10 Minutes with Pio Abad

Pio Abad (b. 1983, Manila) lives and works in London. His practice is concerned with the social and political significance of things. His work, in a range of media including textiles, drawing, installation and photography, uses strategies of appropriation to mine alternative or repressed historical events, unravel official accounts and draw out threads of complicity between incidents, ideologies and people. Often taking on the form of domestic accessories, Abad’s artworks glide seamlessly between these histories, enacting quasi- fictional combinations with their leftovers. 

Selected recent exhibitions include: Things Entangling, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (2020); Phantom Limb, Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai (2019); Kiss the Hand You Cannot Bite, Kadist, San Francisco (2019); Splendour, Oakville Galleries, Ontario (2019); Fairest of the Fair, Bellas Artes Projects, Manila (2019); To Make/ Wrong/Right Now, The 2nd Honolulu Biennial, Hawai’i (2019); Imagined Nation/Modern Utopias, the 12th Gwangju Biennial, Korea (2018); Soil and Stone, Souls and Songs, Para Site, Hong Kong (2017); Notes on Decomposition, Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow (2016); 1975 – 2015, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney (2016); Still (the) Barbarians, EVA International Biennial, Limerick (2016) and Some Are Smarter Than Others, Gasworks, London (2014). 

In this edition of the short 10 Minute Interviews, Pio addresses current socio-political issues, whilst also talking about how his roots and where he comes from is directly linked to his artistic practice.

How has your practice evolved based on where you come from and where you are living now? Does cultural appropriation play a role in your work? 

My work has always been rooted in the Philippines, where I was born and where I grew up. I grew up in a very political family, my parents were involved in the social democratic movement during the Marcos dictatorship and were incarcerated for their activism. Growing up in this political environment has served the foundations of my work as an artist and continues to shape the work I make, some more overtly than others. 

For the past eight years, I have been working on a project called ‘The Collection of Jane Ryan and William Saunders’, a series of exhibitions, lectures and collaborations, that imagines ways of holding the Marcos dictatorship accountable by excavating silenced histories, devising actions and remaking an inventory of objects tainted by their corruption. The title is based on the false identities that the dictator Ferdinand and his wife Imelda used to open Swiss bank accounts, where they stashed their loot. Working in London, I have been able to look at the specific history through the broader histories of the empire. In the first pages of William Dalrymple’s ‘The Anarchy’, he mentions that ‘loot’ is one of the first Indian words to enter the English language, which is perfectly appropriate. Third world impunity has always enriched and been enabled by Western capitalist structures. Speaking of looting, appropriation is part and parcel of coming from a colonised country. The Philippines was a Spanish colony, briefly a British colony, then an American colony and now, it appears increasingly like a Chinese colony thanks to President Duterte’s acquiescence. This is the unavoidable prism through which I see the world.

Untitled (25 February 1986) 
Framed inkjet print on Hahnemuhle pearl paper 

You have been a London studio resident at Gasworks for a while, how did having a long-term studio there help your practice and work as an artist based in London? 

London can be a difficult city and it’s important to find your community. As someone who lives in London but shows largely outside it, having a studio at Gasworks and also being part of the board, has given me this community and a sense of tenure in the city. London can also be an insular city and being based in Gasworks means that I am constantly surrounded by people who challenge and question that insularity.

What do you love to do in your free time?  

I cook a lot. I’m also really into origami, which helps with mindfulness when I’m really stressed. The best one I’ve done is an origami Yoda.

What has been your biggest challenge? What influenced your practice?

At the moment, the biggest challenge is the rising threat of fascism and trying to keep sane amidst the grotesque mishandling of this pandemic. My biggest influence are my family and people in the Philippines who continue to fight for a space for complexity and critical discourse in the direst of circumstances.

For Silme/ For Gene 
Acrylic on canvas
25.4 x 33 x 3.5 cm

What does diversity mean to you?

Diversity means that the people given the authority and agency to deal with issues of racial and gender discrimination and injustice, are the ones who have had experiences of racial and gender discrimination and injustice.

If you could collaborate with anyone living or deceased, who would it be?

Collaboration in my practice is always determined by the demands of the work. One of my most successful collaborations is the ongoing work I have been doing with my wife, Frances Wadsworth Jones, who is a brilliant jewellery designer. I have recently been interested in collaborating with Sinagtala, a community of weavers based in the Southern Philippines.

Archival inkjet print of Phototex vinyl
Installation view, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo