#ArtistsFightBack: The art of protest ahead of SONA 2020

With criticism over the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the threat of the anti-terror law, artists are exploring different ways to express their dissent in light of President Rodrigo Duterte's 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA).

While artists fear that the anti-terror law can be used to target them and their work, they have been sharing artworks depicting the issues that hounded the Duterte administration in its 4th year through the hashtag #ArtistsFightBack.

Beyond sharing a message through their artworks, artists are using the hashtag to gain back the platform the government has seemingly threatened to take away with the implementation of the anti-terror law. 

The group Kilusang Sining Laban sa Pasismo (Kislap) said their goal is “to take back our platform and make it serve the people.”

Artists are also pledging support for the United People’s SONA, #SONAgkaisa, that will take place on the same day of President Rodrigo Duterte’s address.

Speaking up online

For the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), #ArtistsFightBack is “a call to speak out, act, and create to stop the attacks on the people.”

This is not the first time that artists have united for a common cause through the hashtag.

Back in June, artists and creatives expressed their dissent using #ArtistsFightBack, following the conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr for cyber libel.

Kislap is even accepting art submissions for the campaign.

The hashtag is also being used to showcase the preparations being done ahead of the SONA, such as the barong that Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate will wear.

Beyond the hashtag

Artists' groups are also planning various protests that make use of their creativity.

Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (SAKA) is leading this year's "burning" of an effigy for the People's SONA.

Instead of an actual fire, a video showing the burning of an effigy will instead be shown – an adjustment due to the pandemic. This video will also be shared online for others to use.

SAKA has teamed up with RESpond and Break the silence Against the Killings (Resbak) to develop a web page called e-ffigy that lets protesters use their mobile camera to set an image of Duterte "in flames."

On the day of the SONA, SAKA will be distributing an 8-page comic booklet both on-ground and online, explaining why people should be alarmed over the implementation of the anti-terror law. 

Meanwhile, CAP will be bringing an art installation called “Monsterte: A representation of the dystopian reality of the Filipino people during the past 4 years of the Duterte administration." Creatives and performance artists said they will set up the installation at the People's SONA while observing physical distancing throughout the event.

They have also prepared raincoats with target signs and the slogan “Junk Terror Law” painted on them to show the threats of the law on their lives and practice as artists.

During the State of the Cultural Address held on Thursday, July 23, artists from various groups featured videos, poems, and songs submitted by fellow creatives with messages about the issues they want addressed in the upcoming SONA.

These issues include the anti-terror law, the denial of a franchise renewal for ABS-CBN, and the call for mass coronavirus testing.

'Art as a weapon for social change'

Artists will be marching alongside the broad coalition of groups that will head to Commonwealth Avenue on Monday, July 27.

Despite a memorandum from the Quezon City government prohibiting mass gatherings, these groups will still push through with their protest. 

According to Kislap, artists have been at the receiving end of attacks on democracy, which is why they believe their presence in protests is more crucial than ever.

For Angelo Suarez, a co-convenor of SAKA, artworks are not any more special than other means of showing dissent. He believes what is important is that Filipinos "take all available avenues to hold this fascist regime accountable." – Rappler.com

Khaela C. Vijar

Khaela C. Vijar is a Rappler volunteer from Ateneo de Manila University. She is an incoming freshman taking up a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science.

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