Filipino resilience? A young artist shares his thoughts

When reality is more absurd than art

Images from UPCFA Facebook page

There are so many things that make us Filipinos and make our country unique from others. There's the spirit of bayanihan, where everyone takes action to help one another achieve a goal. Salu-salo is where a family or community bonds together over good food. But if there is one idea Filipinos aren't embracing well today, it is the sense of resiliency.

Syaing that Filipinos are tough as nails, adaptable to hardship, and always tend to look at the positive amid the negative have raised many eyebrows during this pandemic, especially in the past year when Pinoys met volcanic eruptions, typhoons and floods, and other disasters—manmade or otherwise. But the thing is, Filipino resilience isn't only present during times of calamity. Many, in fact, live it in their daily lives, most poignantly perhaps in enduring harsh commutes.

Photo from UPCFA Facebook page

Saying that Filipinos deserve more and better is Marcus Aragon. The young art student from the University of the Philippines - Diliman's (UPD) College of Fine Arts centered his thesis study on the romanticized idea of Filipinos' hardship. Through his "Bahala Na: A Satire of Filipino Resilience in Print," he presents five serigraph prints depicting what everyday Filipino resilience looks like but, well, with a humorous touch.

In a conversation with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, the budding artist talks about how he came up with the concept, his process of creating the prints, and his goal in creating the "Bahala Na" series.

What pushed you to take art studies?

I wasn’t able to see myself doing anything outside of the creative field. I couldn’t sit with the idea of doing anything else. I’m left-handed so it was pretty much a done deal, anyway.

What is the story behind 'Bahala Na'?

It’s a satire on the so-called virtue of Filipino resilience. It’s usually used to frame us as hopeful when in reality it’s submission to a lack of options. I’ve found that, historically, the identity of the resilient Filipino can be traced back to our people’s pacification through early colonial educational material. Today, the fatalistic attitude is embodied in common phrases like “ganiyan talaga” and “bahala na.”

For my thesis, I took most of what we consider normal in our daily city commute and moved it into the territory of the absurd through exaggeration. Jeepney sabit styles become acrobatic, MRT rides are packed like sardines, power line obstacles are turned into playground games, a bus conductor does yoga poses over swarming passengers, and a restrictive smoking area powers a hot air balloon trip. The aesthetic is a callback to primary school textbook illustrations that showed us what model citizens . Beneath the serigraph prints are handmade paper sheets made from collected paper waste related to each work to represent the collective and repetitive experience of these predicaments.

Photo from UPCFA Facebook page

Photo from UPCFA Facebook page

Why did you choose that concept for your thesis and how long did you work on it?

I wanted to talk about something I was familiar with, such as the brutality of commuting in Metro Manila. I only started to really learn how to commute when I entered college. I took the jeep, train, and bus to school so I got the full learning package. A lot of it involved the grit of being assertive and sucking it up, but there were moments where I’d take a step back and realize how silly it all probably looks; shimmying out of jam packed buses and trying to figure out how to not die on the exterior of a jeepney with a bunch of strangers. I wanted to translate that silliness into an art piece but later on found that there was a lot more to it when I circled around the topic. I landed on it as my thesis since the research and output were both fun to do.

The pandemic started mid-thesis production for our batch, rendering most of us sitting ducks with no way to get our works and equipment out of the college. I decided to hold out until the new year due to production restrictions. I picked up where I left off at the start of 2021, and had to be careful with my finite collection of paper waste since I didn’t want it omitted from the thesis.

Photo from UPCFA Facebook page

Photo from UPCFA Facebook page

We saw that the artworks are already on shirts. Are you planning to release more?

I’m planning a short run with shirts and print editions before I bid this series goodbye. I wanted to translate my work into wearables for the irony of sporting it on a commute. I want other passengers to know I’m a sabit pro. I’m quite excited to start working on some ideas I had to shelve during the production of my thesis.

Photo from UPCFA Facebook page

What is your goal in producing 'Bahala Na'?

I wanted to make a work that everyone could get something out of it, whether it serves as an inquiry on our own understanding of Filipino resilience or simply to just make someone laugh.

See more of UPCFA Degree Show 2021 here.