In solidarity with the global call for climate justice, Artist AG Saño along with his brother Yeb Saño and fellow climate advocates have embarked on a Climate Walk in the Philippines. The Walk began October 2nd (The International Day for Non-Violence) and ends today November 8th – after walking more than 800km to at ‘ground zero’ in Tacloban City – marking the first anniversary of super Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan. AG Saño was in Tacloban when the typhoon made landfall – read his story and how he is using art to heal his community…
How did you come to be known as The Dolphin Man and Whale Boy?
I was part of the original WWF-Philippines humpback whale research and conservation program that lasted from year 2000-2007. After which, the core group of volunteers continued the research as an independent undertaking. My photographs of whales and my long-term stint in the research earned me the nickname Whale Boy.
The reference to dolphins came about when I started a campaign to support the movie THE COVE by painting 23,000 dolphins in public walls to pay tribute to the captured/slaughtered dolphins.
You have been painting large wall murals – including the longest Peace Mural (4km long) and the tallest mural in the Philippines (30 meters high). How do you prepare to begin the planning of such a huge endeavor?
The conception of the idea started with a random imagination. I have been doing peace missions in conflict areas of southern Philippines by teaching drawing and conducting peace murals in schools. When I went home to Manila one day, I passed by a regular route and realized the walls of the Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had been gathering dirt and vandalism, so I thought maybe I could ask the AFP leadership if they could host graffiti artists by letting them paint on their long walls.
After getting their approval, I worked with an NGO in planning and conducting the mural. The AFP also had their Civil Relations Group who supported us all the way. First, we invited artists for a brainstorming session and then we scheduled a workshop where the participants contributed their ideas and sketches that eventually led to the design of the first wall (EDSA wall). We assigned lead artists from the pool of volunteers to facilitate the painting session. They were given certain portions of the first wall (1.2 km) and a certain number of volunteer painters to guide.
For the tallest mural, we were painting a mural on the wall of a local preschool in the area called Kiddie Toes Montessori School (KTMS) when we saw the giant concrete water tank. When I asked the owner of KTMS if they knew who to ask approval from, if I would paint the tank, and they immediately said yes. it took us 3 years to plan and raise funds and get approvals for the project. The team was composed of volunteers from Dolphins Love Freedom (my group) and KT staff .
We collaborated with an elite mountaineering group based in Isabela province called Northwind Outdoor Recreation Club (NORC) to make the project possible. Safety was the primary concern since the artists were expected to paint high up.
KTMS and their friends took care of the logistics and permits while NORC worked out the safety plan. The city council supported the project and helped out in other aspects.
The Santiago Water District approved of the project and gave us all out support and joined us in the design concept preparations.
DLF looked for sponsors for the paint and other painting materials. After brainstorming for the design concept, we came up with the theme of Environmental preservation while paying tribute to Indigenous People of the region. The idea of “looking up” and “looking back” to mother nature and the IP’s came about.
How do you make possible and facilitate the participatory mural painting opportunities and how much does community engagement influence the process?
As far as the actual painting is concerned, most of the time, I paint the outlines and let everyone else color the spaces, similar to what a coloring book presents.
99% of the wall is painted by the community which is the entire essence of the process.
How do you and the volunteers celebrate the completion of a mural?
In most cases, I don’t get to celebrate with the community anymore because of the need to move on to the next destination. So FB plays a big part in the post mural event celebration. We remain connected through cyberspace.
The majority of your work depicts sea life but there are also people portrayed in your artwork (for example on ArtATank). Who are they or whom do they represent?
The people in the Art A Tank project depicts the Indigenous People of Isabela. The Gaddangs were the first inhabitants of the region who tilled the land and made the province productive. They cared for mother nature and lived in harmony with it. We wanted the new generation to rediscover their roots by painting the Gaddang family and making them the highlight of the giant mural.
You were in Tacloban last year when Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck the Philippines. This disaster caused devastation to your country. You survived and help with the relief efforts. How did you cope with such an intense experience in the aftermath of such a tragedy?
Surviving the storm, was one of the easy parts, if you’d have to compare it to how things went the following days. It is not normal to see dead bodies out of a casket. So to see hundreds of them, knowing they were alive just a few minutes before, is indescribable. Finding a way home was one of the big challenges that I faced in that tragedy. For 3 straight weeks, I had nightmares-images of Tacloban kept on haunting me. I’d find myself waking up crying in the early mornings thinking I was still there. Until now, almost a year after ST Haiyan, I never slept with the lights off.
It is through the help of some people who are familiar with trauma cases that I got through with the grief. Continuing relief and psycho social missions for the victims/ survivors helped me cope too. But ultimately, my faith in God restored my sanity and my constant mural sessions proved therapeutic.
Your brother, Yeb Saño who is the United Nations Climate Commissioner, has repeatedly addressed the United Nations and the world pleading to stop the madness of the climate crisis and to take action on climate change now. What does taking action on Climate Change and Climate Justice mean to you and for your country?
For me, Science explains everything. But as it had been for most of human history, most People, Governments and even churches rarely listen to Science. For me taking action means listening to what Science has to say.
As far as Climate justice is concerned, My country, along with the rest of the developing and vulnerable countries, can only achieve this if the developed countries will pay for the damage they have caused to the environment and to societies and find a way to harness clean and renewable energy. And reduce the burning of fossil fuels. It is not enough that they give dole outs in the form of relief goods to the victims of calamities.
You are an advocate for the protection of Mother Nature and Peace. What are your words of wisdom to a world that is grieving for people and the planet while at the same time trying to heal people and the planet?
Peace and Environment are two different things that can be viewed as one. In the old times, most wars were waged because of territorial greed and religious conflicts. But today, the greatest threat to peace is the basic survival of human beings. Each day without proper nourishment makes one prone to anger. Constant anger makes one prone to hate. Hatred makes one prone to conflict. in a bigger perspective, if countries lose resources for nourishment, internal and external conflicts may arise. While a healthy environment that provides nourishment may preserve peace. To heal nature is to heal people. A healthy population may amount to lasting peace.
What is your advice for aspiring artists who want to apply their creativity towards purposeful and important causes?
My basic life practice is to preserve the most random thoughts, most instant ideas and weirdest imaginings. That is where the grandest endeavors emanate.
Always think of others. Art, as history would tell us, played a great role in societal transformation over the centuries. Artists should let that fact remain.
Do you have a website, twitter or facebook page where people may follow and see your artwork?
Our art attacks are announced and posted on FB: Dolphins Love Freedom
Thank You AG Saño !