In one of the most impoverished dumpsite communities in the Philippines, Australian street artist "Kaff-eine" dares to tread where others do not - in a place described as "dirty, crime-ridden, violent and godforsaken."
Manila’s slum communities are home to many millions of poverty stricken people, with its residents existing alongside wealthier communities, often separated only by a high wall. Foreigners rarely enter the slum communities and these places attract little interest, empathy, coverage or investment to make changes to their appalling circumstances.
But Australian street artist Kaff-eine saw an opportunity - to work with the Filipino garbage-picking and charcoal-making communities to create a series of street art projects.
Leaving a life of public service and a completed law degree behind her, Kaff-eine enlisted the help of children's rights PhD researcher, Emily Cheesman; freelance photographer, videographer and fixer, Geric Cruz, and artists Marti Salva and Geloy Concepcion to use local knowledge and contacts to get her into these communities.
With gangs roaming the streets at night, Kaff-eine only had limited windows of opportunity to meet and work with locals, observing that, by day, garbage picking and charcoal making were the main forms of making a living. Using what resources were available, she set about creating the series of charcoal based artworks with over 100 of residents of Happyland and Baseco Compound.
"I didn't want this to turn into poverty porn or some exploitative 'take photos of poor people' type project. All I basically asked was for them to draw what made them happy or what made them proud or what they would like to tell someone living outside of their community," she told DW.
With the current "war on drugs and crime" in the Philippines, the communities of Happyland and neighboring Baseco Compound are not immune to the increasing number of vigilante or extrajudicial deaths of suspected criminals, drug users or dealers. Yet, Kaff-eine was surprised to experience the kindness and positivity of locals, when so much of the news from these communities is focused on street gangs, crime, abuse and poverty.
"I thought it'd be a really nice thing to compliment what's out there about the slums - to give another narrative. The people there really wanted to help me paint. What doesn't come through in literature [about Happyland and Baseco Compound] is the levity and the creativity of the people," she said. "You've got roosters, children, karaoke and gunfire and there's so much going on, but I had a ball."
After returning to Australia to exhibit the artworks, Kaff-eine then went back to the Philippines to work on a larger project - this time, to create and install 30 large art tarpaulins (tarps) featuring Kaff-eine's painted portraits of local residents.
"You see old, threadbare tarpaulins used for walls, roofs, or tents everywhere, but they are rarely in any condition to adequately protect the families who live under them," she said.
With thousands of residents having inadequate housing made from scavenged materials and constantly battling flooding, typhoons and fires in their local neighborhoods, Kaff-eine set about creating the art tarps in collaboration with the Happyland and Baseco Compound communities - ultimately gifting the tarps to residents, to use however they wished.
"We've been so pleased to see how quickly the art tarps are being utilized or repurposed by the residents: some are now standalone shelters, others cut up and shared between many families, and reinforcing existing residences as ceilings, walls and floors," explained Kaff-eine.
Now, up to 120 residents utilize these art tarps as shelter. But for Kaff-eine, she is thankful that she can be of service to those who are most vulnerable.
"You know I can't save the world and I can't step into international politics," she said. "I'm not across the politics and the laws of the country, but it doesn't matter. What I can do is paint."
Tune into Worldlink to find out more about Kaff-eine and her street art projects in Manila.