Multidisciplinary contemporary artist Leeroy New inspires York artists and scholars

Leeroy New: group photo. YCAR photograph.

Internationally acclaimed Filipino contemporary artist Leeroy New visited the School of Arts, Media, Performance and Design (AMPD) and the Philippine Studies Group (PSG) at York University on 26 September 2023. His visit included studio visits with students of the Graduate Program of Visual Arts, a lunch with PSG members, and a public artist talk.

Known for his large-scale immersive environments, costuming, collaborative performances and video works driven by world building, myth-making and social change, New was in Toronto for two high-profile artistic interventions. For Nuit Blanche, the all-night contemporary art event, the artist crafted Balangay Starfleet, a series of large vessels woven from strips of bamboo and adorned with recycled plastics, which were suspended from the ceiling of the Scarborough Town Centre. At The Bentway, the artist also constructed Balete Balute Bituka, a sprawling architectural installation that resembled tentacles writhing under the Gardiner Expressway.    

The Manila-based artist conducted one-on-one studio critiques with current MFA visual art students. Andria Keen benefitted from New’s feedback: “Leeroy shared insights around how climate and the collectivity of Philippine culture has influenced his artwork,” said Keen, a first-year MFA student and sculptor. “This resonates with how my sculptural practice questions ideologies of rugged individualism.”

“Leeroy’s visit is an example of how our graduate students are not only conversant with the local and national art scenes, but also engage with contemporary artists at the international level,” states Nina Levitt, the Graduate Program Director of Visual Arts. 

In his artist talk, provocatively entitled Outer-Space Filipino Worker, Newrecounted his early years as a creative child growing up in the Philippines, his love for science fiction, and provided an overview of his stunning projects that embody his futurist imaginings. Using natural materials, found objects and assorted discards, the artist’s speculative futurist aesthetic engages with Filipino contemporary life, pre-colonial mythology, and environmentalism. New’s talk was attended by over 100 people, including art students, artists and members of the public who were mesmerized by his presentation.  

Since 2008, New has exhibited across North America, Australia, Europe and Asia. He has shown at the Palais de Tokyo, Biennale of Sydney, Honolulu Triennale, Somerset House, and was selected to build an installation for Burning Man 2020. He has won numerous awards such as the Ateneo Art Awards in 2008, the Cultural Center of the Philippines 13 Artists Awards in 2012, and Asian Cultural Council arts grant in New York in 2015. In 2011, his sculpted silicone bustier was featured in Lady Gaga’s “Marry the Night” music video.        

York University’s Philippine Studies Group brings together faculty and graduate students with an interest in the Philippines and/or Filipino migration and diaspora who come from disciplinary backgrounds including anthropology, dance, education, environmental studies, fine arts, geography and political science.

“Artists such as Leeroy New inspire our students to exceed disciplinary boundaries, to engage meaningfully with communities, and to envision alternative futures through their art,” explains Visual Arts and Art History professor and PSG member, Marissa Largo. “This is the kind of border-crossing, critical thinking, and research-creation that we want to cultivate at York.”  

Photo Credits: Revill Villanueva