One Sto. Niño wears punk-rock booties; another has a cigarette in his hand. This comical contrast is what Bru Sim and Marcus Nada, the duo behind Electrolychee, find on jeepneys whizzing around the Luzon area. They collected the images of religious jeepney art for four years, and put it all together in an art book. Biyaheng Langit: Jeepney Folk Art is a visual assemblage of rainbow-colored renditions of classical religious icons.
“When we spotted the image of a haughty-looking Christ on a speeding jeep in 2010, his visage amused us so much that we have been searching for Smirking Jesus’s cheeky mug ever since. What was initially a tickled fancy grew into an obsession to preserve this oft–taken-for-granted form of Philippine popular art.”
The couple was able to gather 184 images of different types of Jesuses, Mother Marys, Sacred Hearts, and Sto. Niños. It is a collection that is just as amusing as it is revealing. Imagine finding the same Jesus but with a variety of hair color, or Mother Mary wearing an array of embellished veils. We see these images every day in the course of our lives, but have never thought about them as a contemporary folk art form, one that is uniquely our own. “For jeepney art in general, it’s bound to reflect fleeting popular culture. Most Filipinos modernize it without looking back on the past, so our identity gets very muddled. Wala nang classics, always, ‘New, new, new.’ That’s why it’s important to preserve our past, or at the very least, keep its outer shell.”
These pious images placed in strange contexts, appearing in all types of neon colors, adorned with Pinoy elements and plastered on the sides of public transportation, are analyzed by Bru and Marcus, who make an extra effort in the book to try to understand the origin of the art and ground it in history, considering that the art, though very Pinoy, is overlaid with a colonial mindset. They discover what these religious images mean to a typical jeepney driver or artist, and conclude that it goes far deeper than just saying “because Mary looks good in red.”
“These renditions are religious devotions. We find urban animism fascinating. It helped us understand who the Pinoy is from an anthropological standpoint,” say the authors. “These devotions help people relate to Papa G. That’s why the Nazareno, for example, is so popular because his persona suffers with the majority of Filipinos, naghihirap din siya, and we’ve been relating to that ever since the Spanish occupation when the indios were so belittled.”
Biyaheng Langit is that important cultural document — part art, part kitsch — that we’ve been waiting for, and it’s available in select bookstores for P850. It elevates a unique cultural practice into a form of art, and pursues the possible reasons behind it. You’ll leave the book with something a little bit more than just a valid reason to laugh at the bench-pressing Jesus.
Check https://www.facebook.com/JeepneyBiyahengLangit for more information.