January 8, 2024
Gathered in bunches and trailing like vines, Ryan Villamael’s paper-cut sculptures cascade through niches of interiors, history, and identity. Utilizing maps to create overgrowths of leaves, the artist addresses complex relationships between cartography and culture.
Based in Los Baños, Laguna, in the Philippines, Villamael focuses his practice on tangled narratives within himself and the country. Because his father had to leave home as an overseas worker, the young artist grew up without his presence. This physical disconnect was challenging and catalyzed Villamael’s fascination with cartography. He explains, “Looking at maps was my way of connecting with him, of tracing the paths he might have traveled.”
This fixation has carefully cultivated itself ever since, as the artist sees the geographic representations as a way to uncover familial paths and collective memory. However, at odds with this sentiment of reclaiming personal history, Villamael also alludes to the presence of authoritative geopolitical ambitions that perpetuate partial truths. He tells Colossal:
So much of my work, I realize in hindsight, is about a kind of mourning. To be Filipino, I feel, is to be constantly in mourning—for the heritage that was taken from our nation by colonialism, for the memories we discard so systematically as a way of survival, for the historic structures in Manila that are constantly demolished… That does something to a nation’s psyche, and it’s something I feel deeply.
Such longing for ancestral truth beyond the stain of colonialism is evident in the artist’s work, as meticulous cutting, folding, overlapping, and puncturing alters the printed surfaces. Originally working with paper out of financial necessity, the humble material eventually became Villamael’s avenue for the tactile transformation and reclamation of cartographic records.
From the expansive nature of the material to the concept of stitching together ideas of home, the nuances of breadth and space guide his work. Quelled inside glass cloches and proliferating across gallery ceilings, floral motifs and sinuous vines carry a consuming desire for the recapitulation of history.
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