By Giselle P. Kasilag
ARGUABLY the most iconic symbol of the country, the jeepney has been depicted by every significant Filipino artist in poetry, film, stage, song, and canvas. Visual artist Edwin Wilwayco is no exception. Ongoing until July 31 at Artes Orientes gallery is “Jeepney Unicus,” his third exhibition that focuses on what has been dubbed as the “King of the Road.”
His first crack at the theme was in 1978 with an exhibit at the Ayala Museum entitled “Jeepney Fantasia.” The approach was jazzy in style with the elements deconstructed — from the fender to the ubiquitous sampaguita lei hanging on the mirror.
It took 40 years before he revisited the theme with an exhibit entitled “Jeepney Sinfonia.” The show stemmed from his interest in the Disney full-length animated film, Cars, which featured various vehicles ranging from cars to tow trucks. It tickled his imagination and made him wonder what it would look like if a garage of jeepneys would come to life at night when humans are asleep.
Returning to the theme five years later, his jeepneys still contain the fantasy elements that people have come to know and love. But this time, he introduced a twist. Rather than just focusing on the form, he makes a commentary on the government’s efforts to modernize the beloved vehicle.
For “Jeepney Unicus,” the vehicle is turned sideways and depicted in motion. Thus, the colorful elements such as stickers and painted designs become a blur and serve as the speed lines. The outline of the jeepneys are recognizable but represented in movement, it appears to be fading into the distance. His signature swirls, drips, and thick layers of paint, reined in by stark, straight geometric elements, dominate the canvas.
“The signature of the jeep is the sideview,’ Mr. Wilwayco told BusinessWorld. “Kahit bali-baliin mo (Even if you manipulate it)! Together with the ornaments, even if you crop the jeepney, it will still be recognizable as a jeepney.”
He likened it to classic cars such as the Ford Mustang and the Volkswagen Beetle. Succeeding iterations may have modifications in terms of size and features but the design elements that make them unique and recognizable are always retained. That, he noted, is what appears to be lacking in the design of the supposedly modernized versions of the jeepney which look more like mini buses.
“Para bang (It’s like) they don’t read history,” he said. “To modernize, I think they should still retain iyung look ng kinalakihan nating jeepney (the look of the jeepney that we grew up with). The only thing they can modernize is the engine. Then make it comfortable for commuters like adding an aircon. And it needs to be proportionately done.”
Admittedly, it has been over 20 years since he last rode a jeep. His daughter was so fascinated with the colorful vehicle that he decided to take her for a ride and experience it herself. He did so without telling his wife whom he knew would be worried about the pair riding the open vehicle that has very few safety features.
But the jeepney was a staple in his youth. As a Fine Arts student at the University of the Philippines, he would ride the iconic ikot jeeps to get around the campus.
“Malayo pa lang, tinitingnan ko if I can hear the sounds. Led Zepellin iyung mga boom-boom ng jeep noong araw! Tapos makikita mo iyung naka-stack iyung eight-track sa harap! Palalampasin ko iyung jeepney kung alam kong walang music. Kahit ma-late ako ng konti, pero gusto ko talaga iyung may sounds. Led Zeppelin, The Who, Beatles, nararamdaman mo iyung bass sa upuan (Even from afar, I’d try to see if I could hear the sounds. The jeeps would be booming Led Zeppelin back then! Then you would see the stack of eight-tracks in front! I would really let jeepneys pass if they didn’t have sounds. Even if I’m late, I’d really wait for the ones with sounds. Led Zeppelin, The Who, Beatles, you can feel the bass on the seats,”) he reminisced.
The fear that the jeepney of his youth will completely disappear is real. Having spent the better part of the global lockdown due to the pandemic in the US, he came home to the streets of Manila devoid of jeepneys. The King of the Road was sidelined and routes were suspended to discourage people from leaving their homes and spreading the COVID virus.
With the country now fully opened, the jeepneys have returned, along with the traffic they are often associated with. While the final decision regarding the modernization is still being debated over, Mr. Wilwayco will continue to enjoy the traditional jeepney’s colors and draw inspiration from its unique features to create masterpieces worthy to be described as unicus or one of a kind.