Warning on the wall: asbestos
by Carlos Maningat
For 17-year-old graffiti artist Matthew, it takes a riot of colors spraypainted on the wall to publicize the dangers of deadly dust asbestos.
Matthew and his crew participated in the second qualifying round of the Asbestos Street Fighters Street Art competition held in Marikina City, a few kilometers east of Manila. The event was initiated by the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety for Development (IOHSAD).
Perhaps for the first time, the region-wide street art competition gathered graffiti artists all over the metro under one theme: asbestos kills people.
“We carefully thought out our design so that we can convey the health effects of asbestos,” said the young artist, who initially joined gangs but later discovered the power of street art.
Matthew’s crew came up with an image of a worker wearing a gas mask who is crushed between graffiti signs and with the warning “Asbestos kills people” on top. They mainly used light blue, grey and brown colors for their design, which was capped off with a glowing yellow outline.
Asbestos, which is locally used for construction materials like floor tiles and textured paints, is considered a carcinogen that can lead to fatal diseases including lung cancer. Around 100,000 people die every year across the globe because of asbestos-related diseases, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Through the street art competition, organizers seek to publicize the dangers of the deadly dust to human health. The project is supported by Australian People for Health, Education and Development Abroad (APHEDA), the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (A-BAN) and the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO).
“For us, street art is the most powerful form of art because not only one person is involved. It is done collectively by the crew. Before doing our piece, we agreed on the division of labor on the street artwork according to our skills,” said Matthew.
He said that compared to paintings and other traditional forms of art, street art is not confined indoors like in art galleries and malls.
“Anyone can see street art. No matter if you’re a beggar or a rich person, you can see street art since it is visible to anyone passing by. You can find walls anywhere, so you can also do it anywhere,” he added.
Another artist, “Tagg sign,” shared that street art is more difficult and more costly compared to airbrush painting, his former interest. “But it’s rewarding. It’s amazing for me to realize that I can come up with a design like this using only spraypaint.”
Tagg sign and his crew came up with a bloody-eyed lungs with a zoom-in of the alveoli to dramatize the disastrous effect of asbestos inside the body’s respiratory system.
Serial killer, decaying face
Other crews came up with equally creative street artworks portraying the perils of asbestos. The winning team, for instance, personified asbestos as a skull-faced Captain America-inspired serial killer sweeping through dozens of graves while leaving the graffiti mark “Beware.”
“The character, which symbolizes asbestos, is passing over a cemetery because the substance has already killed many people. Through this, we can help build awareness on asbestos,” said Pisi, a member of the winning crew FTC.
Meanwhile, another crew MST skillfully weaved the graffiti design “DEADLY” into three faces – the first one showing normal health, the second face partly disintegrated, and the last one a skull head. The use of yellow-orange and cyan combination gave the finished design pizzazz.
“We used this design to illustrate how asbestos can lead to death,” said Rai, MST crew member and also a multimedia arts student in a university in the metro.
While participating graffiti artists differ in their wall portrayals of asbestos’ hazards, all of them agree that street art can be a very effective tool in advancing the anti-asbestos cause. Indeed, street art and advocacy can unite to raise the public’s awareness on the deadly dust.