A pop of colors greets travellers and homebound residents to the island of San Miguel, a fishing community off the eastern shores of Tabaco City in Albay. The mural artworks painted by Tabakkurit artists have transformed the otherwise dull and plain walls of the Philippine Ports Authority into exciting, engaging, and feel-good Instagrammable spots.
In November 2020, San Miguel Island was devasted by the 315 kph Super Typhoon Rolly. Hundreds were homeless; infrastructure destroyed; fishing boats wrecked. No water and power for almost four long months.
Community art murals have been positively linked with social, cultural, economic, and health benefits. These public artworks are the examples of the “broken window theory” in reverse – a well-cared for community enhances peace and development and improves quality of life.
It is for this reason that the City Government of Tabaco engaged 28 Tabakkurit artists to use the 90-meter long PPA wall at the Maritime Complex as their canvas.
Tabakkurit – The Art Within Tabaqueños, composed of 100 amateur local painters, sketchers, and illustrators officially became a group on January 10, 2020. Most of their members met in competitions and art exhibits. The group’s name was coined from two Bicolano words: Tabak, which means bolo or machete, and Kurit or guhit in Tagalog, which means to draw or to sketch.
“It was a dream project for me”, says April Joy Bronia, a member of Tabak Kurit. The 19-year-old Mining Engineering student turned her hobby into an opportunity to earn extra income through commissioned art works.
The wall paintings depicted some of Tabaco City’s finest products – tabak, banig (mat), the famous pili nut (java almond), and the padyak or pedicab, the most common means of transportation of locals. These mural artworks are akin to the sun peeking through clouds after a terrible storm even as they inspire faith, hope, and love.
This is part of the determined efforts of the city government to rehabilitate and rebuild communities after the typhoon and the ravages wrought by present COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was excited to be invited to showcase my talent. The designs were simple and I knew it was going to be an easy job. But as I worked with my fellow artists, the artwork came to life. It was so powerful and transformational! I did not know that we had it within us to create art so visually appealing and so emotionally moving”, narrates Ross Abby Corral, Tabbakurit Vice President.
Tabaco City Mayor Krisel Lagman witnessed not only the transformation of the walls but also of the artists themselves as she visited them almost daily for a week. She says: “More than the physical changes, I believe that the true measure of development is human development. I am truly amazed how much talent is locally available just waiting for confirmation and inspiration.”
These murals bring art into the public sphere because they are accessible to everyone – young and old, rich or poor, and they increase appreciation of both the arts and artists. But more importantly, community murals are instrumental in telling Tabaco City’s unique story and showcasing its colorful heritage.
One striking mural design is “Love Conquers All”, inspired by the biblical passage Proverbs 10:12. It depicts two people kissing with their colorful masks on portraying unwavering love despite all odds.
Always hopeful, Tabaco City – the Asian City of Love – heralds the coming of the sun amidst this challenging season of our lives.