Desiree Aloba Carabio of the University of the Philippines Cebu is a visual artist who has ventured into the artistic frontier of digital art. At the 49th Shell National Students Art Competition, she explored the theme of Metamorphosis with the digital painting “Marlon Monroe.” Her winning piece navigates the intersections of public and private, the process of transformation and the complexities of gender. As a work of art, it allows us to share the experience of performing gender and to find in this a reflection of beauty. As a digital art piece, it brings to mind questions of the process of art-making in the new millennium. In this month of February, which is both National Arts Month and LGBT History Month, we got together with Desiree to ask her about her creative process and her artwork. The interview that ensued was a look into the unique artistic mind that conceived “Marlon Monroe.”
“Marlon Monroe” by Desiree Aloba Carabio. 1st place, Digital Fine Arts Category, 49th Shell National Students Art Competition.
Where do you think your creativity comes from?
From the random things I see everyday. From news to objects to places to people I encounter.
Tell us what were you trying to accomplish with "Marlon Monroe"?
The name itself speaks about a man of transformation or, to be specific, a transgender. I want people to see how difficult it is for members of the LGBT+ community to express themselves especially on opening up about their true gender or identity, knowing that the Philippines is a conservative country. “Marlon Monroe” is a good example in relation to the theme, “Metamorphosis”, where he indeed transformed into this beautiful figure by truly following his heart's desire.
How did it feel to win at the Digital Art category of the Shell competition?
To be honest, I didn't expect that I'd be bringing home the bacon at that time. As I arrived in Manila, all I expected was to claim my finalist prize and witness the awarding ceremony. I felt shocked and at the same time happy.
What do you think made your work stand out?
I guess the composition itself directly hit the theme “Metamorphosis”. My passion and commitment probably showed through the piece as well. In the official video of Shell, they described my work as “intimate”.
“Nico Minaj” by Desiree Aloba Carabio. Official entry to the 41st Jose Joya Awards.
If there were a magic power you could use in your art making, what would it be?
To copy and paste my imagination onto the canvas right away, lol.
What is the main challenge you encounter in your work?
The main challenge is the fact that I focus on gender issues, a subject that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. They ask me why I’m doing this of all the subjects that I can do. But I think it is important for people to be aware of this problem; and it is important for those suffering from these issues to feel that they are okay, that there are people who understand what they are going through.
How did you come to be an advocate for gender issues?
I myself am gender confused. And in my own circle, there are several who are undergoing the same, who are depressed about it, even running away from home because of it. It is hard for people to come out and deal with this problem. Through my art, I want to convince people to be more accepting and to feel more accepted.
Did your art help you resolve your own issues?
I’m still dealing with my issues and my art-making is a process of introspection and clarification that is continually progressing. I am glad to see people in the same situation approach me to say, “Thank you for the work that you do.” That feels validating both artistically and personally.
What art movement or artist would you say influences your work most?
For now, I would say pop art and impressionism influence me more than any other movement. When I do traditional painting, I take inspiration from the impressionists, from their soft pastel colors and strokes. In digital art, I prefer to have my works flat and modern in terms of color and style.
What attracted you to digital art?
I've always been fascinated by the artistic possibilities of modern technology like in animation and graphic design. I decided to do digital art when I was in 4th year high school. I was heavily into Japanese animation and manga. Then I was given a graphic tablet by my siblings and that encouraged me even further.
If made to choose between the digital and the traditional, which one would you prefer and why?
I'd choose digital. It's fast to work on, easy to edit and printing is accessible from anywhere. I still do both, but I'm more inclined towards digital art.
What are you working on currently that excites you?
I am experimenting on a new style, a pop up painting where 3D figures or sculptures are coming out from a flat painting. This style is currently used by a French artist named Shaka. I'm hoping that this will be successful.
What kind of art is unappealing to you?
In my own view, I don't see any art that is unappealing. Every art piece has its own meaning and message. Each stroke or color in every work has something in it, and that makes it beautiful.
Are you inspired by anything new?
I'm inspired by unique contemporary artists who I see on the internet. Artists who use rare and bizarre media in their work.
If there were one dead artist that you could hang out with for a day, who would that be?
That would be Roy Lichtenstein.
What are your thoughts on being an artist in today’s world?
I've always been debating so many thoughts in my mind. Questioning myself on what would be my contribution that could make a difference in today's generation or on how I could persuade people through my artwork and tell them, "Hey, why don't we make this world a better place?" There are so many issues surrounding us, yet most people aren't aware or maybe they just don't care at all. I'm lucky enough for being an artist in today's world. It gives me purpose, the power to express myself and to change minds.
“Untitled” by Desiree Aloba Carabio
This piece is part of a project we are calling Portraits of Emergence — a platform where up-and-coming creatives can talk about their work and share their stories with the rest of the world.
Some of the questions used in the interview were suggested by Ruth Chase.