Philippine ‘jeepney’ artists stalked by extinction

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Jeepney artist Vic Capuno, based in San Pablo town south of Manila, now paint just three of four of the public transport vehicles a month after demand has fallen. (AFP)
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Jeepney artist Vic Capuno, based in San Pablo town south of Manila, now paint just three of four of the public transport vehicles a month after demand has fallen. (AFP)
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Jeepneys, hand-painted with custom images of everything from Batman to babies, as well as disco lights and chrome wheels, have for decades provided cheap transport for millions. (AFP)
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Jeepneys, hand-painted with custom images of everything from Batman to babies, as well as disco lights and chrome wheels, have for decades provided cheap transport for millions. (AFP)
Updated 28 January 2019

Philippine ‘jeepney’ artists stalked by extinction

  • ‘This is an act of treachery against fellow Filipinos’
  • Jeepneys are highly polluting, and the Philippines is desperate to improve air quality in its traffic-clogged cities

MANILA: Bernardo de la Cruz casts his eyes around the nearly silent workshop where he used to toil overtime hand-painting custom decor on jeepneys, the singularly Philippine minibuses facing the scrapheap.
These rolling art galleries adorned with images of everything from Batman to babies, as well as disco lights and chrome wheels, have for decades provided cheap transport for millions.
But pollution and safety concerns have led to a modernization program, with jeepneys 15 years or older to be taken off the streets by 2020.
“This is an act of treachery against fellow Filipinos,” said de la Cruz. “This is a uniquely Filipino product. We were born with it.”
When he began 45 years ago, there were hundreds of artists giving the vehicles their famously boisterous paint jobs. Now there are estimated to be fewer than a dozen left.
He has seen orders decline from a high of up to 80 a month in the 1980s to just one or two now.
His canvas is being replaced by eco-jeepneys, powered by electricity or lower-polluting diesel motors.
Riders of old jeepneys currently have to climb in through a hatch in the rear, cramming into the benches inside with no respite from the heat and roadside pollution.
The jeepney’s successor is being billed as a big improvement.
It has doors, individual seats, air-conditioning, and enough height to stand up.
But it will be mass-produced and look just like a public bus.
Skipping over the jeepney’s bespoke production process in small workshops means a loss of the individual style and flair that made them global symbols of the Philippines.
“It’s one of the most genuine forms of modern folk art that we have,” Bernie Sim, a Manila-based graphic designer and co-author of a 2014 book on jeepney art, said.
French fashion designer Christian Louboutin launched a jeepney-themed handbag collection last year, while Swedish furniture giant Ikea painted a jeepney in its signature blue and yellow to announce plans to open a Philippine store.

But the vehicles, which were first made from leftover US jeeps after World War II, have been on borrowed time for years.
Jeepneys are highly polluting, and the Philippines is desperate to improve air quality in its traffic-clogged cities.
Their drivers are also notorious for ignoring traffic rules, and the vehicles have few safety features.
On top of that, Manila ushered in Internet-based ride-sharing services in 2014, and three years later President Rodrigo Duterte said the jeepney must evolve or disappear.
“They have all but stopped making jeepneys,” said 52-year-old jeepney artist Vic Capuno, based in San Pablo town south of Manila.
As a result, he and a colleague at Armak Motors now paint just three of four jeepneys a month.
De la Cruz worked on nine in the last year. He’s the only painter left at Manila’s Sarao Motors, once the country’s biggest producer.
Two of his siblings were also jeepney artists, but they died from diseases he believes were caused by years inhaling fumes from the paint.
Yet he is still passionate about the vehicle’s importance in Philippine history.
“When the jeepney disappears a piece of Filipino culture will also die,” de la Cruz warned.
A self-taught painter, he was inspired by the work of renowned local artists such Carlos Francisco and Fernando Amorsolo.
His jeepney designs, still seen on the streets for now, chronicle the rapidly changing landscape of his home — Las Pinas — from a farming and salt-making backwater into a highly urbanized area.
“It’s a pleasing sight. It brings us back to a time and place that is no more,” said de la Cruz.
After raising four children on the pay earned painting, he now also creates canvases and makes storefront signs as a sideline.
He conceded he could have a decent life without the jeepneys, but was heartbroken by the government’s decision.
“I would like to appeal to the authorities not to outlaw it,” de la Cruz said. “At times I cry quietly when I think about what is happening.”


Man eats $120,000 piece of art — a banana taped to wall

Updated 08 December 2019

Man eats $120,000 piece of art — a banana taped to wall

MIAMI: The move was bananas ... or maybe the work was just too appealing.
A performance artist shook up the crowd at the Art Basel show in Miami Beach on Saturday when he grabbed a banana that had been duct-taped to a gallery wall and ate it.
The banana was, in fact, a work of art by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan titled “Comedian” and sold to a French collector for $120,000.
In a video posted on his Instagram account, David Datuna, who describes himself as a Georgian-born American artist living in New York, walks up to the banana and pulls it off the wall with the duct tape attached.
“Art performance ... hungry artist,” he said, as he peeled the fruit and took a bite. “Thank you, very good.”
A few bystanders could be heard giggling before a flustered gallery official whisked him to an adjoining space for questioning.
But the kerfuffle was resolved without a food fight.
“He did not destroy the art work. The banana is the idea,” Lucien Terras, director of museum relations for Galerie Perrotin, told the Miami Herald.
As it turns out, the value of the work is in the certificate of authenticity, the newspaper said. The banana is meant to be replaced.
A replacement banana was taped to the wall about 15 minutes after Datuna’s stunt.
“This has brought a lot of tension and attention to the booth and we’re not into spectacles,” Terras said. “But the response has been great. It brings a smile to a lot of people’s faces.”
Cattelan is perhaps best known for his 18-carat, fully functioning gold toilet called “America” that he had once offered on loan to US President Donald Trump.
The toilet, valued at around $5 to $6 million, was in the news again in September when it was stolen from Britain’s Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of wartime leader Winston Churchill, where it had been on display.