Q&A with Jessa Melicor - Art Collector

Jessa Melicor, Coconut Tales, 2017. Coconut, paper, ink, dimensions variable.

Group Exhibition:
Balik Tanaw (Looking Back)

Emma O'Neill chats to Jessa Melicor ahead of her group exhibition Balik Tanaw (Looking Back) at the Peacock Gallery, Auburn.

The exhibition Balik Tanaw (Looking Back) is part of a series of exhibitions running over the next few months that fit into the broader Bayanihan Philippine Art Project. How did the project evolve?

Balik Tanaw (Looking Back) is one of the exhibitions running as part of the Bayanihan Philippine Art Project - a multi-arts program presented in Sydney across five galleries, involving 38 artists over four months. The project explores the art, culture and heritage of the Philippines and the experiences of Filipino-Australians. Along with Peacock Gallery and Auburn Arts Studio, the project partners include Mosman Art Gallery, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Blacktown Arts Centre, Campbelltown Arts Centre, and Museums & Galleries of NSW.

Balik Tanaw (Looking Back), I work with three other Filipino-Australian artists: Alwin Reamillo, Ernest Aaron and Alberto Estanislao. We focus on the notion of ‘home’ and explore the culture, traditions and objects that have migrated to Australia. This idea evolved from conversations around what a Filipino-Australian home means, the cultural traditions of an ‘open home’ at fiesta time and the shared experience of growing up between both cultures.

Balik Tanaw (Looking Back) is presented over two gallery spaces at the Peacock Gallery and Auburn Arts Studio, could you talk me through what will be exhibited in each space?

In the first gallery space, Alwin Reamillo presents The Bayanihan Hopping Spirit House - Auburn which is the third iteration of an expanded community art project developed in collaboration with Urban Theatre Projects. The Bayanihan Hopping Spirit House is a collapsible bamboo-framed Bahay Kubo or bamboohut on stilts, made from a pine timber base, which supports a skeletal wall and roof structure. Suspended around these frames and interior are improvised wind chimes and bells made from found, gathered and assembled materials. In this iteration of the Hopping house, Alwin presents for the first time - the house as a deconstructed work-in-progress, displacedand broken down to its component parts. Peacock Gallery 1 becomes a temporary home/shelter of this dismantled house where the slow process of re-building and re-assembling will take place. His installation speaks to the home-country that was left behind.

The second gallery space is presented as an ‘open home’, which is a common tradition in the Philippines to open up your home to the community to share in the food and company of the community during fiestas.
Ernest Aaron presents an installation of an altar into the space – a common feature in Filipino-Australian homes as the predominant religion is Roman Catholic. Ernest reflects on religion and identity in his sound recording next to the altar.

Ernest Aaron, The Altar at Home, 2017. Timber, plaster, ceramic, glass, plastic, wax, holy
water, dimensions variable.

Alberto Estanislao builds the dining area at the heart of the space. On top of the dining table which is constructed from cardboard lay traditional Filipino meals and snacks that have been preserved. Above the dining table is the obligatory ‘Last Supper’ installation created by Alberto, to reflect how religion, culture and food in the Philippines are so closely linked.

I’ve added a collection of objects into the space that share the dichotomy of being in-between cultures. They are items that are found in local Filipino-Australian homes that in the Philippines are considered as practical and common place but have been elevated to special or decorative objects that are now representational of homeland. In my artwork
Coconut Tales, I look at the object of the coconut shell. I use half coconut shells and decoupage small inserts of written stories, definitions or anecdotes of the Philippines for the audience to pick up and read. This represents how I have discovered my Filipino culture - through the stories of others.

Your work speaks a lot about identity. What have you discovered through the process of creating your works?

I’ve found the process quite self-reflective as I’ve been able to learn about my heritage. Through this process I’ve discovered why certain objects in the homes of family members, hold sentimentality and celebrate culture. I hope the audience can reflect on their own understanding of 'home' and how the objects that exist within their homes have shaped their own culture and identity.

The project is largely community-based, how can people get involved and when do the festivities start?

We launch the exhibition Saturday 8 July (opening 1.30pm), fittingly with a fiesta including performances, karaoke and food. The exhibition runs until 3 September. There will also be a Philippine Family Fun Day (with traditional games), workshops (that contribute to the exhibition and events), panel discussions, a spring festival parade and a theatre based project I am Filo facilitated by Valerie Berry.

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