The power of images and art as mediums of protest took the center stage during the “The Revolution Will Be Illustrated” session during the second day of the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit. I featured Pixel Offensive, an anonymous art collective based in the Philippines, while 12 other Global Voices community members introduced the work of artists and designers from their respective countries.
Here are some things about Pixel Offensive to those who may be interested to know more about the group. What sets PxO is the chosen form: while most of the other artists featured in the session were cartoonists and illustrators, PxO’s work mostly involves the rehashing of already existing images of Filipino local elites, politicians, among others into eye-catching graphics with clever tweaks, witty captions, and thought bubbles.
PxO became an overnight sensation during the height of the campaign against the passage of the anti-cybercrime legislation in the Philippines when one of its graphics was posted in the Piratebay homepage. The image was a play on the evolution of humans from ape but ending with a man sitting in front of a personal computer getting hit by a policeman with a baton:
(The cybercrime law would eventually be passed by Congress but strong protests would pressure the Supreme Court to water down some of its draconian measures.)
Pixel Offensive or PxO for short started creating memes and cartoons in 2012. I actually took the time to chat with PxO’s anonymous administrator to learn more about the group. “It started out just for fun,” he or she said. It began as a solo project of one graphic artist but eventually became a collective project with more artists joining in.
The name is a combination of Pixel which is the basic unit of programmable color on a computer display or in a computer image and Offensive because those in power may find it offensive: “Offensive because this is part of propaganda war, offensive as in ‘strategic offensive.’”
This element of being offensive to commonsensical suppositions, for instance, can be seen in PxO's playing with the typical middle class disdain for urban poor squatters as popularized by dominant media. The real enemies are the big businessmen and landlords who've monopolized all the country's wealth and power at the expense of the homeless and the poor.
PxO mostly plays with yellow and black in its graphics. The choice of colors is conscious, said PxO’s administrator because the two are striking colors: “Never fails to catch your attention when scrolling down your news feed.” More importantly, this is also a pun on President Noynoy Aquino and his ruling Liberal Party’s official color yellow.
PxO said it focuses on hot national issues in the Philippines. But this came with a caveat: “We specialize in political satire, but not in the Charlie Hebdo vein. We always respect people's religious beliefs unless they consider Noynoy and Kris Aquino saints,” said PxO.
With more than 35,000 likes, the PxO Facebook page has its fair share of supporters. But its activist posturing has also earned it some bashers, particularly from right-wing and pro-government trolls.
PxO admitted that its following is not as huge as other meme pages in the country but added that they’re not just after the likes. For many parody and popularity has become the end in-itself. But for PxO, this is an important tool for criticizing government abuses and social injustices and prodding the public to actually think about these things.