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Brought to the limelight by his $2-million work of art called "The Beacon" and "The Code Wall" in Florida last March, Filipino-American artist Jefre Manuel has never wavered in his quest to create pieces that can be enjoyed by the public.
And for the latter half of 2016, the man named as one of the seven "Faces of Design" by architecture magazine Florida Inside Out in 2007, brought his expertise back to his homeland to show the value of public art.
"I think I am more excited of making public work in the Philippines," Manuel said in an email to GMA News Online. "I am very excited and I’m helping Philippines understand the value of what art brings to projects."
Manuel's interest in creating public art in the Philippines was initially sparked by cities and developers looking for ways to beautify their landscapes.
"I think that public art there (Philippines) is starting just 5 to 10 years and starting to take more relevant in the public or here in the States," he said. "I think the fact that cities and developers in the Philippines are starting to see that there’s a value to spend extra money to instill and gather people in their projects."
On a personal level, Manuel wishes to reconnect with his roots and bring with him the skills he honed while creating larger-than-life masterpieces around the world.
"[It's] sort of appreciating through the education and the knowledge that I gained being a Filipino-American, being raised and educated here in the States [and] working on internationally to take those experiences of art and culture and further up how I can instill and bring that to the homeland," he mused.
One of the projects he made for his grand homecoming are giant metal sculptures of a tarsier and carabao in SM Aura, a prelude to the six metal sculptures he plans to make for SM Seaside City Cebu to mimic the traditional Sinulog Festival.
More recent projects include a giant lantern mounted on a 91-meter high pole for the Lantern Festival in San Fernando, Pampanga, last November; and The Selfie Project, which is currently on hold.
The Selfie Project was projected to be his first big commissioned project in the Philippines, meant to become Bonifacio Global City's "most iconic piece" in the first quarter of 2017. It was commissioned by Net Lima and Net Park developer The Net Group.
“For now, we are doing a year-end test for my Selfie Project with The Net Group. We are doing a prototype test on the projectors that will be used and mounted in this project," Manuel said, noting that a live, mock on-site test was done in October.
Replacing this project in Manuel's immediate horizon is a 120-meter high projection tower on all sides of SM Seaside City. If built by January or February, the tower, consisting of 60 to 80 projectors, is envisioned to be the tallest and biggest permanent digital mapping project in the world.
Democracy for everyone
But however grandiose his projects appear to be, Manuel's motivation for making public art is fueled by his desire to express his interpretation of the soul of the city he is working in.
"In my mind public art is not necessarily about for one developer or the other; I think it’s for everyone, it’s sort of idea of the public. It’s sort of what I call democracy for everybody," he explained.
"It’s really about me understanding the art and context of the city that I’m working in and I’m trying to express my version of that to the people."
The artist once — named an “Up and Coming International Public Artist” by the Marlborough Gallery in New York City— is planning on having his first solo show in 2018.
"Right now I am working on very large projects, [but] in 2018 my goal is to have my first solo show which means actually doing museum quality and skilled type work that can go to different city," Manuel said.
"One day, [it] may be in the METS or the Tape Museum and eventually have an exhibit in Manila."
In preparation for this, he is preparing a series called XLS or Extra Large to Small.
"[They're] kind of the works I’ve done for major city and reinterpreting it in my way," he said. "I would do it in a smaller museum quality of work that can be displayed but then also its more of an expression, sort of my ideas and passion non related to the cite and context but may related to some social and cultural issues I want to deal publicly." —KBK, GMA News