HomeFilipino AmericanFilipino California: Art and the Filipino diaspora

Filipino California: Art and the Filipino diaspora

By Saleah Blancaflor

The Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale, CA unveiled the Filipino California: Art and the Filipino Diaspora exhibit this weekend. The colorful display showcases the work of seven contemporary artists working across different styles and formats including paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, conceptual art, and more. 

Eliseo Art Silva, Allison Hueman, Anthony Francisco, Maryrose Cobarrubias Mendoza, Christine Morla, Maria Villote, and Junn Roca are the artists featured in the exhibit, and their work addresses issues related to Filipino and the Filipino American experience. 

It is curated by museum director James Fishburne, PhD, who said he had been working on the idea for the exhibit since before the pandemic. 

“It’s exciting to finally see it come to life and become real,” Fishburne told AsAmNews. “The Filipino community is so important to Glendale, and the nearby communities where Forest Lawn is located, and we even have a large percentage of staff from all levels of the company that are either from the Philippines or Filipino American, so it’s a great culture to highlight.”

He said an aspect about the show that’s especially exciting is how diverse the show is both stylistically and artistically. 

“It’s the most diverse show I’ve ever curated,” Fishburne said. “There’s no one style that these artists can be pigeonholed into. There’s not even really one field. Some of them work in film, television, and popular culture. Others work in very obscure and conceptual art. Others work in figurative art. Some work in traditional styles, and others work in really avant-garde style. It’s a great opportunity to share this common thread of Filipino and Filipino American heritage, and to bring in an incredibly diverse group of artists.”

A landscaping painting from Junn Roca with influences from the Philippines is on display at the Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale, CA
Junn Roca

Junn Roca, who was born and raised in the Philippines, has worked in fine art and commercial art for more than 40 years. During his time in the Philippines, he apprenticed for notable Filipino painter, Felix Gonzales. When he moved to the United States in 1979, he began a successful career in animation working as a background artist and earned two Emmy Awards.

Most of his art today shows the scenes ranging from the rustic villages of the Philippines to various iconic California landscapes. Roca said one of the things he hopes to show attendees with his art is the unique style of painting that he brought from the Philippines. 

“The style I’m introducing is the style I got from the Philippines where I grew up,” Roca said. “The kind of paintings they can expect to see is how it was done in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I grew up seeing the work of Cesar Beura and a lot of Ben Alano. My style of painting is more likely coming from the Mabin Art District. What I want to show is how a Filipino artist is doing landscape painting in California and show the kind of palette I have.”

Maria Villote is another artist featured in the exhibit. She is originally from Manila, Philippines and immigrated to the United States when she was 10. She uses her artwork to explore topics around diasporic identities including assimilation, cultural alienation, and feelings of foreignness. 

One of the pieces Villote highlighting during the exhibit is a water buffalo on a coconut. 

“A lot of my work talks about the culture around whitening culture,” Villote explained. “With that particular piece — I was actually called a coconut at one point in my life, which is a derogatory term. So, the whole being Brown on the outside and being White on the inside and forgetting about my cultural background. So a lot of my work is about assimilating into American culture.”

Maria Villote works expresses her thoughts about the concept of Filipinos who are called coconuts-Brown on the outside, White on the inside
Maria Villote

While Vilotte’s work has been featured in other exhibits, she said it’s always important for Filipino American artists to be able to have the space to express themselves through creativity.

“It’s a good way to get people to look at Filipino American artists to show that we have a voice and exist in the art world,” Vilotte said.

The “Filipino California: Art and the Filipino Diaspora” takes place from April 20 to September 8 at the Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale, Calif.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.



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