Interview with Augustine Paredes
I met Augustine the first time almost two years ago, when he first got to Dubai from the Philippines. I feel lucky that I met him back then, because since he arrived in Dubai, he has made waves in this city (pun intended: Augustine’s handle is @comeinwaves). Augustine’s work has been celebrated by the UAE’s most prestigious art institutes and has been hired by the region’s most coveted brands like Namshi and PUMA. Apart from his very well-deserved achievements, Augustine’s work deserves to be given space for its rare gaze: his vulnerability, tenderness and yearning for intimacy shines through powerfully.
Below is my interview with him, I hope it gives you a glimpse into brilliant mind of Augustine Paredes. (All works included in this piece are courtesy of the artist)
Hi Augustine! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
— I’m Augustine Paredes, a Filipino artist and photographer based in Dubai, UAE. I just turned 24 but I think I don’t look my age. On most days, I work as an Art Director for a boutique agency and on some nights, I work on my personal art with coffee and cigarettes nevertheless. I smoke too much, my friends tell me but that’s okay. I am aware of my bad habits. I travel often too, and I romanticize the idea of falling in love with strangers and cities.
I love your project titled “A Place; A Thing; A Color”. Can you tell us a little bit more about the thought process and inspiration for this project?
“A Place; A Thing; A Color” is a project I developed under the guidance of Maggie Steber during her Mystery Workshop at the Gulf Photo Plus Photo Week. We did an initial brainstorm and I came up with the idea of exploring the mystery of loneliness. Prior to the workshop, I had presented a body of work that I’ve been working on for a few years titled “Long Night Stands of Lonely, Lonely Boys” which was inspired by the epidemic of gay loneliness. The photos of the said project were through my lens, photographing men I have had encounters with during the course of traveling. I felt the need to take a step back and re-evaluate my message, my method of seeing. The workshop with Maggie was a perfect place to explore my subject matter and I felt that this time around, I need to switch the point of view. Instead of looking at different men, why don’t I switch the lens and photograph myself.
I was dealing with many different emotions during that time — coming from a non-break up break up, dealing with the end of my mother’s visit, the pressure from work, the longing for real intimacy — and the tattoo on my left arm never felt so accurate, it’s written “it comes in waves” quoting Joan Didion, quoting Freud, talking about grief. Thus the project — all blue, all feeling, everything was a self-portrait. I did the whole project in a span of a week, and everyday I wake up and I take photographs of myself in different situations, times, always playing with light and dark.
How has your upbringing and background influenced your work as an artist?
My parents were not artists; my mother was an entrepreneur, my father was a politician. The rest of my family members were either teachers or doctors or public servants and none of them had an art background. I think what helped the formation of my creativity was my parent’s decision to send me to different cities for better education and also for my own safety. They told me to do whatever I want, so I became an artist.
My work now speaks the language of transience, identity, belonging, and intimacy. I think it goes back to my early days when I was trying to understand my situation as a child being sent out to different rural cities, living with different nannies, always bound to experience different aspects of Filipino culture. Now that I’m older, I am unable to stay put and commit — but also somewhere inside me longs for connection and permanence.
In your work, you often explore themes of love, loneliness, connection, intimacy. Can you share why these themes interest you?
I love feelings. I love feeling emotions and I always subject myself to different (mostly heartbreakingly painful) situations where I am able to feel things in many different ways. I am also a hopeless romantic and a big lover of literature and film, so at some point I think the longing for cinematic circumstances reeks in my personal excursions and occurrences. My art heroes are so good at portraying love, loneliness, connection, intimacy — Joan Didion, Haruki Murakami, Sylvia Plath, Wong Kar Wai, Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, to name a few — and for my work, I always try to take pages from their books, tear them apart, mix and match and call it my own.
What is it like being a Filipino artist in the Middle East? Can you share more about your experience in the region? What were the challenges and opportunities you faced?
Being a Filipino artist in the Middle East is okay. The need to constantly prove my worth in this field consumes me almost all the time, though I am also aware that sometimes this also roots back to my personal insecurities. I couldn’t pin point on specific challenges as I try to focus more on opportunities. So far, in the two years that I’ve been living in Dubai, I am proud that I was able to work with like-minded peers from different parts of the world. I was also part of Campus Art Dubai, photographed my first major print and digital campaign, exhibited my photographs in group shows, and also just being recognized as a Filipino artist who resists to be put in a mold of stereotypes.
How has living in the region impacted you as an artist and as person?
The easy access to countries in the gulf, and other European/Asian territories opened my eyes to see different forms of culture, art, and tradition. I was able to find answers to my whys and hows and whats. Living in Dubai, meeting different people and participating in different activities gave me a different way of understanding things and I feel like even though I am very far from “home” I am closer to my “self” clearing out the noise and shaping my identity. I think the city and its transient nature forces you to be more independent, attached and detached to various aspects of life.
What are your thoughts on the arts scene in South East Asia? Is there are particular artist, work or collective that inspires you from the region?
I think the art scene in South East Asia is more thriving than ever. There are grants and festivals around the world that put light on my fellow Asians and I think it’s about time that the world sees what and where our art sensibilities are. There are great photographers in the Philippines that I look up to — Czar Kristoff, Cenon Norial III, Wawi Navarozza, Tammy David, Cru Camara, Geric Cruz, Koji Arboleda, to name a few. Outside the Philippines, I envy and admire the works of the late Ren Hang, Chen Wei, Lyn Low, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Ai Wiewei amongst many others.
What advice would you share with young and aspiring artists? What advice would you give young, Filipino artists in particular?
As a young Filipino myself, I urge my fellow artists to embrace where their from and understand what it means to be Filipino. I have yet to conquer these things myself and the more I step out of my “home” the closer I get to understanding where I’m from and I think that’s important. Also, let’s not be shy about our work. If there’s an opportunity to showcase our art, let us take that chance. We’re here now, and if we wait any longer, we might lose it.
What is next for you?
I am moving to a new room, and I will have a bigger space to make my home studio. Currently, I’m researching on how I can turn my digital photography into something physical and tangible. I’m also part of an upcoming group exhibit, my third this year (!!!!!). I’m thinking of applying to a short course on creative direction and photojournalism as well. Apart from those, I will just be here, working hard like everyone.
Augustine’s work is on display at Gulf Photo Plus in Al Serkal Avenue as part of the group exhibition “No Place like Home” on until 3rd November 2018.