Burning effigies has been a State of the Nation Address (SONA) protest tradition for as long as we can remember. Not only is it as clear an expression of the people’s dissatisfaction as you can get—done properly, an effigy can be a work of art that sparks discussions and fosters critical thought.
Just last week, photos and videos of the “Trump fascist spinner” made the rounds on social media and even got featured on Jimmy Kimmel Live! “Comparatively, our protests here suck. I mean, where did they get that giant Trump fidget spinner? That’s amazing!” Kimmel said.
Created by UGATLahi Artist Collective, the 13-foot effigy depicted Trump with four arms spinning in the shape of a swastika, holding money and weapons to symbolize America’s economic and military dominance over Southeast Asia. It also had a comparatively small Duterte crouching behind Trump while making his signature fist salute.
UGATLahi has been making and burning effigies at the SONA and other political events since the ’90s. One of their earliest creations is “Erapzilla,” which was made during the protests against the Estrada administration in December 2000.
According to Paolo Magtira, art director of UGATLahi, the first step in conceptualizing an effigy is to hold educational discussions about a specific issue they want to protest. “These discussions are important in the creative process as we need to be able to understand the concepts and variables at play about the issue,” he explains.
After that, the artists hold brainstorming sessions and come up with sketches during UGATLahi general assemblies. It takes about a week to come up with a final concept, and two to three weeks of actual production before the effigy is finished. Although this time frame can vary, depending on the members’ availability (most of them are students) and the complexity of the effigy.
“Carpenters are an integral part of the construction as they are knowledgeable and skilled in planning the intricacies of the effigy,” Magtira adds. “After the completed structure, the artists are responsible for the aesthetic qualities of the work through painting. Planning is important and it starts with the previously mentioned educational discussions to adequately equip the workers with an understanding of the issue behind the effigy. Overall, carpenters and artists work hand in hand to bring tangibility to the concept created on paper.”
While Magtira believes that effigies are a way to inspire people to take a stand regarding political issues, he emphasizes that the effigy isn’t supposed to be the focus of attention. “The movement and the actual protest are what it's all about. That's the entire reasoning behind the effort and the practice of burning it,” he explains.
An effigy of former President Marcos at the December 2016 International Human Rights Day protest
“The art is merely a component of the entire effort to make the people see the current situation that we as Filipinos are collectively involved in. Art is the most direct way to appeal to the masses due to its easily understood visual components; people can easily form their own perspective by just seeing the visual interpretation of the issue.”
When asked whether all members need to share the same political stance, he says, “UGATLahi is an artist collective that makes art for the sake of the masses and the mass movement. As a group, we will never be on the wrong side of the struggle if we always side with the plight of the oppressed and underprivileged; we create art to protest social injustice and the repressive nature of the ruling class. All productions have to first go through educational discussions. It is during these talks that we tackle the issues and problems that currently fall on the country. These discussions are catalysts that can lead to awareness and unity between our members.”
Magtira adds that anyone with artistic inclinations is welcome to join UGATLahi. “The only requirements for joining are (1) an understanding that the type of art that UGATLahi creates sends a message and is for the benefit of masses and (2) a willingness to sacrifice time and effort in order to achieve our goals of creating the aforementioned art for the masses,” Magtira says. “If anyone is interested, you can contact us on our Facebook page.”