spirit Murals’, 2013, spray paint and stencil. Image courtesy Dee Jae Paeste.

Next in this series

In the second installment of this three-part series, Art Radar features an exclusive interview with Kim Dryden and Austin Smith about the idea behind the Filipino Street Art Project, its progress and what lies ahead for the team and artists.

Kriti Bajaj


Related Topics: Filipino artists, film, street art, documentary, graffiti, public art, art in Manila

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