Christian Santos Culangan Unzips The Portals of Our ‘Innermost’-Selves


Recently, I made some works that engage in the existential promises of religion. I ponder on these themes as I try to process the grief of having lost a loved one.

In one of your strongest series, many of the characters seem to be bleeding, suffering and questioning modern society. What was the message you wanted to convey there?

In some of my series, I utilized zippers to maximize available resources and to represent Caloocan City. Caloocan stems from the Tagalog word- Kalook-lookan meaning “innermost”. I explore the concept of “conceal and reveal”. The zipper becomes a symbol for portals that we like to keep closed. I want to convey the explosion of feelings from deep inside my subjects. Today’s society demands conformity, the display of emotions is viewed as a sign of weakness. My works are about being real, honest and authentic. I think people should share their pains and pleasures and find strength in their humanity.

You are always looking for new techniques and various medium in your art. (You are currently incorporating more digital elements in your art.) How would you describe your style?

My works are my reflections on current events both personal and social. The form develops in conjunction to how I feel. This is why I am always searching for new techniques or materials as every event is unique in itself. It’s not that I deliberately change all the time, I think it’s more of a gradual process of experimentation. My art style is figurative, interrupted by expressionist strokes, paint blobs or found objects (usually zipper or fabric)

What is your creative process like? Where do you find your inspiration?

I start out by selecting images to paint, then I “destroy” the image by adding zippers, paint drips or bold brush strokes. The selection depends on what I am experiencing or feeling at the moment. It is a way of reflecting and processing my thoughts, like a form of therapy.

I draw inspiration from observations and experiences of everyday life. There’s always something unusual and interesting going on in the city. If you keep an inquisitive mind, you’ll never run out of subjects or materials for work. The fabric and the zipper that has now become a ubiquitous part of my work were initially obtained from my mother, a dressmaker and my aunt, a fabric trader. A lot of people from Caloocan are involved in business of clothing in one way or another.

What is the role the artist plays in the society? How do you view the current art scene in the Philippines? How important is the space given to artists in modern Filipino society?

Artists should inspire the youth to persevere towards their aspirations, to go beyond the mere pursuit of comfort. Most young people are told to stick to the well-beaten path, this may feed their stomachs but sap out their spirits. People in the creative field can encourage them to fulfill their potentials.

There’s been a lot of development in the platforms that showcase the local art scene. Initially there was just the museums and the galleries, academic institutions and the occasional common public spaces. The reach is very limited. Now, anybody can post their works online, one doesn’t have to be in the actual physical space. Artists from different fields become familiar with each others works. This encourages collaborations and fosters growth.

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