Art and spiritualism – the art of Patrick Cruz

Scarborough, Ontario

‘Novena- (2022)

Marissa Largo
In Patrick Cruz’s new work Novena (2022), the artist alludes to the devotional practice of nine days of consecutive prayer that many devout Filipinx/o/a Catholics partake in, usually to petition for special requests. For many Filipinx/os/as in the homeland and in the diaspora, devout Catholicism is syncretically entangled with folkloric beliefs and actions. The novena, like ancestral invocations, is predicated upon intense belief and commitment and veneration of the sacred. Cruz adopts the role of the devotee who conjures spells and enacts prayerful actions as a spiritual aesthetic praxis. The artist has placed the holy trinity of Filipino food: garlic, onion, and ginger (bawang, sibuyas, luya) on banana leaves on the gallery floor. These foods are base ingredients in Filipino cuisine and are known for their medicinal qualities. Coincidentally, they are also used to ward off evil supernatural forces in Philippine folklore. Arranged in the configuration reminiscent of a mandala – a repetitive circular pattern used for meditation, Cruz’s offering demarks a space of care that provides physical and spiritual immunity from forces seen and unseen. There is no “pre-colonial” or “Christianised” moment here. Unlike modernism’s progressist march into the future, Cruz proposes an ethic of care in the present that recognizes comingling temporalities and epistemologies that attends to the nuanced specificity of Filipinx diasporic consciousness and spirituality. By warding off harm – both supernatural and institutional – the artist extends his artistic practice of care to those around him to produce futures of wellbeing.


What does your research focus on?   

Most recently, I have been interested in finding parallels between the practice of art and folk spirituality. I have also been focusing on finding the possibilities of integrating healing in art production. Improvisation has also been an all-encompassing thematic in my research, it is pretty much the engine of my entire art practice including my pedagogy.

How (or why) did you become interested in that line of research?   

I went to clown school after finishing art school and that paved way to helping me understand that art is not just about an intellectual endeavor but an emotional and spiritual one. I have always been interested in the unseen forces that shape us and the magical powers that art possesses. I guess you can even think of it from an economic lens where art can imbue monetary value to anything it deems to be art. But besides that, art can be profoundly powerful and can move you in many ways. Good art can be highly transformative for the viewer.

What’s the most interesting (or underappreciated) aspect of your research that most people won’t know about?  

I think notions of spirituality have been an underappreciated topic when it comes to art. It almost feels taboo to talk about it. Perhaps because art has been operating on an ego-driven trajectory as seen from art history and the art world and talking about spirituality could easily be seen as self-righteous. But of course, I am not talking about religion or religious art that involved a lot of political entanglement, I am thinking of artists who genuinely channel and incorporate mysticism and spiritual folk beliefs in their art practices such as Wolfgang Laib, Guo Fengyi, Agnes Martin, Emma Kuntz, Hilma Af Klint, and Santiago Bose to name a few.

Why did you choose UTSC? 

UTSC has an exciting art program with highly dedicated professors and a lot of notable alumni. The university has also so much to offer when it comes to resources including a diverse student body. I was particularly drawn to and was excited to be joining the Studio Art faculty at the ACM department to contribute and share my experience and skills to the evolution of the department. I think there is a lot of new energy entering the program since the height of the pandemic, especially being back in person.

What are you reading/watching right now?  

I have recently delved into reading about the Tasdays. In 1971, a year before the infamous martial law was declared in the Philippines, Spanish American bureaucrat Manuel Elizalde, who was Marcos Sr.’s Presidential Assistant on National Minorities (PANAMIN), is said to have discovered a tribe of 25 or so stone-age hunters and gatherers in the rainforests of Southern Mindanao who were in complete isolation untouched by civilization. Elizalde described them as people wearing natural garments like leaves and twines that used stone-age tools and lived in a cave. It turns out the whole discovery was a hoax created by Elizalde and it even made it to the cover page of National Geographic in 1972!

I am currently watching a lot of exorcism videos by faith healers from the Philippines on YouTube.

About Patrick Cruz
Photo: Facebook
Assistant Professor
University of Toronto, Scarborough
Dept. of Arts, Culture & Media

Born in Quezon City, Philippines. Cruz studied painting at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, and holds a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Guelph, a certificate in Pochinko clowning, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Cruz is a co-founding member of Kamias Special Projects (KSP) a curatorial collective that hosts the Kamias Triennial. Cruz’s artistic and pedagogical practice is informed by the intersections of folk spirituality, diasporic aesthetics, cultural hybridity, and the ongoing project of decolonization.

Cruz has presented work at the Vancouver Art Gallery (Vancouver, CA); The Art Center of Chulangkorn (Bangkok, TH); Contemporary Art Gallery, (Vancouver, CA); Whose Museum (Malmӧ, SE); Plug In ICA (Winnipeg, CA); Project Panjee (Montreal, CA) Centre of Contemporary Asian Art (Vancouver, CA); Cultural Center of The Philippines (Manila, PH); Vargas Museum (Manila, PH); Obrera Centro (Mexico City, MX); Feldfünf (Berlin, DE); Oakville galleries (Oakville, CA); 1st Manila Biennale (Manila, PH); Gasworks (London, UK); 3331 Arts Chiyoda (Tokyo, JP) Gallery TPW (Toronto, CA); Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton, CA); Susan Hobbs Gallery (Toronto, CA); Or Gallery Berlin (Berlin, DE). Cruz is the recipient of the 2021 Thirteen Artist Award from the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the 17th RBC Canadian Painting Competition in 2015.


2016 MFA, University of Guelph, Ontario Canada
2010 Cert, Pochinko Clowning, Vancouver, Canada
2010 BFA, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Vancouver, Canada
2005 BFA University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines


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