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Exploring and embracing my Filipino heritage has not only inspired the work I create, but changed my perception of cultural identity and traditional art. Being bicultural, half white and half Filipino, and learning about the migration that my mother and others experienced has allowed me to connect to my identity. I encountered a new space as an outsider and began to realize how much my identity was impacted through an adjustment process. Questions like, “Am I Filipino enough to be this? Who am I to know anything about what it means to be Filipino?” constantly arises. The consequences of displacement and ongoing conflicting questions that arise in everyday life have dominated my way of thinking and creating. This body of work is not simply to celebrate my culture but to bring attention to experiences of feeling different and isolated, but also finding connections within an unfamiliar environment. As time goes on, those experiences are constantly changed and intertwined with each other to create a new cultural identity.
My work reflects a multicultural perspective, bringing together Filipino American undertone and abstraction. The importance of intangible elements, the feeling of emptiness, alien-ness, through patterns of absence and in-between spaces is heightened within each drawing. Combining topics such as colonization, racism, community, family, history, traditions, finding a safe space, and love, individual experiences become visible. Beneath what is seen on each of the surfaces are layers that are overlaid by another layer and parts that are destroyed and covered. As with many untold stories, they become invisible and I incorporate references to cultural details and symbols familiar to Filipinos such as food, fashion, family, and folklore to resurface varying histories. Aspects like textiles, assemblage, real food, and using found objects are used to further push the conceptual ideas in the work. I use color to represent specific ideas or historical and cultural aspects. For instance, in one of my recent pieces titled Take up the Brown, I reference the border from a manuscript called Boxer Codex. This manuscript was made during the late eighteenth century when the Spanish colonized the Philippines, so I reference the flat, floral lines they used in combination with the way I draw and collage contemporarily to give back that power to the Filipina posed within. I arrange objects and forms in a way that is considered and complex, but still accessible to the viewer. Each element is placed to provide visual movement and multiple details to look for, as if the viewers must follow along to a map of Filipino culture and discover it as I am doing at the same time.
The figures depicted are representational and often include members of my family and at times myself who actively pose to enhance the narrative. It is important to include different womanly bodies who personify my American side and my Filipino side, and referencing old photographs to flesh out new meanings. I incorporate my mother, presented as a woman with a carabao (water-buffalo) head, who represents the positive characteristics of Filipinos as hardworking, strong, and graceful.
The more I explore my culture and the impacts colonization has on bicultural individuals, the more information and layers I build from. My desire to use the power of visual language transcends national and cultural boundaries and alters how I am shaped as a person of mixed history. At the heart of the work is an attempt to harmonize the contradiction between past and present, invisible and visible, Filipino American.
Dr. Rebecca Williams, T. Mike Martin, John Utgaard, Todd Herzberg, Danielle Muzina
Each piece includes drawings made of charcoal, conte, pastel, graphite, and gouache that are cut out and layered onto a larger sheet(s) of paper. They also include a variety of collaged elements of mixed media, such as thread, sewn patterns, textiles, small objects, hair, and more. Two pieces also include ceramics. One of those pieces incorporates 24 Spam can molds made from Terra Cotta clay with drawings decaled on the surface and thread connecting each piece, while the other includes 100 thrown Stoneware bowls used to serve food and given to viewers in a performative piece.
More specific information about the titles, dimensions, materials, and more of each piece can be found in the thumbnail list.
This body of work is not simply to celebrate my culture but to bring attention to experiences of feeling different and isolated, but also finding connections within an unfamiliar environment. My work reflects a multicultural perspective, bringing together Filipino American undertone and abstraction. Aspects like textiles, assemblage, real food, and using found objects are used to further push the conceptual ideas in the work. At the heart of the work is an attempt to harmonize the contradiction between past and present, invisible and visible, Filipino American.
Photos of Pilipinas Party taken by T. Mike Martin. All others taken by K. Pullen.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.
Pullen, Kerrie, "Returning a Borrowed Tongue" (2022). B.F.A. Practicum Exhibition (ART 498). 108.