BAGUIO CITY — Local artist groups in Baguio, the very first creative city in the country proclaimed by UNESCO, expressed their support to Panday Sining, whose members were arrested and declared persona non grata in Manila for its protest graffiti on public walls and structures.

In a joint statement, Sulong Likha and Pedantic Pedestrians backed Panday Sining for “going beyond the terms of art in defending it.”

“While we confer artistry to the act—an act that compels us to question our narrow conception of art that is limited to form and technique—we also defend it in the larger terms of communication and dissent,” the artist groups said.

Police officers illegally arrested and detained four members of Panday Sining on November 30. Police in plainclothes dragged and beat them out while riding a jeepney somewhere in Mendiola. They just came from the Bonifacio Day protest, where they painted graffiti with words “Presyo Ibaba, Sahod Itaas!” and “Makatwiran ang Maghimagsik!” among others.

On December 6, the Manila City council passed a resolution declaring the group persona non grata in the city.

Authorities released one of the arrested on December 2 for being a minor. The three remaining members were released on bail early today, December 9. The police charged them with malicious mischief and violation of the city’s anti-vandalism ordinance only on December 6.

According to Sulong Likha and Pedantic Pedestrians, the arrest of the four artists “…tends to put art in a passive position in relation to history and society.”

“But we claim that art cannot be reduced to passivity, rendered silent especially during these times of subtle political unrest,” they added.

The artists stressed that the state targets its critics, “art cannot confine itself to the perfection of forms and the mastery of technique.”

They pointed out that art should balance exquisiteness and meaning. The group said that art should articulate the loss of indigenous lands to foreign companies, loss of traditions, and dwindling practice of rituals apart from mere representations of indigenous peoples.

The statement also took note of the crisis in the present education system. Sulong Likha and Pedantic Pedestrians said that aside from the lack of books, teachers, and classrooms, among others, the current system does not promote critical thinking. The current system merely teaches students to memorize things rather than encourage them to ask difficult questions about their society and environment.

“Panday Sining’s Graffiesta asks difficult questions and propose possible alternatives, breaking the idea that we must all resign (bahala na, pag-tiyagaan na lang, masasanay din tayo) with what we have now—lack of employment, poor education system, rising commodity prices. In raising questions and forwarding possibilities, we are with Panday Sining,” they said.

Before the arrest and persona non grata declaration, Panday Sining and Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso had a word war after the former put graffiti on the newly painted walls of Lagusnilad underpass.

The mayor warned that he would make the group clean the walls using their tongues once authorities caught them doing it again. He also mocked Panday Sining of not having the support of the people even after they apologized and explained the need for protest art.

Different artist groups have expressed support for Panday Sining following the arrest and detention of their members. The group is the cultural arm of the progressive youth group Anakbayan. # nordis.net

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