The Vans Asia Custom Culture winner composes a picture of what’s inside the mind of a Filipino artist
As the jeepney trembled and shook, the hands of Nikko Pelaez did, too. He was in the middle of his commute last November when he found out through a tag on Instagram that he had just won the Vans Asia Custom Culture Competition held some weeks ago in China. All he could do then was smile to himself and perhaps expel a big sigh of relief knowing that, well, he wasn’t even there to compete.
The 23-year-old painter had to go against participants from 10 other countries, namely Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. While he was eager to represent the Philippines, there was one problem: He wasn’t a passport holder. As he and the Vans Philippines team were only notified of the final round occurring in China a week before it was scheduled to take place, this was going to be another make-or-break moment of sorts…one that didn’t work in Pelaez’s favor.
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“That was the end of the line for me. I just kept thinking to myself: ‘Sayang!’ Kasi naniniwala ako na kaya ko. Pero higit pa ‘dun, nagtitiwala ako na kaya ng Pinoy gumawa ng likhang-sining na papasa sa isang international contest,” shares Pelaez. “Doon lang ako nalungkot––sa part na yun––na walang kinatawan ang Pilipinas. Nanghinayang ako na sana may Pilipino man lang doon para maipakita kung paano tayo gumawa at kung ano ang kaya nating gawin: yung quality, yung konsepto, yung kakayahan nang isang Filipino artist.”
But just as Nikko believed in the capabilities of Filipino artists, Vans Philippines believed in him, too. They rallied for his inclusion and their efforts were proven fruitful. Vans Asia agreed to compromise and ended up allowing Nikko to compete from the Philippines, so long as he followed the same schedule and protocols as his competitors in China. And though he couldn’t travel, his shoe could. So, just as he finished, his creation was flown out to Hong Kong for final judging.
Now that the whirlwind of events has passed and the dust has settled, he can finally breathe. He sat with us recently and opened up about his experiences as a Filipino artist and what they mean to him, as Nikko Pelaez.
Pelaez, soft-spoken as he recounts his humble beginnings, attributes his awakening to the world of art to his father. He calls him the “original artist of the family,” even though his father never got to seriously pursue it. “It wasn’t seen as a stable, serious job at mababa talaga yung tingin sa sining noon,” he adds. “So, ako yung tumuloy sa Fine Arts at ngayon, tuwang-tuwa yung dad ko sa mga narating ko.”
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When asked about his biggest takeaway from his formal education on the arts, he replied with one word: understanding. A graduate from UE’s College of Fine Arts with a degree in Architecture and Design, Nikko believes that ultimately, his understanding of the world and of others was his diploma’s biggest merit: “Sa Fine Arts lumawak yung pagunawa ko. May mga tao diyan na ang dudungis ng itsura pero ‘pag kinausap mo, sobrang lalim nila at ng mga pananaw nila sa buhay.” The shared human experience, for Pelaez, is his art education’s biggest lesson. “Kapag skills kasi ang pinag-uusapan, kayang pag-aralan ng mag-isa eh. Pero yung pag-unawa? Kailangan mong maranasan nang may ibang tao sa paligid,” he says. “Yung pag-unawa sa mundo ay hindi mo maiindindihan ng ikaw lang––na nasa isang kwarto ka lang. Kailangan mo makipagsalamuha.”
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Pelaez believes that his art makes him understand himself a little more, too. “My medium of choice is acrylic: mabilis matuyo kaya’t sakto sa style ko na pang mabilisan. Gusto ko pagpahid ko ng pintura, tuyo na and pwede na pinturahan ulit,” he reflects. “Nasa personality ko rin ata yun na gusto kong tapusin agad yung ginagawa ko. Mabilis ako mainip minsan, so sakto sa akin yung acrylic [laughs] kasi tuloy-tuloy yung process.”
For this up-and-coming creative, art is the thread which ties humanity together. He points out: “Some people say they create art for themselves. They say it’s their own private outlet. But it would also be nice to think that art is for everyone. Paano makaka-relate ang isang tao sa sining mo? Ano ang maiaambag mo sa sining? Ano ang pwede mong ipagkaloob sa ibang tao? Yun yung importante.”
True enough, anyone from anywhere at all who takes a look at Nikko Pelaez’s shoe design and sees a little bit of themselves in them, too, would be able to wear them: a piece of Nikko walking in places all across the globe, sans passport.
It seems overwhelming, but Nikko finds composure in going back to his reason for joining in the first place. “Hindi ko inisip na aabot sa merkado yung sapatos ko. Hindi ko inisip yung cash prize. Gusto ko lang talaga sumali. Gusto ko lang sumali para sa sining.”
The rest is just more color.
Words Danielle Francisco
Art Alexandra Lara