“De Los Reyes”
Collage on Panel, 6′ x 4′
David Koppe Photography
Updated: January 25, 2019, 5:26 PM
Lack of representation in society drove artist to find meaning in his work
By Ted Alcuitas
(Editor’s note: In his artist statement on Facebook, Cabalu bemoans the lack of representation that immigrants face in this country. He transforms that search in his art.
The 32-year old Philippine-born and Vancouver-raised Cabalu has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Kwantlen University.
“His practice includes a growing list of private commissions and, more recently, self-portraiture. At the age of four, his family moved from Brunei to Canada where he became hyper-aware of his cultural displacement, as well has his queer identity. Popular culture became a refuge from such anxieties, but over time the lack of queer-Asian representation in popular media caused new tensions to arise. As well, Jay is interested in how social media and popular culture have informed our identities and perceptions of the world. The collages he creates are personal and obsessively detailed, created with magazines and comics he has collected from a very young age. Jay has exhibited in numerous spaces in Vancouver, such as the Federation Gallery, the Roundhouse, Hot Art Wet City and Ayden Gallery. In the Fall of 2015, he appeared on season one of CBC’s competition-reality series, Crash Gallery.”
His first international exhibition was in May 2018 at the On/Off, Foundation For Asian American Independent Media 23rd Showcase, Chicago. Cabalu finished his Bachelor in Fine Arts (BFA) Visual Art (Exchange) at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK in 2012.)
As the youngest in a family of Filipino immigrants, I looked for evidence of my existence in my new home of Vancouver, BC. I wanted desperately to fit in and contribute, but the the lack of diverse representation in media implied that my voice was not important or relevant to the western world.
Detail, “De Los Reyes”. (Facebook)
During my childhood and teen years I collected hundreds of comics and magazines, learning through the lens of something I found fun and inspiring. It was during this time that I consumed the most television, constantly searching for myself in the limited scope of Asian characters. The only Filipino person I saw was a live-in caregiver who had one line of dialogue in an episode of The Sopranos. She spoke in untranslated Tagalog. At the time I remember thinking, “OMG, we’re on the TV!”. In hindsight it confirmed a troubling thought about how my people were seen.
People often look to pop icons to feel empowered, but that message resonates so much more when you share a physical resemblance with them. When I talk about the importance of representation, I use the analogy of drawing. Most artists cannot draw a bowl of fruit in perfect detail without observing it in front of them. Similarly, it is much harder to create a truly empowered life without a reference.
Last year I was approached by Spencer Interiors, an ultra high-end furniture showroom in Chinatown, to create a large-scale work. When I walked into the space, the first thing I thought was “This is not my Vancouver.” It was during this period that I was also forced to leave my apartment in the West End, a neighbourhood I lived in for 10 years, to make way for a new development. I thought about the struggles my family experienced moving to a new country and starting over in a place where we felt like outsiders. I thought of my mother, Maria Bernadina De Los Reyes Cabalu, who went from being a stay-at-home mom for 12 years to working at Wendy’s for over 20. I thought of all the live-in caregivers who have to leave their families in order to support them. I thought of the difficulty of having to endure so much because of your status in the world, and of having to do so without heroes who understand exactly what you’ve been through.
Artists have the privilege of being able to transform their struggle into a beautiful, tangible thing. This is my Vancouver. I see different kinds of privilege every day and here I raise my own— this symbol of Filipino pride.
This piece is currently on display at Spencer Interiors on 708 Main St. It is the first piece I have shown publicly in Vancouver since 2015. Please go and see it if you are in the area or better yet go see it on purpose!
The Vancouver-based Cabalu is a multi-awarded artist and has exhibited internationally. His latest exhibition was at ‘Queer Asia in June last year. The Bodies x Borders, SOAS, took place at the University of London where four of his works were exhibited. He was the only Canadian artist included in the exhibition.
His awards include the following:
2013 Bank of Montreal 1st Art! Invitational Student Competition (Nominated)
2013 Margaretha Bootsma Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Graduating Exhibition
2011 Irving K. Barbar BCSS One World International Scholarship
2011 Patsy Hui Visual Arts Award
2010 Deena C. Duggan Award
Cabalu was suspended from the ceiling on CBC’s Crash Gallery and told to paint heaven. Credit: CBC/Crash Gallery
Jay is the subject of the film ‘It Runs in the Family’, written, produced and directed by sister Joella Cabalu.