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Filipino Workers’ Lives in Paintings by Antipas ‘Biboy’ Delotavo

"Itak sa Puso ni Mang Juan" (Dagger at the Heart of Mang Juan). Watercolor on Paper, 1978

“Itak sa Puso ni Mang Juan” (Dagger at the Heart of Mang Juan). Watercolor on Paper, 1978. Republished with permission.

In honor of International Labor Day, Global Voices is featuring several paintings that portray the situation of Filipino workers.

Antipas “Biboy” Delotavo is a popular Filipino visual artist who has committed his art to revealing some of the harsh realities experienced by ordinary individuals in Philippine society. Aligned with other social realists who exposed the dark side of the dictatorship in the 1970s, Biboy continues to produce paintings that enlighten the public about the impact of poverty, oppression, and injustice in the country.

One of his most famous works featured an old laborer walking in front of a logo of a transnational company (see the photo above). Some critics describe it as “crucifixion of the proletariat by a harsh capitalist system.”

Asked by Global Voices about his inspiration, Biboy said:

Most great art emanates from pleasant positive spirit which is uplifting that inspires it. My art seems to contradict it. Social burden initiates it and I seek relief by painting it. I’m not sure if it’s inspiration. I think it’s more of a responsibility as a social being with a conscience.

This is Biboy’s advice to young artists:

What you create as an artist reveals what you are. If you paint solely for money or otherwise it will surely show it. Sincerity, conviction, passion and talent are always the ingredients of enduring works of an artist.

This painting captures the mass exodus of Filipino workers. There are 12 million Filipinos working overseas, who have left behind their friends and families.

Diaspora Oil on Canvas, 2007

Diaspora. Oil on Canvas, 2007. Republished with permission.

Art scholar Patrick D. Flores says of this the painting:

They are facing a horizon that seems to be a dis-place, but their strides are decisive, their load roots them to their ground, and they are resolute in “being there” and disappearing into a depth. Are they coming or going? Are they in a vast terminal in the airport or on the tarmac to catch their flight or have they arrived?

The Philippines has a large population of informal workers like the street vendors who are often harassed and abused by authorities.

Bawal Hanapbuhay (No Vendors Allowed) Watercolor, 1978

Bawal Hanapbuhay (No Vendors Allowed). Watercolor, 1978. Republished with permission.

There is a wide income disparity between the rural and urban regions. Many farmers experience chronic poverty that forces them to migrate to urban areas.

Oil on Canvas, 2012

Oil on Canvas, 2012. Republished with permission.

An art critic described this piece as a reminder of “the false benevolence accorded to Filipinos more than 100 years ago by American invaders, effects of which still plague us today.” The Philippines was a colony of the United States from 1898 to 1946.

Lead White Oil on Canvas, 2011

Lead White. Oil on Canvas, 2011. Republished with permission.

War games between Philippine and American troops became more frequent during the so-called “War on Terror” after the September 11 attack in New York City.

America Gave Us John Wayne Oil on Canvas, 2003

America Gave Us John Wayne. Oil on Canvas, 2003. Republished with permission.

This painting is described by a critic as an allusion to the “embarrassments of affluence resting on a tattered Philippine flag.”

Steal Life Oil on Canvas, 2008

Steal Life. Oil on Canvas, 2008. Republished with permission.

All images by Antipas “Biboy” Delotavo are republished here with permission.

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