Yuan Mor’O Ocampo: Exploring Filipino Identity

Harriet Hu

Yuan Mor’O Ocampo is an award-winning performance artist whose commitment to creating powerful works of performance art with strong cultural undertones has earned him the reputation as an innovative and daring contemporary artist.

Filipino performance artist Yuan Mor’O Ocampo graduated from the College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines before becoming the first Filipino artist to be awarded a scholarship to study at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Design in Indonesia. He became drawn to performance art because of its ability to connect and engage with audiences in a unique way, commenting that ‘It is not music but has musicality. [It is] almost theatrical, has movements, but it is not a dance.’

Filipino culture is central to Ocampo’s works; for example, in his 2005 piece, Diaspora, the artist knotted together a series of ribbons from medals to create a long rope of red, white and blue, colours evocative of the Filipino flag. He then suspended the rope by tying one end to a pillar at the centre of the room and the other end tied to a fixture in the corner of the room. The artist then invited members of the audience to tie strips of ribbon to the principle rope, with the resultant creation resembling decorations used during national celebrations. Ocampo then took one end of the rope and slowly bound it around a series of pillars in the centre of the room, chanting the words ‘Life is hard, not here, not for me’.

The strips of ribbon represent the millions of Filipino migrant workers dispersed around the world, who strengthen and support the Filipino economy, as represented by the suspended rope. Ocampo’s haunting chant recognises the hardships faced by his displaced compatriots and highlights the need to re-examine the country’s political and economic conditions.

Ocampo is interested in creating art that is participatory and collaborative, such as in Diaspora. For Ocampo, the concept of connectedness is integral both in his works and his personal life philosophy, musing that ‘…I have come to realise that we are all connected. I have come to realise that life must be shared; you share yourself with others, with one’s environment; a life of mutual sharing among all creatures could start with a small feast, set on a table, celebrating life.’

In addition to performing his works in art festivals in the Philippines and abroad, Ocampo has taken on high-profile roles such as Artistic Director of the Luntiang Pattaradday Festival and executive Council Member of the Visual Arts Committee of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, reflecting his tireless commitment to promoting performance art as a means of exploring cultural identity.

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