Words like “Down with US-China imperialism”, “Educate, agitate, organize, mobilize”, “Address the roots of armed struggle”, “Resistance” and “Justice” populate Cian Dayrit’s artworks. As much social activist as artist, his commentary on the expulsion of indigenous peoples from their land, the exploitation of a nation’s natural resources, the reproduction of feudal land relations and the damage of neoliberalism in his native Philippines is a call to action – to stand one’s ground, rise in arms and persevere. For him, art is not limited to making artistic objects for exhibitions or to end up in art collections, but is a means to participate in the struggle against systemic oppression and becomes a place of hope where social justice can survive and thrive. Exploring notions of power and identity as represented by monuments, museums and maps, Dayrit’s works mixing archival references, protest imagery and grassroots counter-mapping respond to the plight of various communities on the fringes of society and embraces a critique of colonial and privileged perspectives not only from the viewpoint of the Philippines, but also of the Global South and all those who have been victimized worldwide.
Is it important that your work tackles social and political issues, and is each of your artworks an act of resistance against all forms of oppression and injustice in the world?
Precisely. My work as an individual is only a little part of a larger collective resistance against oppression, broadly speaking.
Textile art and embroidery have been historically dismissed as “women’s work” and craft”, yet they are a powerful medium for storytelling and communication. What do you like about working with embroidered textiles, the tactility and why is this medium an ideal way to convey your vision?
The use of fabric is double-edged: when stretched, displayed and lit in museums, it has a commanding presence yet is somehow intimate. When folded, it can be covert and mobile, nomadic. The stories should outlive the materiality of the work. The textile pieces we make are not the sole bearers of the narratives we echo.
What role do words and language (English, Tagalog, Latin, etc.) play in your artworks?
The use and misuse of language is a tool to define specific cultural cues and dimensions. Like any visual element, words add new layers of meaning into the work.
Take me through your creative and production process. Tell me about your sources of inspiration, techniques, equipment and materials.
I barely have an established method of production. I have set collaborators for specific tasks like embroidery or wood sculptures, but I work with different organizations and individuals for research. I primarily consult with peoples’ organizations and activists working on the ground. The work that happens in the studio becomes a reflection and an extension of revolutionary practice.
What are the greatest challenges you face when creating your artworks?
The contradictions in contemporary art.
What do you feel is the role of the artist in society? What do you hope to achieve or what message do you hope to convey through your art at the end of the day?
Artists need to keep learning by immersing themselves in the stories of others. We need to condition ourselves to an extreme empathy and continuously strengthen solidarities. As we develop our practice, we should also deepen our connection with everyone else. Cultural work should never be isolated from the rest of society.
What new projects and exhibitions are you currently working on?
I am currently working on some projects that visualize the conditions of a semi-colony.
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