For Isabel & Alfredo Aquilizan, Home is ‘Somewhere, Elsewhere, Nowhere’

by Cindy Julia Tobing
27th June 2023
Showing at Museum MACAN until 8 October 2023, ‘Somewhere, Elsewhere, Nowhere’ by Filipino artists Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan navigate themes of home, displacement and what it means to belong.

There’s power in everyday objects, and this is what Filipino artists Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan portray in their body of work. From the symbolism of the balikbayan box (a type of cardboard box usually used for Filipinos to send out amenities to their families living abroad) to the diverse motifs of blankets that can reveal much about a culture, the duo’s first-ever survey exhibition at Museum MACAN invites comers to reexamine and look beyond what they usually see.

Both partners in life and art, the Aquilizans’ 20 years of collaborative work is never far from their own experience. Having migrated to Australia from the Philippines in 2006, ideas of journey, displacement and individual identity are naturally built into every surface of their art and practice, signified through the most rudimentary, and often overlooked, household objects that are always near the confines of one’s home. 

“The idea is for everyone to start connecting their stories to the things they see around them. From the sounds to the form of the materials, we don’t realise the power and possibilities of what an object can carry until it’s being brought to spaces like these,” gauged Isabel. 

Take the extravagant and highly detailed ‘In-Habit: Project Another Country (Here, There, Everywhere)’ (2018), standing like the titular character of the exhibition with its sprawling physique. Constructed from balikbayan boxes, the installation takes the form of a large satellite dish, with each form and size of the box intricately shaped to illustrate the hierarchy of neighbourhoods; from the farmhouses to the high-density residential areas, the artwork is a visual representation of urbanisation and the communities living within these spaces.

Another ordinary object comes in the form of a toothbrush, as seen in the work ‘Presences and Absences’ (1999-2003). Strewn below the bridge-like podium that leads to the main exhibition space, hundreds of donated toothbrushes are bundled together as if each one of them is telling the story of its previous owner. As part of ‘Project Be-Longing’—a continuous series that scrutinises the meaning of personal objects to better understand the concept of belonging—this piece also serves as a definitive example of the Aquilizans’ work ethos that sees art as a shared experience instead of an individual pursuit.

The artists’ connection to Indonesia is inherent in works like ‘Caged’ (2023), a life-size aeroplane wing made of 92 teak bird cages created in collaboration with local artisans in Yogyakarta. Prompted by a curiosity about keeping birds as pets—one Javanese tradition that they observed during their residency back in Yogyakarta in 2005—the artists aim to connect the object with ideas of freedom and oppression. Said Alfredo of the artwork, “We designed it to look like an aeroplane wing. And only one wing, so there’s that idea of non-flight. It’s actually a metaphor for birds that are caged, but if you look at it another way, there are also other layers of narratives that people can naturally relate to.” 

Having their works come together within one space has evoked a unique feeling for the husband and wife. Alfredo compares the process to “seeing your children that have been away for a long time”, as their art pieces have travelled from other places before they landed in Jakarta. He added, “It’s also interesting to see how our works are recontextualised because we’re recreating them in a different place, different time and different situation.”

“But one of the most important things [to be present] in our works is about the engagement—the engagement with the place, with the ideas of why we create the work, and with the audience and how they can expand the meaning of the work according to their own interpretation, experience and background.”


‘Isabel & Alfredo Aquilizan: Somewhere, Elsewhere, Nowhere’ runs from June 24, 2023 to October 8, 2023 at Museum MACAN. For more details and booking information, click here.