The Kakaiba Collection
John Ephraim Velasco
A Space Windows
July 21 – October 7, 2023
Reception September 8, 2023, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm
Curated by: Marissa Largo
The Kakaiba Collection is a series of 4 digital collages that explores Velasco’s Filipino ancestry, childhood memories, and diasporic experience in Canada. The project merges ancestral representations of the Philippines, such as textiles from the Ifugao, Kalinga, Tausug, Moro, Yakan, Blaan and T’boli Indigenous groups, which are then fused with popular fashion and culture. Inspired by the fashion house’s Spring/Summer 1994 campaign, Versace in Mindinao (2020), mimics the style of advertising to feature Moro artistry and culture. The artist collages features of Filipino/a/x celebrities and combines them with Indigenous phenotypes creating hybrid archetypes. In The Birth of Venus at the Pearl of the Orient (2020), the artist alludes to Botticelli’s masterpiece, but instead, exalts that brown is beautiful. Through a visual vocabulary of Philippine and Western representations culled from the internet and social media, Velasco constructs a kakaiba, or in English, unique or extraordinary, vision of Philippine beauty and simultaneously, levels racial hierarchies.
A parody of Paris Hilton’s escapades in the country are the focus of Ang Simpleng Buhay (The Simple Life) (2023), which critiques US cultural imperialism in the Philippines and beyond. The artist refuses Western hegemonies and is crucially aware of the displacement of tribal and Islamic cultures of the Philippines. Considering this, he proposes a future in which minoritized visualities can thrive and are as globally recognized and celebrated as Nike, Versace, and Hello Kitty. This is evident in Palayok Skaterboy (2020), in which the figure dons an outfit of amalgamated traditional textiles with Nike sneakers. Velasco puts contemporary Philippine Indigenous culture in conversation with global consumerism to construct a diasporic subjectivity that is in excess of Western cultural imperialism.
John Ephraim Velasco is an interdisciplinary artist who explores themes of identity formation, self-expression, empowerment, cultural hybrids, and gender and sexuality relating to personal experiences of Filipino diaspora and neurodivergence. Through various media, he creates playful, bold, and vibrantly coloured compositions that create hybrid identities that reference pop culture, ancestral designs, consumerist desires, hedonism, materialism, and editorial fashion. He seeks to facilitate conversations around belonging and culture through his work.
Marissa Largo is an Assistant Professor of Creative Technologies at York University. Her research and creation focus on the intersections of community engagement, race, gender and Asian diasporic cultural production. Her forthcoming book, Unsettling Imaginaries: Filipinx Contemporary Artists in Canada (University of Washington Press) examines the work and oral histories of artists who imagine Filipinx subjectivity beyond colonial logics.