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Jellyfish Kisses builds safe spaces through art

Last year, I officially met Anton Belardo a.k.a. Jellyfish Kisses during our Pride month shoot. We featured three LGBTQ+ individuals from different scenes—and they definitely stood out. Jellyfish Kisses is a candy-colored being from an unknown planet, model by day and an eccentric artist by night. They were like Manchester-based alien queen Juno Birch: a cosmic housewife stuck in our world, creating their own brand of art. 

It’s just that Jellyfish Kisses is from a different planet than Birch’s. And on their planet, they have a tradition of building safe spaces on the places they’re currently inhabiting. 

“Whenever I do a show, it’s always connected. So, yung installation from my first solo exhibit until ’yung dito sa Art Fair project, it’s all connected, Ang pinaka-common thread niya is safe spaces.” says Jellyfish Kisses. “Kasi I think, as a queer individual, I know the value of safe spaces. I just give different interpretations and different versions of a safe space. Kasi when I see like any spaces, nakikita ko na agad: “Oh, pwede ‘tong maging safe space. That’s how I feel about it.”

“As a queer individual, I know the value of safe spaces. I just give different interpretations and different versions of a safe space.”

Any individual stepping into Jellyfish Kisses’ makeshift space understands this. For instance, take their installation from this year’s Alt Fair. They created a candy-colored panic room, filled with their signature hues of pinks, blues, and greens. Once you enter, you can make yourself at home and talk to the artist themself about anything: Your problems, inner turmoil, or about your day and they would listen. No matter how heavy or light the conversation might be.

“Whenever I get depressed, I go to this, like, website and it’s called Blah Therapy. The website is an anonymous chat place where you can vent and listen to strangers without judgment ’cause it’s anonymous,” they explain. “What I wanted for Alt is a physical version of that. I did a one-on-one session with strangers. Ang difference niya between my piece for Art Fair is that it’s a very intimate one-on-one.”

Jellyfish Kisses’ installation for this year’s Art Fair is not as intimate. Still, they want everyone coming in to be part of the exhibit. Soft Punk S/S wasn’t a booth where people can invent. Instead, it served as a place where people can create memories through fabric. It’s all about weaving the past, present, and future. No matter how sweet or painful it may seem.

“It’s their turn to contribute their stories as a whole piece. Master quilter lang ako.” 

Entering their installation, you’ll be greeted by their lifesized dolls and a triptych painting on the side. The neon above those canvases read: “I don’t love you anymore.” Viewers can derive their own meaning from this sentence. As for me, it was a sign of hope and shedding away self-hate from the past. I didn’t love who I was before. I didn’t love the vile hatred I created for myself. I am ready to move on. 

While getting immersed in the colorful world of Soft Punk S/S, I saw Jellyfish Kisses taking selfies with Art Fair patrons and greeting some friends. I took the opportunity to sit down with them to talk about their exhibit, how they wanted for others to perceive it, and why creating safe spaces through art made them more open as a person.

Where did you get the idea for your Art Fair exhibit?
Habang ginagawa ko kasi yung shows, doon ko pa lang ma-rerealize ’yung deeper meaning niya. Nagtatahi ako at nagreresearch, at the same time. Nalaman ko that this show is about yung origins ko nga with fashion ’cause used to work in fashion before. Instead of showing clothes, I wanted to present memories instead.

Each doll is a memory. Ang pinaka focus ng show is ’yung mga struggles of queer individuals and personal, mga trans people—anyone who does not fit in in society. Pero meron din naman akong mga lighter pieces like a fabric that reminds me of the first time I’ve ever fell in love. Ang space na ‘to is for all of those people that are being judged based on clothing. Kasi para sa akin, lagi ko siyang naeexperience.

How are you judged for your appearance?
People are being judged based on something as simple as clothing. Sobrang laki ng discrimination when it comes to appearances. I grew up around 2000s and people have this mentality, but it might be better now. I still think there are still things that could be better.

Right now, our trans sisters sila yung target ng discrimination ngayon. Itong space na ’to is about facing these aspects of discrimination. 

What’s the role of the observer in your exhibitions?
With every show I do, the audience will finish the work. Every show ko is like that. The piece starts with me, but it becomes something else at the end. What I feel and what emotions na nafefeel ko or situations ko, there are other people out there who feel them too. It’s not special. In a way, ako lang ’yung representative, nirerepresent yung mga issues na ’yun through myself. But it’s about everyone else who go through it.

Read more: Express yourself: Three young queer creatives on style and identity

With the interactive part of Soft Punk, I’m going to finish the last doll. There are 10 dolls, but nine dolls are finished. The 10th doll will be finished here on Sunday, 4 p.m. Everyone is invited to help me finish the dress. Sobrang obsessed kasi ako with story quilts and how fabrics can tell stories about someone’s past, life, mga ganyan-ganyan. So parang it’s their turn to contribute their stories as a whole piece. Master quilter lang ako, I’m gonna make sure na in the end, it hopefully looks nice. 

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💚 Soft Punk S/S 2020 💚 Dear Diary , it was an amazing 4 day show . I think 3 months of barely sleeping, not going out and the countless break downs paid off. Thank you to my @vinylonvinyl family who made sure it was a stress free show @gabydelamerced @piafish @inas3486 Kuya degie. You have always Let me do what I feel is it right for me. @beeangka who helped me during the duration of the fair💚 @heyloveca who assisted me on the production. I would not have finished without your efficient aquarius [email protected] always sharing his aquarius lighting expertise . Interns/ my babies @lacostecharleees @icontheoptimist t lorde . @artfairph for the lovely opportunity @trickiel @dindinaraneta Lisa Periquet , Norman crisologo @jean.intransit . And to everyone who came and shared this moment with me . Love you with all my heart 💓💪♒💚😘😍 #thediaryofjellyfishkisses #jellyfishkisses #artfairph2020 #art #artph

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Do you care about what other people think about your pieces?
As long as they at least feel something with it, I’m fine. Ayung yung pinaka-challenge with making any show. It’s really about touching someone in a way na it will make them see things differently. Kasi ’di ba parang ’yun naman yung purpose of art?

It’s not really about selling or collecting. It’s about making people see the same things from a different perspective. Hopefully, that’s what I’m doing. 

“May mga times na “When will this end?” This feeling of not being worthy. You just have to trust yourself, yung instinct mo.”

What do you want viewers to take away from Soft Punk?
That it does get better naman in time. May mga times na “When will this end?” This feeling of not being worthy. You just have to trust yourself, yung instinct mo. You have to just go for it. If you wanna look like this, if you want blue skin, you just go for it. That’s it lang naman. Believe in what you want and do what you want. Of course, you have to respect others ’din.

Read more: How a dance party became a safe space for queer Asians in New York

Do you think every installation you do, you become more and more open to others?
The more akong mas open, the reaction of the people, nakikita daw nila yung sincerity ko daw with the work. So yes, I think I am becoming more open.

Photo by Rogin Losa

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