How Filipino artists are responding to President Duterte and the ‘War on Drugs’

Along one long wall on the side of Manila’s Baclaran church, visual artist Emil Yap has been working for two years on a mural that depicts the cosmology and history of the Philippines.

Yap collaborates with others on the mural, which uses different sculpture and mosaic techniques. Recently, he trained volunteers who were victims of President Rodrigo Duterte’s declared “War on Drugs” - which is estimated to have led to more than 13,000 killings - to work on the mosaics for several months while seeking refuge in the church.

Yap is among a small but growing number of cultural producers whose work addresses the effects of Duterte’s presidency. Several of these artists seek to involve members of communities most affected by the upsurge in killings - which are mostly in low-income urban neighbourhoods.

Not far from Baclaran Church, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, performance-maker JK Anicoche collaborated with young widows of the drug war to perform Zumba as part of a performance entitled 15 Minutes of Your Time. A response to self-declared drug addicts across Manila being made to participate in mass Zumba sessions as part of their rehabilitation process, the dance-based exercise form now has a somewhat macabre presence in contemporary Philippine life.

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