THE ARTIST wore a checkered polo, jeans and running shoes. He uncapped a tube of toothpaste and brushed his teeth.
He bent to put down the tube of toothpaste and toothbrush on the floor. He picked up a megaphone and whispered into it.
I don’t know about my fellow onlookers but I wasn’t sure at first if I heard him right. He said “Patya… patya” as if he were whispering a secret or entreating a lover.
Then the megaphone was replaced on the floor. The artist picked up the tube and brush and repeated the act of brushing.
Then the switch again, the megaphone covering the lips that repeated the words, clearer now because after the second and third and other times, the man was screaming: “Patya… patya… patya sila (kill them).”
A scent of peppermint permeated the silence inside the room occupied at the center by the artist in the checkered polo and his manic monologue.
With each brushing, the man’s lips, chin then the lower half of his face glistened with red. He was a harlot gone amok with lipstick. A clown prowling to get out of a nightmare. A demagogue drunk with power.
To some of us, the performer dripping red reminded us of the man who, just that noon, took his oath as the country’s 16th president.
Later, the artist Roy Lumagbas, known better as Roylu, informed us that the title of his performance was “Sipilyo/ Si Pilyo”. The homonyms are not interchangeable: the first use refers to a toothbrush; the second means “The Mischievous One”.
Some of us wanted to know if Roylu has an advocacy against President Rodrigo Duterte, whose campaign promise to end criminality by any means, even extrajudicial killing, was embraced by more than 14.8 million voters, representing 39 percent of the electorate.
Roylu, who now lives in Bolivia, is a member of XO?, pronounced as “So?,” the quintessential question that triggers doubt, inquiry and criticism. XO is a group of Fine Arts alumni, students and faculty of the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu.
Artists in their own right, the XO members occasionally gather to use performance art to draw the public’s attention to issues. The audience gathered last June 30 at the UP Cebu Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab) was composed of artists, students and teachers.
We had earlier listened to visiting multimedia artist, professor Leticia R. Bajuyo of the University of Notre Dame and Hanover College, talk about her work with “momentary monuments.”
Retrieving the detritus of commercial culture, Prof. Bajuyo constructed monumental artwork from metal slugs, Styrofoam peanuts, compact discs and other throwaway materials. Unlike monuments that are traditionally built to last, Bajuyo’s art is about using transience to “make the matter matter.”
People are fickle, she observed. We suffer from “social amnesia”. Yet, art connects people so we can reflect on “what we remember and what we forget.”
UP professor Raymund Fernandez, a co-founder of XO?, said that unlike actors who play a role, an artist is “not acting” in performance art. During martial law, Roylu, Mons and I had classmates, students, and friends who “disappeared” for being political lepers: activists, human rights workers, Reds.
Now we hear again the unspeakable made popular and official: “Kill the others”.
When artists speak—or say, brush their teeth—it pays to listen.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 3, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”