The Brush, Too, Is Mightier Than The Sword

Zamboanga City – KNOWN for his candid style of painting the plight of the Moro people, particularly in his home province of Sulu, Tausug Zamboangueño painter Rameer A. Tawasil has come back with his furious brush strokes to depict the predicament and the ironic situation of the people in western Mindanao as armed conflicts continue to rear its ugly head here in recent months.

It has been four years since he staged his solo exhibit in 2003. So, Tawasil, 38, whose every work depicts his love for his suffering but proud people, especially their culture, has presented anew several artworks mirroring the violence in the Sulu archipelago in his second solo exhibit dubbed as “Sur” (South). The show formally opened to the public last October 9 at the Ateneo de Zamboanga’s Gallery of the Peninsula and the Archipelago.

“Most of my paintings in this exhibition have social statement. I use my canvass to protest against war. I painted them not because I’m a Muslim, not because as a Mindanaoan or a citizen of this country, but I painted them as citizen of humanity. I hope somewhere between my canvass and my emotions my message will touch you,” he said during the launching.

The Moro painter expressed to PeaceWorks his dismay over the unending war in Mindanao, particularly in Sulu and Basilan, where numbers of Moro civilians have fled their homes due to the hostilities rooted after 10 Marines where beheaded by a terrorist group last July 1.

Like the other people in Mindanao, or throughout the country, he said, he also dreams of a lasting peace in the southern Philippines. “I am a victim of war. I was only five years old when Jolo turned into a bloody battleground between the Tausug mujahedeens and soldiers in early 70’s,” Tawasil recollected.

Because of that experienced, Tawasil said: “Through my paintings, I fight against injustices, corruption, and ultimately for ending the war in Mindanao, because I myself is a victim.”

Tawasil’s colorful pop arts show how the war has filled the island provinces of Sulu and Basilan with ammunitions and several life-threatening gadgets instead of livelihoods and social services.

Entitling it “Mindanao Still (Steel) Life,” the 101.5 centimetre x 80 centimetre mixed media art painting shows native durian and mangosteen are turned into a hand-grenade, an attack helicopter from a dragonfly, and carabaos became tanks and armoured car – and all these were grouped in cubes on the canvass.

“These are what children in Sulu and Basilan are seeing when it is supposed to be in a peaceful environment instead,” he said.

And then there’s the intensely colored set called “ARMm Tricyle,” connoting the regressive living in Sulu. Also, the heart-wrenching painting of women selling “peace” hindered by guns that were stuck by P20 bills in its barrels. “We all know that waging war is costly, and there will be always a touch of corruption.”

The curiously, deliberately unfinished portrait of Moro National Liberation Front chairman and former Muslim Mindanao Governor Nur Miusari hangs forlornly in one corner.

Nung M. Aljani, a Tausug, who was at the exhibit, said the artworks’ messages are “so strong. Looking alone at the paintings you already feel the struggles in which Suluanos and other Moros are trapped,” he told this reporter.

Tawasil is known for his use of the meticulous strokes of “Ukkil” patterns, which has characterized his painting style. Ukkil is a form of carving done even before the Spaniards introduced paintings in the Philippines. I use bright and bold colors to express my emotions, so my curvilinear speaks, creates movement in my work, he explained.

In 1998, Tawasil designed Zamboanga City’s Week of Peace logo, which has become widely popularized and even included in the international collection of peace doves. The dove of peace bears the Muslim and Christian emblems as an expression of harmony. This symbol thrives on the mutual sharing of aspirations and efforts in building a just and peaceful society.

He was also among the artists recognized with an Award Grant from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts to execute works of art on the theme “Peace and War,” a traveling exhibition to major key cities of the Philippines and the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

According to his childhood buddy, Rogelio L. Valesco, Jr. now a city councilor, who chairs the local committee on tourism, Tawasil is also a ecumenical person as can be gleaned from the fact that he painted the new fresco at the altar of the Zamboanga’s St. Joseph Church, depicting a collage of bibilical scenes.

“Every day if you go to the mass there, the work of Rameer are we would view,” he said. Valesco said Tawasil “is really unique and speaks about his own culture, what he saw, his experiences in Sulu, and he is conveying this value, this principle, and this philosophy to us.”

Tawasil believes that art has a powerful role for social change, “Art can be an instrument for social and political change. My art primarily derived of what I feel regarding the social issues our country is facing, especially the Bangsamoro people”, he reiterated.

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