CALL TO THE FILIPINO ARTIST by Lino Brocka
“The filmmaker, like his fellow artists in different media, has now
realized that the artist is also a public person. He does not work in
isolation from society. Instead of working alone in his ivory tower he
is a citizen of the slums, of the streets, of the battlefield if need
be. The artist is always a participant. He tries to be true not only
to his craft but also to himself. For it is the supreme duty of the
artist to investigate the truth, no matter what forces attempt to hide
it. And then to report it to the people, to confront them with it,
like a whiplash that will cause wounds but will free the mind from the
various fantasies and escapist fare that the Establishment pollutes
our minds with.
To the best of our abilities, and even if we oftentimes fail, we want
to do works that will hurt, films that will disturb, films that will
not make you rest. For the times are really bad, and given times like
these, it is a crime to rest. We can not rest, and we should not,
while there’s a fellow Filipino starving in Negros, an Aquino or
Galman crying for justice, a salvage victim lying in a mountain of
garbage while a corrupt family rules the country with uncontrolled
power and wealth. While it is the duty of the artist to work for what
is true, good, and beautiful, first we have to expose and fight for
what is wrong.
In these times when most of the media hide the truth from us, when
most of what we get from the media are silly gossip and petty flesh
and sensationalized crimes, we go to the streets to find out
what’s happening. We listen to those artists who dare risk their
lives and livelihoods, who reiterate once more the utmost duty of the
artist — that the artist is a committed person, that he will always
take the side of any human being who is violated, abused, oppressed,
dehumanized whatever his instrument — the pen, the brush, or the
Artist as Citizen
A friend posted the quote and video above on facebook, and I just fell in love with it because it gives such a great perspective. Lino Brocka mentions in the video that “the problems of film making is the same problems of the laborer and the peasants, and all the other sectors.” This rings so true today, that as a Filipino-American visual artist, I can’t ignore the fact that I am no different from a worker or a farmer when we are all trying to find a decent livelihood during this economic crisis. I can’t ignore the fact that art that uplifts and empowers is not something that we see all the time. Instead, what saturates our radios, movie theaters, television, and surroundings is the art of the capitalist — art that is meant to sell you products, art that is meant to glorify a luxurious lifestyle, and art that paints a fantasy picture of riches, excess, and over consumption. Crazy that this is the art that surrounds us, because it definitely does not reflect the realities that many of my friends can’t find jobs, my family members are being laid off, and my cousins in the Philippines are all leaving the country for Saudi Arabia, the UE, etc. to find jobs.
Imagine, today the best and brightest artists of our time work for corporations as marketing agents and billboard/magazine/tv ad creators. Our generation’s artwork is relegated to 1-minute jingles for freecreditreport.com, airbrushed photography of unattainable beauty standards, and paintings inside museums and galleries that an average minimum wage worker in San Francisco will probably never see (unless it’s the first Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday of the month, but then again, they’re working so they probably can’t take advantage of that opportunity).
For those of us who have had the opportunity to see the power of art, we know how transformative it can be. We know that one documentary that helped to open our eyes, that one song that helped you get through a rough point in your life, that one image/painting that captured an emotion that you didn’t know was there. Art, when infused with a message and wielded with purpose, has the power to change lives, to change perspectives, to change the world. It then becomes our responsibility as artists to be that agent for change. Artists cannot and should not divorce who we are and where we come from our artwork. As Lino Brocka says, an artist “does not work in isolation from society…[s]he is a citizen of the slums, of the streets, of the battlefield if need be.” What this means is that we must always include the context of our society, of our lives, in our artwork. That we are not merely artists, but we are artist-daughters & sons, artist-workers, artist-immigrants, artist-poor. That as an artist today, I cannot divorce my art from the fact that my family could not afford to buy me art materials as a child. That as a young teen, the only art I created was reflected in my journals, full of scribbles and doodles that surrounded entries about being undocumented, entries about drugs, entries about different teen pressures I was facing. As an artist today, I cannot divorce my art from the fact that I am artist in AMERICA TODAY because my parents sacrificed their lives in the Philippines to immigrate here.
This is the context that I create[d] in.
My fellow artists and friends, I hope this perspective helps in opening a dialogue in what it means to be an artist, and what it means to create art. I hope it raises questions and begins an internal process for you, as it did for me. I hope that this is a conversation that we can have soon.