We had the good fortune of connecting with Matt Manalo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Matt, other than deciding to work for yourself, what was the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success?
Typically, an artist works by himself in his own studio. You get involved in the pieces you are working on mentally and emotionally. There would be moments where my family would peek in but that was it for the most part. That creative solitude brought me to realize I did not have to work alone on my projects. In 2019, I started making social practice as part of my process. I realized the power of community. With the help of Asia Society of Texas’ Curator and Director of Exhibitions Bridget Bray, we formed Filipinx Artists of Houston: A collective of Filipinx Visual, Performing, Literary, Culinary and Multidisciplinary Artists in Houston, Texas. Also in the same year, through Diverseworks’ Project Freeway Fellowship, I was able to establish the Alief Art House which is an alternative art space with community-focused programming. With that said, the most important decision I have made was to include the community in my practice. I realized that uplifting others also uplifts my creative soul.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I make work which involves elements of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, and printmaking. Using raw materials —found, collected, or often times donated, I am making my practice environmentally conscious as well as understanding the idea of scarcity and abundance. My use of grid tackles geography, cartography, borders, and the idea of displacement while having a constant conversation of how “home” should be defined. Being a first generation immigrant, I discuss experiences of navigating around physical and social structures. My work explores and exposes topics involving colonial mentality, erasure, and colorism. I believe what sets me apart from others is my use of materials and how I put them together to convey a stronger, deeper meaning to the pieces. I am mostly excited about the part where people want to pick my brain and ask questions like: “What made you use this material?” or “What is the story behind this piece?”. My whole journey was brought about by constant failures and making bad decisions but it turns out, every single lesson I learned prepared me to be the person I am today. I’ve learned how to be resilient and also have a voice, which could also be done through art. I’ve also learned to be humble because it doesn’t matter how many things you have achieved, there will always be something to learn. I want everyone to know and this phrase has been used a million times, but anything is possible as long as you put your heart and soul into it.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My best friend is a chef. If I were to take him anywhere here in Houston, I would most definitely take him out to all the restaurants my family and I have enjoyed going to. I would take him to Chinatown and the East End to eat. Then I would also take him to the museums and galleries where my work has been displayed. I will also take him to NASA and maybe do a road trip to San Antonio and Austin to go sightseeing.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
First of all, I’d like to give a shoutout to my wife and my kids who have been my greatest inspiration to not only work hard but also make meaningful work which goes beyond something purely decorative. I’d also like to include my parents and my siblings for continually supporting me. I wouldn’t be here either without the guidance I have received from my friends and professors I’ve met in and outside of art school. Of course I won’t forget to each and every member of the Filipinx Artists of Houston for being so amazing with our collaborations, shared stories, and art techniques. Also, for the community of Alief who has always welcomed me and my ideas –to all the artists, arts organizations I have worked with for this project to continue.
Personal photo by Michael Starghill Artwork images provided by artist