IT was one rainy Saturday that saw the opening of an art exhibit mounted by Baguio artists in People’s Park, just a few meters away from the Baguio Public Market. Despite all its historic, cultural and community significance, the Baguio Public Market is now facing the specter of privatization, with real-estate giants vying to “develop” the Public Market under a private-public partnership program.
The residents of Baguio and members of the community and civil society have consistently voiced out their clarion opposition to the target privatization of the market. The public art exhibit in People’s Park is yet another iteration of this resounding resistance, this time coming mostly from the artists and creatives.
Through installation of various materials—paintings, photographs, old posters and old newspaper front pages, among others – the exhibition affirms the richness of symbolic associations with the Market. These associations are rooted in concrete experiences and social history, positing just how deeply imbricated, and thus significant is the Public Market in Baguio’s history.
Leonard Aguinaldo’s rubber cut work captures the danger engulfing the Public Market. In the big letters of “Add to Cart,” the Ts resemble an arrow, the gesture of pointing meaningful in at least two ways. Recalling the consumerist gesture in the phrase that has become familiar with the rise of online shopping, the words “Add to Cart” suggest how the logic of commercialization threatens to engulf the Public Market. The several arrows similarly pointing to the Baguio Market within the frame visually corroborate this point. Occupying the frame’s center, someone is shown biking, wearing duplicitous faces and a sardonic snigger, as if like the private conglomerates trying to get away with the privatization bid.
Part of Rocky Cajigan’s “Ayuda series” also finds itself in the exhibit: recognizable items like fish, broccoli, eggplant and what I am guessing to be big, long okras jut out from the plastic bags containing them. The visual excess can be read in a number of ways. Within the artwork’s frame, what protrudes announces what can possibly jar the viewer. Is that not how we commonly react with comparable forms of overflow, of paglampas, of pagsobra?—we refill drinking water and we tsk when the water overflows; we cook soup and it proves challenging when the liquid shoots up from the cooking bowl. An irony is possibly being cued as well: with their meagerness and transience, forms of ayuda can be rendered excessive only in these imaginative ways. Or finally, how these forms of aid cannot be the end-all of social support in the thick of the pandemic, how other forms of community collaboration must be fostered in the face of a feckless, fumbling government.
Reusing a photo from the 2012 Markets of Resistance, Andy Zapata Jr., mobilizes the power of memory, documentation and the archives—whether personal, community-based or institutional.
Organized several years back, Markets of Resistance was aimed to “resist the way [how[ art as a business is functioning.” The past event banked on the idea and living function of the public market as a place for brimming interactions—primarily commerce and trade but also involving community-building and creativity. In resurfacing a photo from a previous event, photographer Zapata, Jr. can be said to reaffirm and revive as well the logic that underpinned the first Markets of Resistance.
Years after, “resistance” is invoked again, this time taking part not just in an event’s title but in the overall spirit of a series of actions.
Memory can be weaponized for resistance as it implies the depth—historical, social—surrounding an object, an event, a place. The historical and heritage values attributed to the Public Market build on this idea, and in the exhibition, these valuations are shown in the reproduction of old documents (Image 3) related to, or signages (Image 4) in the Market.
When people turn nostalgic in relation to the giant mall in Luneta Hill, they usually think of what it was before, how the space used to be better with the trees and the old hotel and the overall hilly privileging of the natural over the artificial. How can one be properly nostalgic about this giant mall when it has been there for barely two decades? Thus, the fond recollections of what used to be in the place of the locally unpopular, if not aptly discredited giant mall can be read as both necessary and resistant. Nostalgia applies to the giant mall mostly in the negative sense: what it erased and brought to closure, what is no longer there.
In contrast, the same lack of veritable, positive nostalgia does not apply to the Public Market. As the two reproductions show, the Public Market teems with history—the usual fluctuations of monetary denominations, destructive accidents and the implied efforts to rebuild what has been razed. Thus, pointing to the fire that previously “destroy[ed]” the Market is valuable not just as a historical resource but also as an index of the community rebuilding left unspoken.
For the discerning audience can ponder: since a destructive fire tore down portions of the Market decades ago, as this periodical archive attests to, then the Market everyone goes to now is one that has been founded, perhaps literally, on the ashes of portions razed by fire. The Market has seen large fire, an earthquake and other accidents or calamities before, and yet here it is: still standing at present, home to the lively interactions of the Baguio community, its residents and tourists. Further, the rich history surrounding the market do not yet include the diurnal and mundane yet meaningful interactions of people, the formation of vendor-suki relationships, the livelihoods supported by this public place.
This is the richness that can be lost if the Public Market is “developed” and privatized. Many sectors, including the creatives, in the local community tirelessly express their opposition—in multiple forms and sustained actions. All these only testify to the precious role the Public Market plays not just in Baguio’s history, but also its present.