“To be true works of imagination, our works of art should not only reflect our perception of what is, but also our insights into what is to be. We grasp the direction in which they are changing, and imagine the shape of the future.” (A member of Kaisahan)
Pablo Baens Santos (1943- ) is a visual artist and an important figure representing the social realist movement in the Philippines. After studying at the University of the Philippines, College of Fine Arts, he pursued a career as a photographer and an illustrator. Santos worked with a local newspaper company named ‘Manila Times’. His association with the media widened his access to the nation’s social, economic, cultural, and political stories. His interest in these issues is seen through his artworks. Also, his artwork hints about his personal concerns on the negative perception drawn towards artists in society.
The Philippines has a long history of fighting for its independence which led to revolutionary actions. During the dictatorship of former president Ferdinand Marcos (1917-1989) and his declaration for the Martial law in 1972, society’s anger due to oppression needed to be expressed. Art was available and used in this regard. Pablo Santo founded Kaisahan, meaning ‘to be one’, a group in 1976 which gathered other artists together with the goal to revolt for democratic freedom. Introduced to Protest Art, the people demonstrated images of the nation’s suffering militants from the war and colonization. Protest art isn’t “meant to save Filipinos from their suffering, but it did shed light on what was truly happening to the people.” (Baylon, 2009) The Kaisahan was the Philippines' first social realist art movement.
Protest Art was combined with popular art, such as comics, murals, and posters made art accessible to everyone, not just the wealthy. Santos wanted to accentuate that art creates meaningful, interpretive and collaborative involvement. The Kaisahan group provided lectures and art workshops. This permitted space and time for the exchange of knowledge and experiences. There was an emphasis on personal and cooperative interaction to portray these social conflicts and realities in their truest form. This gave the people the power of expression.
On December 6th, 1976, the Kaisahan group established a manifesto with collective knowledge and thoughts on how to define political art in the country. It was shared at their exhibition ‘Truth, Relevance, Contemporary’ at the Ayala Museum. Their mission of constructing and reconstructing their national identity by removing themselves from Western dependence is displayed through the various art forms from the members. Artists acknowledged the hardships of the past, represented the conflicts of their present and illustrated the hopeful future by commemorating the positive unity of their nation.
- Baylon, J. (2009). The Power of the Brush: Protest Art in the Philippines (1st in a series) [Blog]. Retrieved from [link]
- De Leon, P. (2018). Pablo Baen Santos, Antipas Delotavo, & Renato Habulan: On the aftermath of conflict | Philstar.com. Retrieved from [link]
- Flores, P. (2016). Social Realism: The Turns of a Term in the Philippines. Retrieved from [link]
- Guillermo, Alice. Protest/Revolutionary Art in the Philippines 1970-1990. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2001. Print Lack, J. (2017). Why are we 'artists'?. Penguin Modern Classics.
Contributed by: Ashley Asuncion-Morales
KEYWORDS: Liberation Arts, Protest Arts, Manifesto, Kaisahan Art Group
Photo by Bernard Testa, InterAksyon