May 2017 Artist Feature: KIMBERLEY ACEBO ARTECHE
Kimberley Acebo Arteche is an interdisciplinary artist working in photography, installation, and social practice. Originally from Silver Spring, Maryland, Kim received her BFA in Visual Arts/Photography from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and her MFA in Fine Art/Photography at San Francisco State University.
Kimberley was awarded the Murphy and Cadogan Contemporary Art Awards by the San Francisco Foundation in 2014, and was Kearny Street Workshop's 2015 APAture Featured Visual Artist. Kimberley is an Arts Educator at Leadership High School and is Root Division's 2016-2017 Blau-Gold Teaching Fellow, teaching after-school art classes at San Francisco's Filipino Education Center.
Janna Añonuevo Langholz: Why did you start making art? What was the first piece or project you were proud of?
Kimberley Acebo Arteche: When I was in high school, I had a point and shoot camera. During my senior year, I started to realize that I was different from my classmates; my race/ethnicity, class, and how proud I was to be from an immigrant family. Not to mention I had started to pick up on racial microaggressions that I was experiencing with staff and classmates. Being able to photograph my perspective around the school gave me a different way to communicate what I saw and felt, without having to verbalize. This was empowering in a space where I felt my voice had been silenced in many ways in that environment.
During my last year of the Visual Arts Program at UMBC, I started a series of environmental portraits that illustrated the how the responsibilities of and transitions to adulthood differ for Asian Americans. I showed a series of 5 of these portraits for our Senior Exit Exhibition. I continued this project after graduation and ended up with a series of 25 portraits of Asian Americans between the ages of 20 and 30 from all over the East Coast. They were in different places of transitioning to ‘adulthood’; some were still living with parents, some were still in college, some were still on their parents’ insurance. I submitted this series to my graduate school applications, which got me into two schools.
JAL: What does being Filipino American mean to you? How does identity inform your work?
KAA: Being Filipino American gives me an abundance of cultural wealth. I could not imagine a meaningful life outside of it. But with that cultural wealth comes challenges and inherited trauma. Growing up in a Filipino family in Maryland came with its own set of struggles to navigate identities; intergenerational conflict between my traditional parents and my American rebelliousness, my sexuality in a Catholic home, and coming to grips with my identity as an artist that grew up in a community full of nurses. I grew up in an area where I didn’t see many people like me, a young Pinay that could not go a day without thinking about creating or performing.
My practice as an artist, educator, and community member is a space where I can decolonize all of the systems that kept me from learning about my position in a legacy of healers, warriors, and creators. My creative practice involves doing research and learning from elders about indigenous healing/spiritual practices, traditional weaving, and cultivating our connections to the land. It allows me to deepen my understanding of my Filipinx identity. I also try to stay connected with scholars doing work in Filipino American psychology and sociology to understand where my work and research sits within a diasporic context; to not just stay rooted in indigenous practices, but also understand the impact of our communities and scholarship.
JAL: What is the significance of the textiles that you use -- including floral dusters, piña fabric, and weaving techniques?
KAA: My first few years of graduate school, I spent a lot of time looking at photographs of my mom’s family in Batangas. The images held landscapes of dusty roads, cement houses, gabi plants, and my relatives. Often the only bits of color in these photographs were of my Titas wearing these bright, floral dusters.
My mom still lives in Maryland, and I often have these conversations with her about who the people in the photographs are and when they were taken. I’m not sure what prompted this, but during one phone conversation, my mom had admitted to me that she knew how to weave, and that they learned these things as a child. This completely floored me. For such a long time, I kept trying to understand where I inherited my lust for creating, and this was my link. This led me on a journey to research different techniques and patterns, and even flying back to the Philippines to meet with the women that are still weaving in Ibaan. Studying patterning from different regions led me to create my own visual language of patterns; one that represented my diasporic experience, that happened to learn most things about my identity through the internet.
I’m currently tracing the origins of patterns and materials that compose Philippine textiles. I’m exploring the reverence of piña fabric over native fibers like abaca, or how duster patterns made its way to the Philippines from Indonesia. This is definitely a shift from my training in photography, but I feel different satisfaction from working with fabrics; materials that feel good on skin, that have different smells, and that move differently in a space.
JAL: How has the work of Filipino-American artist Carlos Villa influenced your practice?
KAA: Carlos Villa is the reason I moved to San Francisco for graduate school. When I graduated from UMBC in 2011, they opened up the Asian Studies department. I was pretty pissed off, like, how rude of them to establish this after I graduated? I contacted Theo Gonzalves, who was a Professor in the Asian Studies department then, seeking some guidance. Theo introduced me to America Is in the Heart, and the work of Carlos Villa. Villa passed away the year before I entered graduate school, so I never got to meet him. A huge part of my journey through grad school was guided by my search of his work and his practice. I ended up working with really amazing mxntors like Michael Arcega, Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, and Jenifer Wofford; all of whom learned from and worked closely with CV. One of my biggest advocates throughout grad school was Mark Johnson, a close friend to CV and his family. Mark is currently the Gallery Director at SFSU’s Fine Arts Gallery, and I received nothing but the generous support from him during school.
One of the most important things about CV’s practice was that he included his role as an educator into his artist practice. Teaching is incredibly artful; audience (student) engagement is crucial, and we’re required to constantly respond to challenges in how we present information and concepts.
JAL: As a teacher, what is something you think is important for young artists to know?
KAA: Art should be a way to think critically about the world around us, and about our experiences. Art can be empowering, but should not end at that. Art should be a way for us to rethink and reimagine how we move through the world.
JAL: If you were offered a year-long residency in a place of your choice, anywhere in the world, where would it be?
KAA: The Philippines for sure. It’s still on my list to dig deeper into the scene in Manila/Makati/Cubao. There’s a different consciousness around creating there, and also a different sense of spirituality I experience being there. I would love to see what working and creating there for a year would bring up.
See more of Kimberley Acebo Arteche's work at: