MANILA, Philippines – If you live in Metro Manila, you’ve been stuck in traffic. And if you’ve been stuck in traffic, you’ve likely seen that single, damning question, “why,” spray-painted on telephone poles, light posts, building walls, and traffic signs. It’s something you’d instinctively post about on Instagram, paired with your own take on cryptic, philosophical musings—about love, about life, and about the death of the metropolis.
Most people don’t know who is behind these “why’s” and, over the years, its offshoots such as “stop making babies” stickers and “missing” posters of Batibot’s Pong Pagong. Being an incognito street artist inevitably gets him compared to Britains’ Banksy, but the Why Guy is his own, fascinating creature, and every day there is someone out there stuck in a car or trudging down a sidewalk who, upon spotting his work, wonders, “Why is this guy doing this?”
Once in a blue moon, however, the Why Guy does relent to an interview. This piece is the first time he’s agreed to go on video, if only partially.
Rappler: Why the ‘Why’?
The Why Guy: The why’s started in 2013, five years ago. I got so pissed over something that happened that one night, I just went out and then just bombed the why’s wherever, or where I thought that person could see them. Because, of course, it’s all about someone who hurt me. So, I just put out all the why’s where that person could see the message.
It’s a rhetorical why, so I really don’t expect an answer because I really already know the answer. So, it’s just to put it out there for that person to hopefully see it.
Rappler: Why do graffiti?
The Why Guy: I found street art to be the best way to communicate what I have to say, because it’s well thought-out, it’s visual, and there are no barriers. I don’t have to interact with anyone. And it’s so, so liberating.
I’m sure all illegal street artists know that there’s a rush when you do something without permission and when you get away with it. And if people even appreciate it, it ups the value or the ante.
Rappler: How does the ‘Why’ graffiti affect people?
The Why Guy: People tend to sympathize with negative things. So, when they see despair or tragedy, they like it; they get a high or it's like they can relate to it.
I've also read or seen online that others are touched by it, also because they could relate to it. They gave a meaning to the 'why'. It may be not my intended meaning, but they just took it like they wanted to.
Rappler: Why keep your identity secret?
The Why Guy: I don’t see myself being famous or having shows in galleries. Because I won’t change. I’ll still be the same reclusive person who doesn’t like talking or dealing with people. It won’t change.
Rappler: What advice do you have for young artists?
The Why Guy: Never stop. Never stop looking for your style, what you’re comfortable with. Life is one constant struggle to be happy. If it makes you happy, do it. When it comes to creative stuff, of course you have the prerogative. Just keep looking.
Over the years, the Why Guy has decided to come out of the woodwork a little bit, and has opened a small shop/gallery in Kapitolyo, Pasig called Oldhaws, where he sells his own ‘why’-themed wares and pop-art paintings, as well as nostalgic gewgaws fished out from junk sales.
He still won’t share the exact location, though, just to make it a bit of a scavenger hunt. It’s his penchant for the wry and tongue-in-cheek; he can't help but hide in plain sight.
Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon heads Rappler’s Opinion section, and is (happily) wrangled into voice over and hosting work. She has been with Rappler since 2013, and also served as its social media producer for 6 years. She is also a fictionist.