Trigger warning: The online exhibition contains mentions of child abuse and EJK.
A children’s birthday party springs up several memories attached to it: indulging on sugar, bubblegum pop, sentimentality and overall, an innocence that can’t be quite mirrored in anything else.
For 18-year-old senior high school student Mari Bonifacio, this simply sets the stage for her scene. Known by her pseudonym Bonifaciiiio, the artist—as part of her and her classmates’ See I Am (SIYAM) exhibition—created the performance art exhibition “Birthday Party Massacre,” with themes of innocence distorted by cruel realities, framed through the lens of a moment from our family albums.
Children’s parties with underlying dark themes seem contradictory on paper, but Bonifaciiiio fuses them together through a series of photos and a short film. Her project includes images normally connected with childhood bliss—cakes decorated in blue icing, crayon-etched kids’ drawings—warped by messages crying out for help and malformed teddy bears, including news clips on cases of child abuse and extrajudicial killings.
“It’s a play on nostalgia. It’s supposed to take you back to where it all started by helping the audience reminisce about their childhood and upbringing, and how it had affected them as individuals,” Bonifaciiiio says. “I wanted to work with something familiar to all of us—a children’s birthday party. I want to spark that memory, but this time injected with the dark realities of abusive Filipino households and the current state of our nation.”
Bonifaciiiio dubs the exhibit as a “twisted love letter” to her audience, which isn’t propaganda in any form. “I like to think that ‘Birthday Party Massacre!’ is just showing you what already exists. I want to challenge people to rethink or unlearn what they know or just learn to be a bit empathic to others,” Bonifaciiiio tells us. “What we need is self-reflection of what we’ve consumed and what we’ve been exposed to, and be mindful of how our choices influence others.”
With a personal invite to her “Birthday Party Massacre!” (cake included), we sat down with Bonifaciiiio and talked about the online exhibit, including one message audiences could draw from it.
How did this project first come about?
I started planning this project around a year and a half ago, when creating art was my form of catharsis. I was in a bad place mentally. I had trouble with anxiety, depression and some manic behaviors. I needed to create something to help me heal, and at the same time, speak about uncomfortable issues I needed to confront but most people brush off.
I wanted to work with something familiar to all of us—a children’s birthday party. I want to spark that memory, but this time injected with the dark realities of abusive Filipino households and the current state of our nation.
How would you describe “Birthday Party Massacre”?
“Birthday Party Massacre!” is a celebration of the death of innocence. It’s a take on generational trauma which I researched as part of my school requirements.
My exhibit explores the experience of realizing that you don’t like what’s being served and fed to you. In this manufactured norm, we eventually see the bigger picture which radically conflicts the ideal. The details I used are in fact violent, uncomfortable and disturbing. My work explores these uncomfortable truths which include child abuse, EJK and anything that pretty much shows abuse of power.
What was the ideation process like for the online exhibition? How challenging was its creation?
My nine lovely classmates and I teamed up to create the See I Am online exhibition. It was definitely a challenge because we only had around two to three weeks to create everything. This includes the program, umbrella website and our individual exhibitions. We really had to work as a team and almost all of us didn’t sleep for days to get it done and pour our hearts, souls, tears and passion into this exhibition. But at the end of all the hard work, it was a success.
What we need is self-reflection of what we’ve consumed and what we’ve been exposed to, and be mindful of how our choices influence others.
Is there a particular message you’d like your audience to draw from the exhibition?
I want my audience to feel these realities— feel the eeriness, the obscurity, weirdness, discomfort, anything that you’d like to call it. I want them to take a good look at themselves and be honest enough to recognize what they have or what they’re missing.
Reports on violence, death and abuse during these times are at an all-time high. It’s very easy to look, react and then be passive about it. The news, the internet and this whole algorithm are so quick that we forget that we’re reading about real people with real stories and feelings. Because it’s not just about the people that were affected, it’s also about everyone who takes part in this system where we normalize abuse. Influence and power will always have an effect on our experiences. The way our parents or guardians raised us as children somehow resembles how our government rules over its citizens.
The tears we shed after getting spanked or hit when we do “something wrong” is somehow amplified in the experiences of children who are victims of extrajudicial killings. Both types of abuse don’t get any justice. But being allowed to express this in this exhibit allowed me to confront the injustice and I hope others would feel the same way too.
Any plans for transforming “Birthday Party Massacre!” into a physical exhibition?
“Birthday Party Massacre!” was supposed to be a physical exhibition for my senior year in SoFA featuring the installation artworks we have been making since the start of the year. But due to the pandemic, we had to adjust our plans and convert it to an online exhibition.
I would absolutely love to take my series and installation art exhibit on “Birthday Party Massacre!” into a physical exhibition setting soon and team up with an art gallery. It’s something I’m very passionate about and it’s really close to my heart. But for now, let’s stay safe and enjoy our online exhibit at siyamph.art.
Visit the online exhibition of “BIRTHDAY PARTY MASSACRE!” here.
This story is part of our #SeenOnScout series, which puts the spotlight on young creatives and their body of work. Join the Scout Family & Friends Facebook group right here, and share your work with us in the group or through using #SeenOnScout on Twitter and Instagram.
This Baguio-based artist is bringing new life to classic art
This art student transformed canned goods into protest statements
This young Cebuano designer is Filipino sustainable fashion’s future
Art by Bonifaciiiio