Zuzuarregui Street is one of the busiest tributaries of Commonwealth Avenue but should be a fairly sleepy residential area otherwise. It also looks like it’s becoming a canvas for the country’s street artists. In late 2015, Ang Gerilya completed “Reporma X Rebolusyon,” featuring Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio. Interesting characters are also painted on the side of a house by the entrance to St. Joseph Compound.
“Suong Sulong” by Archie Oclos is the latest artwork unveiled in the area. Drive down the street and the sight of a yellow wall–which is in stark contrast to the mostly gray surroundings–will jump out at you, prompting you to slow down to see what’s on display or even pull over for a closer look. What you’ll see are nine carabaos, all of them looking determined to make their way through yellow neck-deep floodwaters, with one carabao facing the other way and probably yelling defiance at its current situation.
It’s very much in tune with what Oclos generally likes to feature in his art. He says, “Madalas na mga subjects ng works ko eh mga magsasaka, working classes, mga katutubo natin, at ayun nga mga kalabaw.” (My subjects are usually farmers, the working class, our various ethnic groups, and carabaos.) But the use of carabaos in his art is not just borne out of whimsy. Oclos further explains, “Merong malalim pang mga kahulugan yan. (Itong) mga kalabaw (ay) tumutukoy sa ating identity bilang Pilipino na merong pagkilos na ginagawa.” (It has a deeper meaning. The carabaos represent our identity as Filipinos taking action.)
“Suong Sulong” was commissioned by Canvas Gallery, who contacted Oclos to create a mural for their wall. The UP Fine Arts graduate and former concept artist for a gaming company readily accepted the challenge, completing the mural over a period of three days and focusing particularly on making sure that the colors and brushstrokes evoke a natural mood.
For “Suong Sulong,” Oclos took inspiration from the famous resilience of Filipinos in the face of natural disasters. But he adds a different perspective as well: “Pwede ring tingnan na ‘go against the flow’ yung concept bilang may isang kalabaw na tinatahak niya yung direksyon na sa tingin niyang kakayanin niya, merong pagtitiwala sa sarili na malalampasan niya ang mga pagsubok sa buhay.” (You can say it also shows the idea of going against the flow, as you can see in the carabao that’s going its own way, believing that it can overcome any challenge in life.)
Oclos particularly enjoys doing street art, as he says it affords him the freedom to express the ideas that he wants to impart. It’s not without its challenges, of course. “Actually, mahirap yung street art kasi exposed ka sa polusyon, ingay, at init ng araw, o kaya naman biglang uulan. At dahil din sa mga circumstances na yan, kinakailangan ding bilisan yung pagpinta o mas pinapraktis din yung speed sa pagpipinta. Siyempre yung quality rin ng output eh mahalaga.” (Actually, street art is hard because you’re exposed to pollution, noise, the heat of the sun, or a sudden downpour. That’s why you have to learn to work quickly. But of course, the quality of your output should also be a key consideration.) Nevertheless, he says he finds joy in it and sees it as his contribution to society, being his way to make art more accessible to people.