Young Filipinos Remember Kobe Thru Street Art 

February 20, 2020

On January 27, 2020 the world of basketball was shrouded in grief as a grim accident had put an end to the vast possibilities that could have yet sprung forth from the life of one Kobe Bryant.

Overtaken by loss and disbelief, Mamba fans around the world, despite a heavy heart, immediately buckled down to work to pay honor to one of the generation’s most influential athletes. In a matter of hours, several streets in Los Angeles up to Philippines' Davao City were bespeckled with graffiti and murals, aimed at immortalizing Kobe’s smile, his glaring game-on face, his name, his legacy. 

A small group of friends in Davao City did their own share of remembering the 18-time All-star champion. They, however, decided to put focus on Kobe’s eyes.

Looking into the eyes of a legend

One of the fences surrounding what used to be the New Commercial City Center in Ma-a, Davao City is awash with graffiti scribbles that a drawing of Bryant’s expressionless face can be easily set apart and appreciated on its own. Beside the face is a silhouette of Kobe with arms wrapped around his child Gianna, whose life was also cut short by the helicopter crash. The figures were marked with the numbers 24 and 2, representing the jersey numbers of Kobe and Gianna, respectively.

Photo by Brian Jay Apostol

“Look at his eyes. They say it all: his eagerness to win, his love and passion for basketball. He gave his life to the sport, that’s why he lived and died,” said Brian Jay Apostol, who, alongside friends Jamnzhy Van Napao and Marc Keannu, all 22 years old, created the mural that went viral.

The artwork was completed in less than a week. Day and night they toiled on finishing in. Each stroke made in loving memory of the Mamba and his incredible life that inspired the artists who are also avid players of basketball.

“I only know him as a player back then, but now that I’ve grown up and knowing him now as a family man, a mentor, a husband, and a father really grew my admiration for him. Even though people on the internet discredit him for his greatness, I really didn’t care. He dedicated nearly half of his lifetime to basketball and seeing him happy spending time with his family especially his daughter made me really happy for him. That’s why it broke my heart when I heard the news at 4 am that Monday morning,” Napao said. 

Now on their fifth year as Architecture college students in Davao, the trio form part of a larger barkadahan which they fondly call La Liga Ph, derived from the more popular La Liga Filipino Basketball League, Inc. to exhibit their love for basketball. 

“I only play for fun and love for the game. Playing it for my whole life would be a dream come true. But I know only a few guys are gifted in that sport. I’d rather dedicate my life to architecture. But that doesn’t mean my love for the game is less, it’s just that I’d rather enjoy the game than starve to death,” Napao joked. 

While all three are not pursuing basketball as a career of choice, playing the sport, they said, nevertheless helped them acquire a strong self-discipline which proved essential in the demands of their studies. Particularly from Kobe, they took inspiration from his athletic genius, hard work, and focus, all of which characterize the “Mamba Mentality” Kobe had instilled in his rich 20 years in the industry.

“He inspired a lot of people, even those who don’t play basketball, especially to us Filipinos. I know him not just as an athlete but as a genuine person. His “Mamba Mentality” is what truly inspires me. It boosted my confidence to strive even harder in my path of passion. I’ve learned a lot from this,” Apostol said.

While the Bryant tribute was a first street art experience for all, each of the trio had had the passion for expressing themselves through visual arts ever since they could remember. Only this time, they took the passion a step further by pursuing a grander  form of expression: architecture. 

Manit revealed they plan to work on more murals in public spaces. And, of course, like with their first one, they intend to first seek permission from authorities prior to creating their art so as to avoid criminal liability for vandalism.

Photo by Raymart Fadriquela

Is street art copyrightable? 

Street art had long been clouted with a negative perception due to the generalized regard for such works as vandalism or a criminal act. This claim of criminality had been the grounds of many in the past to challenge street artists' eligibility to assert copyright protection for their works.

Among the most recent cases where the argument was once again raised in a court and had sparked global discussions is the legal conflict between fast fashion retailer H&M and Los Angeles-based street artist Jason "Revok" Williams in 2018. Tensions began when H&M featured one of Revok's works as a background for an ad campaign for a new product line. Williams cried out copyright infringement, relayed through a cease and desist letter his legal counsel sent to H&M. 

In response, the apparel manufacturer elevated the case to a New York court, essentially asking it to rule out that all artworks created through illegal means should be devoid of any legal protection such as copyright. The petition earned the ire of millions of street artists around the world, slamming the lawsuit to, if decided in H&M's favor, have a chilling effect on artists' rights. Street artists soon waged a war, vandalizing H&M store windows in different countries. The global boycott eventually succeeded in compelling the company to withdraw its lawsuit against Revok.

In the Philippines, the Intellectual Property (IP) Code of 1998 explicitly states that any original work of literature or art is protected by copyright, and the sole fact of their creation, regardless of their mode or form of expression, as well as of their content, quality and purpose, makes a work copyrightable. This appears to put street art qualifiable for copyright protection. 

By copyright, artists can enjoy economic rights, which involves generation of profit from others' use, reproduction, or any transformation of their work for commercial purposes. Another right enjoyed by a copyright holder are moral rights or the rights of an author to proper attribution, to make any alterations on his or her works, to withhold or deny publication, and to object to any modifications or mutilation to his or her work. 

The IP Code, thus, contributes to bringing more vibrancy to the Philippine street art scene, helping the perception around this long thumbed-down artistic expression to evolve into one that is associated with greater and deeper appreciation for the potential of street art build up cultural esteem.