by Renelaine Pfister
In the middle of Vineyard Boulevard’s Foster Botanical Garden, there is a lounging giant clam-looking igloo made from bamboo and broken surfboards. The clam’s base connects to a fixed trellis in the garden which is ornamented with plastic bottles. Looking closely at the installation, the plastic bottles suggest bubbly waves of the ocean that are in harmony with the giant clam.
This art installation is called Taklabo, a Tagalog word for large clams, created by Filipino Artist Leeroy New. Taklobo is an extension and part of the Balete art series he started years ago.
Leeroy is one of the Filipino artists featured in Hawaii Triennial 2022 (HT22), an eleven-week event from February 8 to May 8, 2022 that celebrates the unique cultures in Hawaii through contemporary art.
As a Honolulu-based nonprofit organization, Hawaii Contemporary is committed to celebrating and cultivating art through HT22.
The concept of this year’s triennial is E Ho‘omau no Moananuiākea (Pacific Century) which weaves together multiple themes framed in Hawaii’s diverse cultural landscape.
They assembled 43 artists and collectives from Asia Pacific, Hawaii and beyond.
HT22 will be presented in seven venues across Oahu, including Hawaii State Art Museum, Bishop Museum and Foster Botanical Garden. For example, Beijing artist Ai Weiwei’s trilogy of Tree sculptures – broken, disparate trees bolted together – stand amid Foster Botanical Garden.
Taklobo is featured in another part of the garden. Manila-based Leeroy is known for utilizing local materials – cheap, discarded, recyclables – to create his art.
In Bendigo, Australia, he produced his Balete series from discarded irrigation hoses, which he found in local recycling centers. At his solo show in New York’s 2019 Pinto International, he utilized items from dollar stores and recycling centers to build wearable alien sculptures to extend his Aliens of Manila project.
A multidisciplinary artist, Leeroy’s art intersects mythmaking and socio-political themes and has traveled far from home and traversed the globe with his craft. He was born in General Santos City and educated at Philippine High School for the Arts and University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts.
With exhibits at PDNE at the NoMad Hotel in Los Angeles, California and Palais de Tokyo in Paris France, among his many notable works is a silicon bustier he created for pop star Lady Gaga’s “Marry The Night” music video in 2011.
Leeroy has amassed numerous honors such as Selected Artist for 2020 Black Rock City Honoraria, Art Installation Grant for Burning Man 2020, recipient of British Council Connections Through Culture SEA Grant, recipient of the CCP 13 Artist Award in 2012, Ateneo Art Awards in 2008, Asian Cultural Residency in New York in 2015.
2022 is a busy year for Leeroy. As an artist, Leeroy is exploding like a supernova on the global stage.
In March, he will be part of the 23rd Biennale of Sydney in Australia. In April, his work will be featured in the courtyard of London’s Somerset House with a fleet of three ships which he calls The Arks of Gimokudan
It is a commentary on single-use plastics in time for Earth Day on April 22nd. This will be his first large-scale installation in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, at the botanical garden’s orchid observatory, co-founders of Filipino fashion brand Toqa are doing a press conference to talk about their collaboration with fellow artists.
Co-founders Isabel Sicat and Aiala Rickard are wearing their own brand of clothing. Isabel is in a halter top, mini skirt and a bucket hat while Aiala is wearing a mini dress with a jacket. Their face masks are also from Toqa.
In collaboration with RenkoFloral, Patrick Parsons and Hiraya, their floral installation inside the conservatory is combined with the showing of their Midnight Smoothie video, which features their clothing collection from the same name.
There is plenty of movement in this short film. “We like running,” Aiala remarks, alluding not only to the physical act of running. Toqa embodies movement, energy and boldness.
The orchid conservatory is adorned with natural materials foraged and found in the garden and elsewhere, painted with splashes of bold colors: cyan and seafoam green, cobalt and bright orange.
It is the Toqa touch, and is evident in their fashion creations. Isabel says Toqa aims to build a world that is louder, more fun and energetic.
The pair said the pandemic impelled them to bring brightness, levity and fun to the world through their clothes and art.
Toqa is not just a clothing company. It encompasses and merges fashion, film, music, and lifestyle.
Their first runway collection, Season One, debuted in the inaugural Manila Biennial in 2018. Their second collection, Moodyisle, was presented via video instead of live runway to offer everyone a front-row seat. Midnight Smoothie is their third collection.
The pair met in Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Isabel graduated with a dual degree in political science from Brown University and fashion design from RISD.
Toqa is a 2018 Bench Design Awards Winner and describes their creations as sport-resort fashion with an island girl aesthetic. They aim to promote sustainable high fashion while reducing the impact on the environment by using deadstock fabric.
For HT22, the duo comments, “Toqa’s artistic practice is an unabashed embrace of the apparatus of amusement.” They don’t take themselves too seriously and can readily laugh at themselves, but it is apparent in their installation at the orchid conservatory and their clothing line that they are driven artists.
HT22 is available in seven venues: Bishop Museum, Foster Botanical Garden, Hawaii Theatre Center, Hawaii State Art Museum, Iolani Palace, Honolulu Museum of Art, and Royal Hawaiian Center.
Admission fees and hours vary by venue. List of hours of operation is available on hawaiicontemporary.org. Entry to Hawaii Theatre Center, Hawaii State Art Museum, and Royal Hawaiian Center is free.