VENAZIR Martinez first painted the walls of Baguio City when she was in her last year as a Fine Arts student at the University of the Philippines.
Her mural at the Military Cut-Off Road of Cordilleran women in their regal fineries was her thesis. She graduated cum laude, won Best Thesis Production, and the Darnay Demetillo Artist Award.
She had since received commissions from private and public institutions. But her love remains to be Baguio City and its streets.
And so she was ecstatic when the National Commission on Culture and the Arts gave her a grant for her to continue painting the walls of Baguio.
The new mural would be the continuation of her Hila-Bana project which she started four years ago. Hila-bana comes from the Tagalog word “hilbana” meaning a stitch used as temporary fastening, so hila meaning pull means pulling the stitch. For her NCCA project, she would have the people in her mural connected by a red string pulled out from their clothes. Her figures would be eight-feet-tall and she was given the walls beside Caltex station in Marcoville as her canvas.
But only a few days after starting her mural, her work was maliciously vandalized. Some said it was tagging as they saw some gangster signs and tags among the scribbles.
But tagging means protecting your turf. You tag only on empty spaces. If you tag on the previous tag of another gangster, you are asking for war.
What the vandal did was not tagging. It was simply to deface the work. It lunged at the clothes and faces of the figures.
Venazir admitted to have been in lonely suffering after what happened. She went to visit the mural and had no strength to move further. She studied the signs and googled it. In fact, she even found the culprit through Instagram.
The suspect, a 27-year-old local thug from Marcoville, was a skateboarder and looked like it with tattoos on his neck and face.
The police said that his neighbors had pointed to him as the vandal. A meeting was set up at the barangay hall between him and Venazir. He appeared forlorn and Venazir did the unthinkable — she forgave him and said that she was willing to collaborate with him.
Belmar Badua, the suspect, said that he was a street artist. He said that he collaborated with other street artists in some “respectable” works in Session Road. But these same artists said that he had also bullied them..
Venazir said that this is one vengeful aspect of street art.
But what had she done for her work to be vandalized? She did not even belong to a gang.
We see it as a misogynistic act. The vandal knew the artist was a woman who would rather work alone.
This was his way of threatening her, to put her down, destroy her.
Baguio already lacks women artists and the few who have made it were never street artists. It was a courageous thing for Venazir to be one. Unfortunately, there are thugs like Badua out to destroy her path.
He had been wisely called out on social media: Do not destroy the work of your fellow street artists.
Venazir’s act of kindness may be praiseworthy but it is also a cry for help.
How can we protect her and her works in this city built on destroying every work of beauty – from pine trees to old buildings? How indeed?