On Saturday morning, July 17 at 10:58 a.m., illustrator Tarantadong Kalbo posted across his social media pages a digital drawing of a clenched fist, standing alone in a sea of many others bowing down as if they were blindly worshipping someone.
Captioned "T u m i n d i g" with a clenched fist emoji, the piece was a way for Kevin Eric Raymundo, the brains behind Tarantadong Kalbo, to overcome the exhaustion he felt as an artist who is often a target of trolling online, death threats included, because of the politics behind his art.
As an artist who believed it's his responsibility to continue speaking up despite incessant attacks, he said it was beginning to feel like a lonely fight. So he decided to draw strength from the enduring spirit of activism, symbolized by a clenched fist, and come up with the piece which he hope would relieve his frustrations.
“I wanted to show how ‘one’s voice’ can affect those around them. It’s much more effective when we lead by example instead of belittling others,” he told GMA News.
"Kumbaga 'yong artwork is like a shout sa void. Kahit ako lang mag-isa, basta lalaban ako... So nung madaming sumali, ayun na. It’s overwhelming. Literal na tumindig balahibo ko," Raymundo told SPOT.ph of his piece that triggered a movement among Filipino artists online.
While its evolution was one he didn't saw coming, as upon posting it, it was a "finished work", regardless of Raymundo's intentions, Tumindig is now a call to arms, one that is ushering a wave of critical voices not just in the art community, but among spectating Filipinos whose combined power could help define the 2022 vote.
Even Ana Patricia Non, whose Maginhawa Community Pantry inspired a national movement early this year, joined in to express her solidarity.
'All art is political'
For over a year now, Tarantadong Kalbo has been at the forefront of making art with social commentaries on social media. More than expressing his personal frustrations, Raymundo was hoping to capture the nation's pulse with humor as middle-ground.
In one comic strip, Raymundo, who is mainly a freelance animator, shared how his critical take on art began.
“I do not create art for the sake of aesthetics. Art is always political whether we like it or not," Raymundo told Bulatlat. While art as a vehicle for political expression is not entirely new, this bold take has long divided artists, as there are still those who believe what they make can be seen as removed from the politics of the world they're living in.
"Kung pa-abstract ka lang, meaningless yung art mo. At siyempre pinaka-epekto nun, sadyain mo man o hindi, tumutulong ka lang na mamaintain yung status quo," rapper BLKD told ABS-CBN News in 2019, explaining why his group SANDATA had come out with a rap album that is based on the narratives of drug war victims.
Like Raymundo, the rap group was used to getting trolled online, as their work stands in resistance to President Rodrigo Duterte, whose popularity endures despite a centerpiece program reported to have claimed tens and thousands of lives.
It's not just the Philippines
In the past year, various political movements have risen in not just the Philippines but across Asia, most of them taking inspiration from popular culture.
Named after the shared love of sugary tea drinks across Hong Kong, Thailand and Taiwan, the #MilkTeaAlliance was born in 2020, as an expression of cross-border solidarity and shared fear of authoritarian China.
The campaign gained steam at a time when Hong Kong was emerging from months of pro-democracy protests and urban youth in Bangkok and other Thai cities were starting their own street confrontations with authorities, demanding reform their country's junta rulers, Agence France Presse reported..
This spread to Myanmar -- where tea with condensed milk is a staple breakfast drink -- after a coup ousted the country's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February.
In Thailand and Myanmar, the three finger salute from dystopian novel The Hunger Games also emerged as a symbol of resistance in anti-government rallies.
In the Philippines, voters will elect a new President as well as local officials in 2022, against the backdrop of COVID-19, the shutdown of broadcast giant ABS-CBN, and the implementation of an Anti-Terrorism Law that critics say could be used to crack down on dissent.
This, for artists like Tarantadong Kalbo, Sandata, and sculptor Leeroy New, among many others, is all the more reason to speak out even more, chilling effect be damned.
Calix of SANDATA may have said it best, “Bago man ako naging artist, mamamayan ako. Kung tutuusin, kaya ko naman ginagawa ‘to hindi dahil sa artist ako. It just so happens na bilang mamamayan, artist ako at ito ang kaya kong iambag para makatulong. Tanggaling mo yung pagiging artist, tanggalin mo yung persona, wala kabang gagawin bilang Pilipino?".
-- With reporting from Agence France Presse