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Art and Life

Filipino artist Rai Cruz shares his cabinets and curiosities, how his art and life melds into one another in harmony

Words by Donna Patricia Manio

Photos courtesy of Rai Cruz

“Cabinets and Curiosities” could be read as what a mind would be like as a chamber that holds experience, emotion and memories.

"For some people, making art is like oxygen to them," begins Rai Cruz. “I admire such people. They amaze me. Not everyone is and can be like that." An artist since childhood, Cruz has successfully made a career in the visual arts, first as a street artist painting colorful visuals in public spaces. His distinct, visceral style led to having commissions and many gallery shows, including the recent “Cabinets and Curiosities” at Vinyl on Vinyl in Manila. 

These days, Cruz lives a well-balanced life in which his art is perfectly imbued: He is a father and husband, an art professor at a university and a jiu jitsu athlete. He draws from all areas of his life to create art, including the pandemic, when his most recent work was conceptualized. “We were all at home, and so the ideas started from there,” he says. With the isolation came introspection and the inherent need to create and express. 

“Cabinets and Curiosities” could be read as what a mind would be like as a chamber that holds experience, emotion and memories. They could be neat and organized — or be like a Pandora’s Box that may be too terrifying to open. It is up to a person’s willingness and bravery to explore all these. Cabinets are essential as thoughts can get chaotic; there’s always a bid to put everything in order to maintain the cadence of daily life: obligations, responsibilities, routines. But this mode of compartmentalization doesn’t discount the fact that our minds are great repositories of what makes us human. We are, after all, made up of many quirks — or curiosities. This, in itself, is non-linear and rich.

Inspired by his immediate urban environment, Cruz’s street art, usually murals, sought other modes of execution as his art career progressed to installations, such as the ones featured in his recent exhibit. This is also a welcome evolution as more people become open to street art and those inspired by it. “In the past, people would call it vandalism. These days, they’re more receptive and look at it as art.” Cruz also adds that this mode of art is now embraced by the Filipino mainstream with restaurants and retail stores commissioning murals, seeing the value it adds to livable spaces. 

“During the pandemic, people saw that art wasn’t ‘essential.’” Focus shifted to other communities such as service and medical, those that made sure that the world continued to function and operate. “But during the quarantine, I was prompted to create. Most of the ideas were about what the pandemic brought about. Doubts about the future, anxiety.” For the artist, creation and expression were necessities, a way of capturing an extreme and uncommon experience. Creating is synonymous to living, the artist shares. 

Now that we are living in the next normal, what was once in the artist’s figurative cabinets are now available to be viewed and enjoyed. Cruz points out that life is vast and deep. Like everyone, he goes on with his day-to-day: making memories as a husband and father, learning new insights from his students, and fighting for focus through jiu jitsu. There will always be something new to learn and see. There will be alternative ways of thinking and growing, and therefore, more to keep as eventual curiosities. 



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