May 16, 2024.

Posted by Kris Madejski.

ChiChai is a multidisciplinary artist and educator from the San Francisco Bay Area. In her time at Fish Factory, she fabricated a fashion design and ceramics collection.
Through fashion design, ChiChai discusses Filipinx migration, the ongoing exportation of our bodies and labor, and our ability to create a sense of home wherever we go… even in this completely different type of island 10,500+ miles away.

The ceramics collection, Ofrendas Para Sa Bundok, is dedicated to mountains; the ones she’s cried to, prayed to, greeted good morning to and more. Each ofrenda has a bul-ul, a carved figure used to protect the land and harvests. The bul-ul for the Icelandic fjord holds a fish as an offering, the Ifugao bul-ul offers strands of rice grass, and the Punalu’u bul-ul carries a lei of kukui.

ChiChai’s “Kaya Ko Rin” from her 2024 series “Saan Ka Galing” is a poignant exploration of Filipino cultural heritage and craftsmanship, created during her time at the Fish Factory artist residency in Iceland. This Filipiniana is not only an embodiment of traditional forms but also a canvas for innovative ecological and cultural narratives.

The garment’s design intentionally foregoes stabilizers in the sleeves to mirror the traditional attire worn by the working class, offering an authentic feel and historical connection. The straps, inspired by the aerial roots of the monstera, symbolize the deep connections of the Filipino people to their native landscapes and the resilience required to thrive in disparate environments.

Adding to the residency’s unique influence, ChiChai also crafted a fishing-inspired vest and a tulip hat, utilizing a coffee bean bag and fabric scraps. Through these creations, ChiChai not only revisits the themes of identity and resilience found in Filipino culture but also illustrates the innovative spirit of sustainability and adaptation in art.

“The Philippines biggest export is… ourselves. Our skills, our labor, our creativity… our entire beings. The economic system forces Filipinx to look for a “better life” outside the archipelago while colonial thought engrains promises in the American/Western dream. Each time I looked up at this monstera in awe of our shared brethren ties to the tropics I thought of how amazing the Filipinx people are in our ability to adjust — thrive even– in these completely different environments. I’m also reminded that what brought me to Iceland was my own pursuit, my own privilege. I initially felt guilt in that comparison of purposes but this privilege to move freely by choice and not by economic or colonial forces is something I want for all of us. All of us, too, deserve to see the world for the joy of it. I dedicate this filipiniana to the diaspora whose roots are worn on the sleeve and are ready to stabilize and breathe in anew while deeply holding onto where we are truly rooted to.”