Along Kalantiao Street in Baguio, there's a wall built from hollow blocks and adobe and it has been standing there for half a century now. It has remained the way it was put up, except for the wear and tear, particularly corrosion, usual for any infrastructure exposed to sun and rain.
About a year ago, a group of Baguio artists held an exhibit opening for the first time there, particularly at Katipunan Restaurant along that street. Everyone who attended marked a portion of the wall with their hand prints in white paint, a mark that is still there.
In reality, Dangwa station lies behind those walls. But figuratively speaking, it's as if these artists came out from being hidden behind solid walls and took with them their works of art to an audience of cooks, waiters/waitresses, vendors, drivers, tambays, passerbys and restaurant customers. Included in the wall were hand prints from the audience plus a lone footprint of a baby.
At that time, a quote by Keith Haring was posted at the entrance of the restaurant: "It has become increasingly clear to me that art is not an elitist activity reserved for the appreciation of the few, but for everyone, and that is the end toward which I will continue to work." Several Baguio artists I know keep that in mind and heart and soul, even before coming across Keith Haring's words. Roots of our tribal community life, unforgotten, are still strong in them, despite of the increasing individualization (walang pakialaman) of existence in this world now.
I often find them, to my heart's warming, engaged in breaking down walls or in making bridges and coming together in collective and creative experiences that celebrate life (beyond, but not excluding, drinking, getting drunk and being merry), promoting human connection/interaction and strengthening community spirit. While most people would think artists are anti-social, I actually find those whom I have known so far to be ultra-social. Even in their solitary they commune with humanity.
Proof to this group work was that art project participated by 28 personalities using diverse mediums. In the walls of Katipunan restaurant were art works, diverse as they are, that are laid out and strung in a fluid succession - images making the empty spaces come alive with forms, colors and energies.
"The responses of the people are positive", remarked Paolo Sunggay, Katipunan Restaurant's manager, himself an artist. His family has been running the place even before he was born.
You could see one customer munching on his pulutan while staring at a particular piece, another extending his hand to touch the display and a lot more looking at what the artists were doing at that particular moment. Some of them ask the artists what they were doing.
Such an activity never goes without audience participation beyond mere spectatorship. Drums and gongs were brought out during the exhibit opening and the music and dance that filled the air and space caused the coagulation of strangers in one circle of movement, even the if the participation was shown by the mere bobbing of head to the beat.
"People may not be aware or conscious that what they are doing in their everyday life is actually a form of art", one of the artists said. Another added, "We are for the discovery of all arts within people - not just the forms they see here but also the art of selling, talking, singing, cooking, and a lot more, even playing basketball." I was asked if I noticed the basketball ring, which was part of the exhibit space, just a few steps outside the restaurant. Chuckling, I said I did.
"Art can change perspectives - how you view life, how you see things. Art changes people, changes people's directions", observed another artist. That first exhibit was followed by at least two more. Although I still am looking forward to other shows to follow, hoping that the energy that sustains such endeavors is still alive, especially among the artists themselves. Maybe, too, the wall along Kalantiao will one day be full of hand prints that no empty space will be left out and the divider will cease to exist as just a wall. The way it looks right now, it's starting to turn into a bridge. If that bridge will be completed, it can be crossed, and life from both perspectives can be appreciated.