Filipinos have been divided on the issue of the jeepney phaseout. The internet, especially social media, has been flooded with opinions, often opposing. The jeepney drivers, directly hit by this issue, have voiced out their thoughts through a transport strike. But what would it be like when an artist used his medium to join this important societal conversation?
Renz Baluyot; God Bless Our Trip I, Found object, acrylic rod, wooden base, lighting fixtures, 2023
This is what people witnessed in Renz Baluyot’s recent solo show “God Bless Our Trip,” on display at Mono8 Gallery from March 8 to 31. This graduate from the University of the Philippines, Diliman with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts is known for expressing and exploring various socio-political narratives through his works. In this show, he once again used his platform to tell a story of the nation.
“The show is about LTFRB’s Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) or more known as the jeepney phaseout and my connection to it through my personal history,” he said. “I am from two generations of drivers. My paternal grandfather served as a jeepney driver for 32 years in Mandaluyong City. That occupation provided for his family, his wife and nine children. My father has been a school service driver and operator since 1996, the same year my grandfather stopped driving his jeepney. Ferrying passengers is a big part of our family. It has become our livelihood.”
After not being able to showcase his signature style at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Baluyot using his medium, a combination of found and fabricated objects, in an installation honors his family’s history.
“Going around and sourcing materials are a big part of my installation process. I had not been able to do that until only recently,” he says. “Objects in urban scenes that were used and discarded, architecture, and interesting forms, I see them as a marker of time, material history, and cultures. They either become subjects of my paintings or get incorporated in my installations. They hold so much meaning and representation and at times serve as an evidence and mirror of society, enough that I do not use people as subject matter.”
God Bless Our Trip II, Subliminal print on fabric, 2023
In this four-part show, he used different materials that are part of Philippine history and are close to the hearts of Filipino people.
In Part 1, he used a Sarao horse that had lost one leg “to represent and symbolize the current state of the transport groups and passengers.” In Parts 2 and 3, he openly shared an important part of his personal life by printing his family photos on two Good Morning towels.
“To represent our family’s history in regards to fathers as drivers, I’ve printed our family pictures on Good Morning Towels,” intimates Baluyot. “This towel has been associated with drivers. Normally sold on the streets these as you know are usually found hung on the neck of drivers and blue collar workers to wipe off sweat.”
In Part 4, through a corpse-like sculptural work, the artist gave people a glimpse of what would happen to some drivers once the phaseout pushed through.
“The jeepney is a popular means of transportation for the Filipino masses, culturally and practically. [It’s] one of the cheapest ways to go around in and out of Metro Manila and other provinces and lower bracket Filipinos depend on it every day,” he says. “The stainless steel antennas sticking out of the lying body are normally installed on jeepneys and tricycles mainly for aesthetics. At the tip of these antennas are rust dyed flags printed with a Driver’s Prayer I found on my mother’s prayer book. Hoping and praying for everyone’s safety. Sampaguita flowers are spread around the lying body. So the scent is also a part of the experience.”
God Bless Our Trip IV, Sculptural installation with found objects, fiberglass mannequin, fabric, sampaguita, 2023
In this day and age when people who speak up about their beliefs are being shamed, it takes a lot of courage for an artist to stand for what he believes in, let alone depict it in his works. But this is not the case for Baluyot, as he is looking forward to sharing more about the issues he feels strongly about in his future shows.
“My inspiration for doing work comes mainly from everyday life…. oftentimes overseen objects from our mundane life bring me much thought and inspiration and how they relate to recent or further histories of our people,” he says. “Personally, this is what I love doing. Creating is a passion of mine. It is personal, meditative, and therapeutic during creation and communal when shared. It is my expression and in a way my life’s documentation. I feel better being part of the society I am in when I am able to do what I am passionate about and decent at.”