Toowoomba artist creates work that reflects on migrant experience

Mindanao Story Cycle

Toowoomba artist Ben Tupas reflects on his experience of being a first-generation Filipino Australian in his upcoming exhibition ‘Mindanao Story Cycle’ which opens on February 11 at Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery.

 “My work in part, is about learning about where you come from and trying to piece together some kind of origin story to make sense of what makes you - you.”

In the late seventies, Tupas’s parents migrated from Mindanao in the southern Philippines to Toronto, Canada where he was born. When he was three, his parents swapped the cold climate of Toronto for Brisbane, Australia.

“When I was in Year 1 or 2 in Brisbane, I remember the teacher asked us to draw a picture of our grandparents. I drew a picture of mine.

 “They were white, my ‘grandad’ had a moustache, and I told her they lived in Sydney. I had no idea what they looked like or where they lived!”

Later, Tupas was able to meet his paternal grandparents as well as his last surviving great-grandparent over several visits to the Philippines with his family. It wasn’t until late 2017 when Tupas, also a documentary filmmaker, returned to the Philippines to begin pre-production on a film about his mother’s family.

It was his first trip back as an adult and as a solo traveller after an 18-year gap. Despite warnings to exercise a high level of caution due to the ISIS conflict in Marawi in Western Mindanao, Tupas was able to visit several places where his parents and generations of his family lived and grew up.

 “One of the strangest things was finding photographs of myself and my family in boxes of my relatives family photographs.

 “It made me rethink the way that I saw my own family’s story. My own story was now part of larger and richer one, some of which had now more detail thanks to the sharing of stories that naturally happened when I was abroad.”

Drawing from this experience, Tupas’s work incorporates textures and details from old family photographs to create video and symbolic printed works.

Toowoomba Regional Council Portfolio Leader for Environment and Community Cr Joe Ramia said that the Mindanao Story Cycle is a one of the wonderful exhibitions being displayed in the local artist space at the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery.

“The Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery is continually providing opportunities to display interesting exhibitions that provoke your imagination and satisfy all tastes.”

 Mindanao Story Cycle is on display from 10 February until 11 March. Admission is free.

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Image: Benjamin TUPAS / Mindanao Story Cycle (video still detail) 2018 / single-channel high-definition video / 2:30 mins / Reproduced by kind permission

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