London celebrations

From Manila to London, artist Kulay Labitigan tells the colorful story of the house

London’s foodie epicenter Soho recently hosted a new Filipino restaurant that’s been in the spotlight for two reasons. Kasa & Kin, conceptualized by the owners behind Romulo Cafe, opened with a touch of contemporary Filipino cuisine, developed by a team that includes a Michelin-starred chef. Equally breathtaking is the expansive fresco that envelops the restaurant’s interior in kaleidoscopic patterns, harlequin imagery, and the glowing plumage of an ubiquitous Ibong Adarna, leaving guests in awe throughout their stay.

The artist behind the mural is a 31-year-old Filipino who people refer to by his art. Kulay Labitigan is a rising visual artist and ‘experiential’ illustrator in London with a talent for storytelling.

ARTIST. Kulay Labitigan. Photo courtesy of Kulay Labitigan.

Born in Tayabas, Quezon, Kulay completed his fine arts studies at Diliman University of the Philippines and came to the UK on a scholarship to study for a Masters in Narrative Environments at Central Saint Martins-University. of the Arts in London, one of the best in the world. design schools.

Kasa & Kin’s wall design was especially special for Kulay as an immigrant living in the UK. “Adarna symbolizes a multitude of meanings for different people. In Francisco Balagtas’ tale, the mythical bird was a healer of the sick king, a reference to the many Filipino healthcare professionals who work in the UK healthcare services. The bird is also closely associated with nesting, which is tantamount to saying that Kasa & Kin is a home. But what resonates with me the most is the bird as a flight and migration animal. These are powerful thoughts for all Filipino and non-Filipino restaurant meals, ”Kulay recalls.

Beyond the mural, he also helped translate his art into food (an Adarna drink) and bring it to customers’ phones (an Adarna Instagram mask filter) – taking diners on a unique journey of sense and introspection while enjoying Filipino cuisine.

COLORS. Interior of Kasa & Kin in Soho, London. Photo courtesy of Kulay Labitigan.

Kulay’s works span nearly 15 years, exploring various media and fields such as theatrical production, 3D installation arts, and illustrations. Some of his artwork is featured in select Jollibee stores across the UK, including London.

He likes to use the word “creative storyteller” to describe what he does. From the stories and meanings he conceptualizes, Kulay creates a temporal environment where people can experience art. Much like the way writers choose their words to convey stories, he is fascinated by story arcs and how these can be best represented across different media.

Kulay grew up in Tayabas in a family of artisans, farmers and entrepreneurs. In a quaint town with deep local traditions, he often spent his childhood reproducing the religious imagery drawn on the ceiling of the 16th-century Basilica of San Miguel de Arcangel and watching plays and performances in the local theater. It was then that he discovered art.

After studying for two years at UP Los Baños, he transferred to UP Diliman and majored in industrial design. It was a period when he began to design theater sets for independent and professional shows.

GOSSIP. “Tsismosa” (2021). Kulay Labitigan.

Taken under the wing of the great set designer and set designer Gino Gonzales, Kulay continued to reflect and learn about the power of soft power and Filipino culture. He was one of the Philippine Youth Ambassadors for the 40th Southeast Asia Youth Ship Program (SSEAYP) 2013, a government-supported multi-month youth cultural exchange program. Japanese.

In London, he was mentored by the late Filipino visual artist David Medalla, known for his “self-creative” works and participatory ideas, founder of the London Biennale and highly respected within the European artistic community.

“As a ‘creative storyteller’ I find immense joy and fulfillment in connecting the dots, developing stories and applying them to real world scenarios. I believe that above all, history is the universal language. It is the currency of our time. Sometimes stories don’t even need words to be told. From actions to events, carefully sequenced segments trigger our emotion and consciousness, shaping our understanding of our world and ultimately of our being. This is how stories become transformative, ”says Kulay.

HEARTS. “Basag Na Banga” (2021). Kulay Labitigan.

Including the mural by Kasa & Kin, many of Kulay’s proudest works are references to the Philippines, his childhood hometown of Quezon, and reflections on the home manifested through various media – all concocted into sensory experiences. .
The best industrial design thesis from the UP School of Fine Arts in 2012, which he won, was a set of adult toys that he made to instill a greater appreciation for the cultural monuments of Tayabas. In 2017, he designed the setting and identity for a Filipino community festival in Blacktown, Australia called Mahal Kita Future Bayan.

In Tayabas, he mounted his own street shadow project on Holy Thursdays for three consecutive years, creating folkloric images of shadow on empty abandoned walls along highways as locals did the annual panata march. one hour to Kamay Ni Hesus Shrine in Lucban, Quezon.

“In 2015, I ventured into a creative introspection. I packed my whole life in a 30 kilogram suitcase and hopped on a plane to the other side of the globe, a place I’ve never been to but now call home. Studying design in London allowed me to understand my creative voice, refine my style and artistic methods, and discover that all I was looking for on this trip is what I already have and what I already am.

“This amazing experience made me realize that the house transcends the physical and that my own roots and my history of growing up in the rural Philippines – including my anecdotes as a Southeast Asian gay man and all fragments of my personal concept of home – inform my creative practice. I am proud to see that this has made my work relevant, distinct and, most importantly, a medium that connects and gives people who experience my art a sense of belonging, ”says Kulay. –