Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan at The National in Campbelltown Arts Centre

29 Apr 2023

Filipino husband-and-wife artist duo Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan have built their lives and art around the experience of being on the move around the world. Often exploring themes of migration, displacement, and the search for a home in their art. One of their series of works, titled Project Another Country (2008–ongoing), is deeply influenced by the experience of millions of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), who relocate to other countries in search of employment.

The Aquilizans are currently presenting as a part of Dreamhome: Stories of Art and Shelter (2022–2023), in honor of the new building at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) in Sydney, Australia. The project delves into the theme of home and how art can cultivate a sense of belonging, as demonstrated through their collaboration with local volunteering communities to make their miniature cardboard “dream homes”. Moving forward for the National 4, the Aquilizans probe deeper into this in their newest project works with the histories and communities of Campbelltown, sourcing materials, ideas, as well as processes to create a new work.

While the Aquilizans’ approach to project-based artworks is often collaborative and the outcomes are ambiguous, the driving force of their works is clear. In contrast to the contextual nature of their AGNSW project, their latest endeavor for The National turns inward to focus on their own family—their five already-adult children: Miguel, Diego, Amihan, Leon, and Aniway. Following a three-year separation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Aquilizan family has reunited and is based in Brisbane, Australia. Therefore, their forthcoming project offers an opportunity to reconnect familial bonds and explore the nuances and complexities of homemaking, while also questioning what their “dream home” might look like.

Considering the emotional and political importance of the cardboard box, or ‘return home’ or rather what Filipinos call the ‘balikbayan box’, the artists have employed cardboard in their collaborative projects for decades, as it is a familiar material that is cheap, flexible, and manipulable – makes it congenial, and approachable. But it also reflects the shared affinity of migration and return that is so deeply ingrained in the national consciousness of Filipinos. While the material used in their art provides a glimpse into the Aquilizan family’s “dream homes,” Alfredo stresses that the real project lies in the intangible aspects, or what he calls ‘the invisibles.’ Isabel furthers this point by emphasising that the relationships formed during the artistic process are the most valuable aspect of their practice as “the community, the family, is made through the work. And that lies – again, as always – ahead.”

The National 4: Australian Art Now that features the Aquilizans is exhibited at Campbelltown Art Centre until 25 June 2023.