“Caught between two worlds”: Mark Valenzuela on personal and geographical tensions


For over a decade, Mark Valenzuela has interrogated colonisation, oppression and territory through a highly personal lens, especially through his Filipino-Australian identity. His new exhibition, as part of South Australian Living Artists (SALA) Festival, explores how personal identity is entwined with the legacies of geopolitical history.

Still tied to a tree at Adelaide Central School of Arts (ACSA) features large-scale installations that combine ceramics, painting and drawing. The exhibition is one of two the artist will present during SALA, with the Art Gallery of South Australia showing a selection of recent Valenzuela acquisitions. The ACSA show, however, exhibits new works.

Still tied to a tree compresses and compares the two worlds that I inhabit—Australia and the Philippines—to extend my explorations of territory and space,” says Valenzuela. “On a personal level, this exhibition explores the limbo-like state of being caught between two worlds, and my tendency to constantly compare these contexts.

“This exhibition explores the tensions that come from existing in this transient state while experiencing a strong pull from both locations towards a more fixed position.”

Alongside this personal exploration, the show explicitly foregrounds historical conflict and violence in both Australia and the Philippines. The medium of ceramics, says Valenzuela, is particularly appropriate due to its “paradoxical quality of being hard and durable yet also incredibly fragile and breakable”.

From this stems Valenzuela’s striking link of the two countries’ shared colonial violence with his own cultural identity. As he says, “The political context in the Philippines is inherently tied to our complex and violent history of colonisation, and these explorations continually remind me of my own position in Australia, where I now live and work on the unceded territory of First Nations peoples.”

Still tied to a tree
Mark Valenzuela
Adelaide Central School of Arts (SALA Festival)
26 July—16 September

Art Gallery of South Australia (SALA festival)
1 August—31 August 

Preview Words by Barnaby Smith