Whether physical, social, or personal, art always serves a purpose and goes beyond aesthetics and well into the needs of the artist and the community. Such is the case for multidisciplinary artist Leeroy New’s Mebuyan’s Colony, the featured Earth Day art installation of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). The unveiling will take place on April 25 at 6 p.m. at the CCP Front Lawn. 

Raising environmental awareness and championing green initiatives, Mebuyan’s Colony is a large-scale immersive environment that combines New’s fascination with science fiction and Philippine mythology, reflected in the giant spheres on bamboo stilts.

Mebuyan's Colony
Mebuyan’s Colony in detail

Based on Bagobo mythology, Mebuyan is the goddess residing in the underworld whose body is engulfed with seemingly infinite breasts. Pods akin to wombs allude to Mebuyan’s dual role as the goddess of death and fertility, sustaining the spirits of children who have passed and transforming and nourishing them into adults capable of continuing the journey through the afterlife.

New’s use of natural materials, found objects, and assorted discards transformed into representations of a specific speculative future intersects Filipino contemporary life, pre-colonial mythology, and environmentalism. 

“Our references to local stories and pre-colonial mythology can determine our approach to creative production. I referenced Mebuyan and other pre-colonial stories because most of us only get to hear the same stories, paulit-ulit,” he explains. “We don’t hear about Mebuyan, the goddess of death and fertility, who nurtures the spirits of dead babies. So there are a lot of principles and elements that we miss out on.” 

Mebuyan's Colony
Multidisciplinary artist, Leeroy New

For the fifth iteration of the Mebuyan series, New incorporated this year’s Earth Day celebration theme, “Planet vs. Plastics,” as he utilized additional materials to protect plants against the hotter weather.  

“I’m really drawn to pieces that explore practicality and functionality. When we built Mebuyan’s Colony, I wondered how we could build something more. How can we move away from practical structures, like cube forms, versus more creative and fantastical forms, like these clusters of spheres?” shared New. 

The Mebuyan installation at the CCP will utilize blue gallons instead of the usual clear plastic bottles. New explores a more semi-architectural and sculpture-like way of grouping that can mitigate the heat to ensure that the plants will thrive.

“It’s all experimental, but the goal is for the plants to survive inside and under the structure,” said New.

Born in General Santos City, New made up for the lack of art galleries and museums in the area with horror and sci-fi films, magic shows, card games, and illustrated books as his early art references. The artist-designer draws motivation from the continuous element of play and exploration in artmaking. 

“The concept of world-building became an important principle and determining idea in how I implemented my art practice. I had dreams of participating in building worlds physically and, in a practical way, through architecture. Also, building worlds, imagined or representational, through film,” shared New.

With Mebuyan’s Colony, New shared how the installation went against the rock and metallic forms that try to go into outer space to colonize other planets. Instead, it represented more regenerative and inward-looking principles, showing how human beings redefine their relationship with Mother Earth. 

On his way of manifesting his vision in his art, New elaborated:  “It’s not just the idea of the themes of sci-fi in my work, but slowly moving towards the functional side. It’s not enough to represent something in art, so it’s time to explore how to make it practical and useful.”

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