Passage into the Philippine seas
MANILA, Philippines - The tunnel of Quezon Avenue, just off Elliptical Road, was under siege recently.
Loaded with ladders, scaffolding and color-coded diagrams, an army of volunteers descended into the tunnel on the night of July 14th. Armed with paintbrushes, they systematically began transforming the gray walls of the tunnel into a colorful seascape.
Throughout the evening, working until dawn, shifts of volunteers brought to life the design of artist AG Saño. Outlines of marine animals and mythological sea creatures started popping out of the concrete.
Advocacy-oriented murals, with an emphasis on environment, is AG's current preoccupation. He has been pursuing these projects through his organization, Dolphins Love Freedom (DLF).
“Mural art, by definition is a painting on a wall,” he explains. “I do murals because I believe they could be a good vehicle to advance my advocacies."
"I aimed to paint 23,000 dolphins all over the country back in 2010. Dolphins were my main subject. Then it evolved into different environmental issues such as marine conservation, species conservation, mangroves and other ecosystems, mining, waste and other threats to the environment.”
This time, the mural is a project spearheaded by Save Philippine Seas (SPS), an advocacy group bringing awareness to our local seas' wealth and threats.
SPS co-founder Anna Oposa explains how the collaboration with AG came to be.
“AG has been a good friend since 2010. When we started SPS, it was only natural for our groups to work together because of our shared advocacy to protect the Philippine seas. AG has uncompromising values as an eco warrior. It's an honor for us to work with him,” she says.
An all-Pinoy undertaking
In true Filipino fashion, the long evening of painting turned out to be more of a fiesta than a belligerent event. Besides bringing their paint materials, SPS also prepared entertainment and refreshments to boost volunteer morale.
Project manager and SPS co-founder Nix Nicolas reveals how the design is an “all-Pinoy artwork. It’s a mural that depicts the biodiversity of our seas. Most are being threatened with or are vulnerable to extinction, i.e. pating, pagi, pawikan, lumba-lumba, some types of balyena (whale), butanding, corals, Irrawaddy dolphin. We want to celebrate the seas and at the same time remind people in the city about it.”
She adds, “We also wanted to have Pinoy folklore themes.” True enough, the mural features the king of the sea whom they dubbed “Amang Dagat,” sirena (mermaids) and Baybayin characters.
“They say ‘Sagipin Ang Karagatan.’ Dapat may ‘ng Pilipinas’ pero hindi na kasya,” laughs Nix.
The call for volunteers for the mural painting project went out a few weeks before the designated weekend. The response was overwhelming. Within 48 hours, the list had to be closed. Only a hundred volunteers were to be allowed, as the area of work is a traffic-heavy highway.
The bayanihan fever was contagious. As the night progressed and traffic waned, SPS updates on their social media feeds shared how even the MMDA officers would pick up a brush during traffic lulls.
“There's a misconception that marine conservationists have to be divers or swimmers to be part of the movement,” Anna points out. “This mural painting activity shows that it's a cause that is open to everyone. (It) also raises awareness of what's in the Philippine seas and brings the seas closer to the people in the city. It also brightens up the rather dull walls of the metro.”
AG thinks that the volunteer response resonates with the people’s innate desire to be part of “something great” and need to find a way to contribute. Crowd-sourcing for a giant art project has proven to be an effective venue.
He posits, “Not everyone can go to the field and to the remote regions to volunteer for actual conservation projects or to work with NGO’s to 'save' the planet. The murals for the environment is one way to bring that opportunity to them, right here in the metro.”
Nix reveals that there are plans to extend the mural and paint the entire Quezon Avenue tunnel. Pragmatic about resources and time constraints, she estimates a two-year time period for it.
“We have also been invited by Operation Katipunan to help them paint one of the planned murals along Katipunan Avenue,” she shares. “No date yet, but it might happen later this year. It's part of their ongoing initiative to improve all aspects of the Bgy. Loyola community, especially in the school zones.
All these projects will be done in partnership with Dolphins Love Freedom.
AG puts his hope in more community involvement as well.
“Art can be very elitist,” AG opines. “In different eras of history, art had, in many ways, alienated the bigger part of society. People with no known set of art skills have volunteered for the whaleboy murals because they simply felt they would belong."
"This is my way of bringing art to where it may have never been. To the barrios, to the street kids, to the farmers, the fisherfolks, the sons and daughters of farmers and fisherfolks, to the politicians, to the soldiers, the policemen, to the teachers, to the indigenous people, to the less privileged, to the hearts of the people in the cities who never thought they could paint and never believed that they can be artists too. Maybe the openness of this exercise plays a big part in why people, by the thousands, have come to help me paint.” - Rappler.com
(All photographs by Kage Gozun, courtesy of Save Philippine Seas. Follow Kage's adventures at http://travelkage.photoshelter.com. To get involved and for more information, connect with the advocacy groups Save Philippine Seas and Dolphins Love Freedom.)