The new face of Manila is a wall

Published September 5, 2020, 9:09 PM

by Jules Vivas

The capital city is reborn through art

The new heroes and Manila

The year 2020 has been a total mess. Be that as it may, last month ended on a good note at least for the city of Manila. The City of Our Affections has a specific memory, a conscience, a scourge even, and it is now in a state of metamorphosis. To aid its renewal, Manila has turned to the agency of heritage conservation and culture-led rehabilitation projects.

Mayor Isko Moreno’s vision of bringing the capital city back to its former glory is slowly coming to fruition. In Aug. 24, the newly renovated Lagusnilad pedestrian underpass was launched. The rehabilitation of the passageway connecting Intramuros to Manila City Hall is part of Ang Bagong Maynila (The New Manila) Program.

The mural in full view at the Lagusnilad underpass

Not only did the tunnel become a safer and a more aesthetically-pleasing space, it has become culturally relevant as well. Aside from the Spanish-themed features designed by architect Antonio Toledo, the entrance and exit points of the underpass were embellished with signage in Baybayin, an old writing system widely used in Luzon and other parts of the country in the 16th and 17th centuries before being supplanted by the Latin alphabet. Another great news is that the famous Books from Underground is making a comeback as the book shop was given an allotted spot.

The pièce de résistance, however, is the “Masigasig na Maynila (Ardent Manila).” The wall art is a key feature of the underpass made possible through the collaboration of National Commision for Culture and Arts (NCCA), its top brass chairman Arsenio Lizaso, executive director Al Ryan Alejandre, deputy executive director Marichu Tellano, and supervising officer for administration Bernan Joseph Corpuz, with the city government through its department of engineering and public works.

Precolonial and Spanish era

The mural by art collective, Gerilya, depicts the rich history of the Philippines, specifically of Manila by highlighting the progress of the metropolis while showing the rich history of our country including the pre-colonial times, Spanish colonial period, Philippine-American War, World War II, the First Quarter Storm, Martial Law, and the present. It also honors both past and modern-day heroes—doctors, nurses, riders, and other frontliners who lead the fight against the global health crisis. The wall painting was inspired by muralist from Angono, Botong Francisco.

It took three months to complete the mural, which is meant to provoke a cultural discourse, and an instrument to reflect on and view the past. Above all the piece’s main purpose is to reassert the pride and identity of Manileños and Filipinos.

Rendered in comic style imagery, the “Masigasig na Maynila” tries to engage the sense of the popular, its immediate accessibility targets the masa (common folk).

Art group Gerilya was formed in 2008. Its three founding members Jano, Kube, and Zap, all hail from the College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City. The team is involved in various art related activities and experimental ventures such as comics, street art, graffiti animation, fine art exhibitions, and illustration commissions. Their works take on political, socio-cultural, and historical themes.

With the goal of producing art as a gift to the everyday people, Gerilya chooses to veer away from the norm of exclusivity of the art to the elite or the privileged and instead offers it to the eyes of everyone, the street kids, the vendors, the bystanders, the passersby who stream through the streets in the rush hour.