Ta,Too Project

Series of self-portrait installations

Kimberley Acebo Arteche

TAYO interviewed visual artist Kimberley A. Arteche via email. We’re happy to present Arteche’s ‘Ta,Too Project,’ a series of self-portrait installations, on our Visual Art blog series!

Photo Credit: Joey Mintz

Kimberley Acebo Arteche creates photographic, sculptural, and digital pieces that explore the dynamics of identity within the contexts of race, ethnicity, gender, and culture. Originally from Metropolitan Washington DC area, she graduated with a B.F.A. in Visual Arts & Photography at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She is currently pursuing an M.F.A. in Art at San Francisco State University. Check out her social media handles here: Facebook + Instagram + Tumblr.

Read Arteche's Artist Statement for Ta,Too Project:
This series of self-portrait installations is in dialogue with Carlos Villa's "Tat2" pieces that appropriated Maori facial tattoo traditions to explore his identity as a Filipino American in the 1970’s. Villa’s appropriation of Maori tattooing was a reflection on the inaccessibility to information on Filipino Art History and Indigenous Filipino traditions." (Read more.)


I started my undergraduate career in Biology. I was the model minority in high school, was strong in the sciences, and was influenced by my family to pursue the Medical/Nursing route. I felt really isolated in high school and spent a lot of time on an online Xanga design forum called CreateBlog, taught myself how to do vector illustrations, and eventually got into Photography. I've always been really interested in Visual Arts, but was really hesitant about pursuing a career in it. All I understood at the time was that Medicine was the path to financial security. It wasn't until my third year in undergrad that I was courageous enough to switch majors, and I haven't been happier since.


Carlos Villa was the first Filipino American Artist that I learned about, and this wasn't until after I had graduated with my Visual Arts Degree. It was really disappointing to realize that Non-Western Art History wasn't taught at my Alma Mater at the time (the University of Maryland, Baltimore County). What really connects me to his work and his journey, was that while he was getting his MFA at Mills College, he asked his professor what Filipino Art History was, and his professor told him that there was none. Carlos took the lack of accessibility of information to his Filipino culture as a modus operandi to appropriate other cultures to declare an identity for his own. The invisibility of non-western art in the institution was what brought me to the Bay Area, so I found it only fitting to have a dialogue with his work. 

I thought very deeply about the relationship I have with my Filipino heritage and my accessibility to it. I have first hand experiences of what is passed down to me from my parents and relatives, but that was never enough for me. It took a lot of online research for me to learn about geography, history, language, cultural dances, and indigenous values that are so hard to recognize in the environment I grew up in. My relationship with my culture has always been moderated by technology and the internet, which, I think is also a huge indicator of the generation we live in now. I always make a point to integrate technology into my work and research to reconnect myself with the traditions that I've been separated from. 

There's been a lot of buzz about Wang Od lately with multiple photo essays of people who have taken the pilgrimage to be tattooed by her, and with her portraits being featured in the "Tatoueurs, Tatoués" exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. I often wonder what it would be like to have lived during these periods, so I take my work as an opportunity to digitally imagine if my life hadn't been changed through colonialism and immigration. There's a fine line of appropriation that my work operates in, much like Villa's. I am ethnically Filipina, but all of these traditions are so foreign to me, so I use my appropriation as a way to reclaim them for myself and what it means to me today. 


My relationship with Nikki S. Lee's work has evolved a lot over the years. In undergrad, I was really drawn to the formal aspects of her snapshot photography in "Projects," and thought it was such a simple and brilliant concept. Over my first year of graduate school, I spent a lot of time breaking down the theory and Lacanian philosophies that surround her work, which I really enjoyed. I make a point to understand these theories and apply it in my own work so that I have the language to discuss my work, not only on a visual level, but on an academic level as well.


There are several books that are extremely influential to my life and work. America Is In the Heart by Carlos Bulosan really shifted the way I viewed myself in this country. Growing up in Maryland, I wasn't exposed to Filipino American literature or history. My Filipino American history began when my mother was recruited to work at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C. That was the only narrative I was aware of: growing up in a family of other nurses (who became my Titas) that were also recruited to work at Howard. I realized that the stories and hardships faced by the characters in America Is In the Heart really mirrored the hardships faced by my mother and Titas as immigrants working in a Black hospital. I realized that the legacy of oppression of Filipino Americans started a long time ago, and is experienced in a multitude of ways. I'm currently digesting Leny Stroebel's Coming Full Circle and Melinda de Jesus' Pinay Power: Peminist Critical Theory as framework for the current projects I'm working on.


Over the last year, I've developed a strong dependence on process. There are at least three things that happen when I start a new project. The first is always research. It's really important to me that I connect all of the visual language I'm working with to academic research. This helps me really solidify my ideas. The second is that I connect it with something in my family's history. Moving so far from my parents, it's made me realize how much I took their knowledge and wisdom for granted. I ask them to tell me their stories and experiences as a way to preserve our history. I have a lot of memories that are starting to get clouded, and having these conversations with my mom really helps me return back to them. The last thing is decolonization. Reading Leny Stroebel's Coming Full Circle has been important with my work as a way to heal from traumas that I've been unaware of for so long.

My work has evolved so much over the last year and my relationship to form has changed a lot. I was so acclimated to making just beautiful photographs that my experimentations in other mediums are uncomfortable from time to time. I'm looking to engage my viewers in different ways rather than just two dimensional images that can be static sometimes. I'm looking for the best method of delivery for what I'd like to discuss with my work. If it's a photograph, sculpture, video or performance, I'm committed to the audience's engagement rather than what I'm comfortable with.


If it weren't for Culture Shock, I wouldn't have found the courage to pursue Art. I danced and worked with Culture Shock (a professional dance troupe & non-profit organization) for five years. It was there that I found community; people who really supported me and each other in whatever their dreams were. I was touched by individuals with so much drive and passion for dance or whatever they wanted to do with their lives, and I was completely inspired to finally make the move into Art and Photography. Culture Shock was my gateway into Hip Hop and social dance culture. I was so enamored by Hip Hop. It empowers anyone--regardless of race, culture, gender or sexuality--to have a voice. No matter how deep your relationship with Hip Hop is, your voice and your experience matters. I've made so many friends all over the world through dance. We're always able to connect over dance, get down, and communicate regardless if we speak the same language or not. That's something we hope to achieve with Art - break down the hegemony in the art world and make it accessible and engaging for everyone. (Thank you so much to Angie, Margareta, Joseph and Kathleen who have seriously shaped and encouraged my experience with Culture Shock.)


You know, I'm not completely sure. Haha. They haven't seen any of my projects in person since 2011, especially since I moved to the West Coast. But, they're extremely supportive because they know how passionate I am about my work. I make my work to honor their love and support. Every experience I have with them and every memory I have of them is ingrained into everything I make, so I hope they understand that I literally couldn't make anything without them.