RESBAK! Exhibit: Art as Resistance Against the Drug Killings in the Philippines

May 6, 2024
RESBAK! Exhibit: Art as Resistance Against the Drug Killings in the Philippines
Paghilom Children by Raffy Lerma. Program Paghilom's (meaning "healing") enables widows, orphans, family members, and communities of extrajudicial killing survivors to heal and rebuild their lives. It is a community-based project under Father Flavie Villanueva, who organizes the "AJ Kalinga Foundation," a psycho-spiritual center for unhoused people and survivors of the "war on drugs."

The Philippines has been subject to intense scrutiny due to President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial war on drugs, which led to a surge of extrajudicial killings. The SUNY/CUNY Southeast Asia Consortium (SEAC), a Luce Foundation grantee led by Dr. Meredith Weiss is working to raise awareness of this pressing issue through the RESBAK! Arts & Resistance Against the Drug Killings in the Philippines exhibit. 

The RESBAK! exhibit, curated by Jaclyn Reyes, a PhD student and SEAC Fellow, and hosted at the City College of New York's Downtown Campus from April 17 to June 2024, is part of SEAC's consortium launch. The exhibition explores the societal impact of drug-related killings, particularly on the children left behind. It aims to foster critical dialogue and advocate for justice.  

In an accompanying video, Jaclyn Reyes discusses the motivations behind the RESBAK exhibit, offering insights into its content and objectives. She also shares her approach to curation.

Luce Foundation: Can you briefly explain the background of the drug killings? 

Jaclyn Reyes: The drug killings began with President Rodrigo Duterte's term in 2016, but his approach to handling crime dates back to his time as mayor of Davao City. The killings were perceived as targeting people with low incomes. 

Luce Foundation: What is RESBAK?

Jaclyn Reyes: RESBAK (RESpond and Break the Silence Against the Killings) is an interdisciplinary alliance of artists, media practitioners, and cultural workers. The primary goal of RESBAK is to advance social awareness concerning the killings brought forth by the Duterte administration's "war on drugs." "Resbak" is a slang term for gathering reinforcements to get even with someone who did something wrong. Through various art forms and platforms, RESBAK seeks to give voice to and empower the most vulnerable sectors targeted by the state-endorsed killings. The RESBAK! exhibit aims to raise awareness and hold the government accountable for these actions. We highlight the human impact by working closely with affected families, focusing on the need for reparative justice for Filipinos. 

Luce Foundation: What can visitors expect at the exhibition? When and where is it launching?

Jaclyn Reyes: The exhibition, curated with three RESBAK members, will showcase photojournalism that is mindful of not sensationalizing violence. We'll provide context on political and social aspects, display social programs, and offer a timeline of significant events during Duterte's presidency alongside grassroots responses. A participatory wall installation will encourage reflection, and there will be film screenings, including karaoke-style videos and a PSA disguised as a beauty pageant. Expert-led discussions will delve into Philippine film history and grassroots organizing.

Luce Foundation: What do you hope the audience gains from this exhibition?

Jaclyn Reyes: We aim for a multifaceted impact. Through education and action, we hope to raise awareness, advocate for justice through transnational avenues like the International Criminal Court, and create deeper engagement with Filipino policies, particularly among local Filipinos in the community.


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