“There are no political prisoners.”
Government critics, dissenters, activists, and revolutionaries who challenge the interests of those in power and hence jailed for political reasons are charged with crimes like murder, arson, robbery, etc. Political prisoners are tagged as ordinary criminals by the state in order to render them and their causes nameless and faceless, a mere statistic hidden from the view of the oppressed majority.
Portrayal: Faces of Freedom, an art exhibit displaying 55 portraits of political prisoners at the Maximillian Gallery in Scout Madriñan, Quezon City last July 24 and 25 departed from this dominant narrative to give faces to those whom the ruling order would rather remain unseen.
“Portrayal connects with previous artistic interventions in its aspiration to help set free the stories behind statistics on human rights violations in the Philippines,” said Lisa Ito, the exhibit curator and University of the Philippines Diliman College of Fine Arts teacher, in a Facebook Note.
“The works present the broad spectrum of people criminalized, demonized and tagged as terrorists by a state ironically famed for its own forays into contemporary fascism. As portraits, they convey both the breadth of their subjects’ ordeals and the sense of personhood that the penal system attempts to strip away,” Ito added.
Political prisoners represent a threat to the ruling order, eyesores that must be kept hidden so as not to inspire resistance and militant struggle among a wider number of people. This fear in the officialdom is such that state security forces have locked up 538 political prisoners in various jails all over the country.
But it would seem that this attempt to quarantine them from the populace has only met with failure with the continuing advance of the people’s resistance to oppressive conditions. The service to the people done by imprisoned revolutionaries and activists has not been forgotten as demonstrated by the outpouring of material and moral support for their plight from various sectors.
Ito said that this display of solidarity by artists with the political prisoners marks a break with the traditional use of portraits as mere “objects denoting prestige, power and patronage; displays of individual stature and status, denoting the capacity to commission and consume.”
Ito noted the challenges faced by the artist in this endeavor: “In instances where it was not possible to directly visit and meet the subject, the artists had to rely on secondhand information to produce the portraits: mug shots, I.D. photos, archival testimonies, case reports, and recollected memories, for instance,” she said.
According to Ito, the diversity of image sources utilized by the artists also resulted in portraits that represented the political prisoners’ optimism and resolve in spite of the odds they face. “It is this spirit of resilience which remains unshackled and unrestrained, moving across and beyond the confines of prison space,” she said.
Some of the artists who took part in the exhibit include former UP Fine Arts Dean Leonilo “Neil” Doloricon, Dhan Louie Bautista, Rustum Casia, Maan De Loyola, Bheng Densing, Emil Mercado, Rensi Managase, Ding Royales, Palanca awardee Aleli Dew Ayroso, Jesus Manuel Santiago and Daniw Santiago, Arnie Jarabilo, Yasmin Almonte, Gwen Bautista, James Hermogenes, Cristina Ponce, Lorraine Bermejo, Eden Ocampo, Jamica Lois Bonifacio,
Mylene Foronda Factora, Boy Dominguez, Crisanto de Leon, Egai Talusan Fernandez, Melvin Pollero, Bryan Pollero, Renan Ortiz, Oji Valencia, Adelson Genito, Jason Valenzuela, Ericson Acosta, Sim Tolentino, Buen Abrigo, Iggy Rodriguez, Jade Alfonso, Racquel de Loyola, Yani Ela, Aldrein Silanga, Emil Yap, Tom Estrera III, Stephen Prestado, Rose Bucud, Ranma Ramones, Max Santiago, Enrico Maniago, Charlene Bayani, Glenda Maye Abad,
Tinsley Garanchon, street artists collective Gerilya, Pedro Bucud, Vivian Nocum Limpin, Doris Rodriguez, and Linangan ng Kulturang Pilipino. Exhibit organizers Karapatan and Selda plan to mount the artworks in schools and workplaces. In the meantime, the portraits can be viewed online at the Free All Political Prisoners Facebook page.
Note: I wrote this article for thepoc.net.