Artist Toym Imao’s UP Ikot installation


It’s indeed been a challenging year for most Filipinos, as workers in many sectors, including jeepney drivers, have had to grapple with the effects of COVID-19.

But for artist Toym Imao, a little pailaw in the form of a UP Ikot art installation should go a long way in lifting the spirits of Iskos & Iskas’ beloved Toki or Ikot jeepney drivers.


Jeepney art created for a UP Diliman event


Toym Imao UP Ikot
The UP Ikot art installation illuminated during the 2020 Pag-iilaw ceremony
Image credit: Toym Leon Imao

Dressed in colorful yarn, the Ikot installation is one of the decorative pieces lit for this year’s UP Pag-iilaw, an annual lighting ceremony that signals the beginning of the Christmas season at the University of the Philippines Diliman.


The colorful installation is a tribute to jeepney drivers


Toym Imao UP Ikot
Image adapted from: @toymimao, Toym Leon Imao

As part of the Pailaw, the yarn-wrapped Ikot was driven through the university on opening night, 27th November 2020. Besides yarn, it contains many parts of Pailaw art taken from past years’ ceremonies. 

Lit from the interior, the jeepney is part of a family of other artworks – human-shaped lanterns also lighting up pandemic health facilities on campus, such as the UP Genome Center, Molave Residence Hall, and UP Health Service buildings.

Toym Imao UP Ikot UP Ikot
Image credit: Tinig ng Plaridel

With his jeepney art, Imao wishes to salute the efforts of jeepney drivers and the university’s Toki drivers who have been affected by the pandemic. This group of underappreciated workers has recently also been facing the financial challenges caused by the phasing out of traditional jeepney units. 

“UP’s very own Ikot and Toki jeepney drivers faced unemployment because of the pandemic. This is our tribute to them, that they may not be forgotten as the government pursues transportation modernization and an imminent phase out of their units,” said Imao on his Facebook post.


It also pays tribute to frontliners


Toym Imao UP Ikot - tribute to frontliners
Image credit: @pawssionproject

The colorful jeepney was also displayed in recognition of our frontliners and other workers who had no access to public transportation during the first months of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) but still braved the roads to commute to their jobs. 

“This also references our frontliners, workers and laborers, who were without accessible public transportation during the ECQ[,] but continued to find ways to report to their jobs in hospitals and to man essential services to keep our country running.”


Before Pag-iilaw, it had been displayed at the 2018 Manila Biennale in Intramuros


Toym Imao Askal jeep
Image adapted from: Toym Imao Studios, Toym Imao Studios

The Ikot installation is a modified version of the jeepney that Imao had displayed at the 2018 Manila Biennale, an exhibition held in Intramuros, Manila, to remember the day when Manila was declared an Open City during World War II. 


It was called Askal or Auto Synchronous Kalesa


Toym Imao UP IkotAn askal dog, also called an aspin
Image credit: Eatcha/Wikimedia Commons

Before lighting the grounds of UP Diliman, the Ikot installation was first called Askal – short for Auto Synchronous Kalesa – as a reference to how Philippine traditional jeepneys resemble the askal or asong kalye, a mixed-breed type of dog commonly found in the streets of the Philippines.

For Imao, like the askal, the jeepneys are also “mixed-breed” vehicles, a combination of several automotive components from the US and the Filipinos. They show our drivers’ creative adaptability, as the jeepneys we see today are modifications of the World War II jeepneys brought by US troops.


Recognizing our jeepney drivers through art


The year has been difficult for most of us, especially for our jeepney drivers who have had to bear the economic challenges of the pandemic. 

But if there’s one way people are spreading hope, it’s through pieces of art, such as Imao’s colorful installation of UP Ikot that casts a cheerful light of optimism during these times.

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Cover image adapted from: Toym Leon Imao, Toym Leon Imao

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