Carlo Maghirang reimagines multiple generations of family with ‘MA-NA-NANG-GAL’

· Updated on March 28, 2024

*Photo Credit: Lawrence Sumulong, © Lincoln Center

*Fabrication and 3D sculpting in collaboration with Tay Brizendine // Siggy Studio 

Carlo Maghirang is bringing Filipino myth making to life with his latest work MA-NA-NANG-GAL. As a creative proficient in fine arts of all kinds, including design, sculpture, scenic painting, and digital animation, Maghirang’s highlights his diverse mix of artistic abilities with technology to create a sculpture series named after the Filipino folklore creature who can separate itself in half. Using photo manipulation/collage, generative AI, and 3D modeling, the Los Angeles-based visual artist and designer reimagines the mananggal as a link to and a premonition of a utopian future where multiple generations of Filipino people flourish beyond economic displacement.

Now, MA-NA-NANG-GAL has a home in Lincoln Center’s Hearst Plaza in New York City this month. INTO spoke with Maghirang about his Lincoln Center debut, how campy and obscure YouTube videos inspired his queer awakening, and how he identifies with influencer Bretman Rock‘s ferocious energy.

Carlo, congrats on your Lincoln Center debut. How does it feel to have your work displayed at an institution like Lincoln Center?

To be able to share this deeply personal tale as well as being a culture-bearer presenting FIlipino folktale is such a rare opportunity. I am greatly honored to be doing this work on such a large and public platform and I am doing my best to be present for this moment. I have been in collaboration with Mimi Lien’s Social Sculpture Project for almost three years now, so it is surreal to see the culmination of all that work finally bear fruit. I am so excited to share this installation – we are open March 24-31st at the Hearst Plaza tree grove.

What is the story behind your installation MA-NA-NANG-GAL and what does it mean to you?

I would say that it’s a love letter. I have been thinking a lot lately about a life that has disconnected me from things and people I really held close at one point in my life, and what causes those separations to occur, particularly in reference to Filipino bodies in foreign lands, like the US. At first I thought this was about answering a large question: what happens to Filipinos after generations of economic displacement? I put such a difficult question in front of myself to answer, but it eventually led me to respond with a map of my own life. 

MA-NA-NANG-GAL is in reference to a folktale creature that, if boiled down to its most essential attributes, can separate itself in half. I wanted it – her – to be the storyteller. I took three generations of my own family, including myself, and projected them three generations forward. What would we look like, this lineage of people, if we continue to survive displacement from our land, language, and home in the future? What if we didn’t end up broken and traumatized, but instead we were powerful, thriving and multiplied (rather than halved)? It’s a love-letter to anyone surviving beyond the diasporic experience. 

You’re skilled in a variety of fine arts, including design, scenic painting, graphic art, puppetry, collage, digital animation and sculpture. While your latest installation, MA-NA-NANG-GAL, highlights your sculpture skills, which artistic medium do you feel you pulled to most?

I love expressing myself in all different materials, skills, and mediums, but I always return to three-dimensional artwork and installation. I love form, space, and tangibility. Before I was an environment designer, I was a sculptor. I had a mentor once who told me I’d never realize the large ideas I wanted to bring to life if I didn’t get smart. He told me that I should hijack a profession that would bring me closer to making what I truly wanted, and set design was that thing, so I did precisely what he had said and “hijacked” it. For years I designed “experimental” performance and experiential spaces that spoke in my specific voice, and that poetically led me back to my roots in sculpture and installation – coming home to it here on the Lincoln Center campus. That gamble really paid off, I think! 

Creatives can snag inspiration from almost anything. Where do you look to for artistic inspiration?

I’ve always been inspired by the idea of “otherness” and was obsessed with creating that as a sensation. How do I make viewers feel like they are foreign in a familiar place? I would say that stems from the immigrant AND queer experience – having to constantly navigate unfamiliar or hostile terrains. I’m inspired by the sensations of danger and instability that those experiences evoke, and how to manufacture it in a way that feels playful and triggers curiosity in people. 

Speaking of inspiration, what was a queer pop culture moment that served as your queer awakening?

I really had to look for my boisterous queer icons mostly on the internet, where queer spectacle was celebrated just as much as, if not more than, being derided. I honestly love ANYTHING camp, but mostly I love absurdity and obscureness, and what really did it for me (and please don’t judge), is this YouTube video from 2012 by a Norwegian blogger named Tommy called “A Butter Message to the USA.” Now this was pure melodrama and storytelling. A scathing review of American Capitalism symbolically represented by dairy, and told through the unhinged monologue of a twink with a butter addiction – THIS was experimental media performance. 

What was the last art piece that took your breath away?

One of the last installations that really moved me was in 2016: Liquid Shard by Patrick Shearn in Los Angeles. It truly felt like an alien had descended in the middle of the city. It was such a simple gesture, but the movement that object had in relation to the weather was a kind of liveness that still to this day remains an irreplaceable memory. 

Speaking of movement, I also deeply respect Dimitri Papaioannou as an artist. When I saw The Great Tamer for the first time, I was in awe of the way he crafted bodies, materials, and space. I wept when I witnessed a barrage of arrows descending onto the stage and then becoming a field of wheat. If I continued to design for live performance, I would say that he would be a constant source of inspiration for me. 

And MOST recently I would say that watching All Of Us Strangers really wrecked me. I am a fiend for the supernatural. That queer reinvention of the classic ghost story, and told so emotionally and deeply, really felt parallel with what I am doing with my current work MA-NA-NANG-GAL, which I think is partly about healing an inner child. 

If a celebrity commissioned you to create an art piece for them, who do you wish it would be for?

I have been reveling recently between the intersection of queerness and the FIlipino consciousness, and the only person off the top of my mind that really embodies this currently is Bretman Rock. They really are just giving us everything. It would be such a dynamic collaboration to work with somebody who celebrated our culture, language, beauty, and our humor – and to let loose a ferocious energy that I really identify with. I also enjoy the presence of chickens. 

Lastly, what do you hope people ultimately take away from MA-NA-NANG-GAL?

I hope people are inspired to rewrite their narratives away from tragedy. I think we are often called to bring forward these rough parts of ourselves for people to really hear us and see us. And there’s nothing wrong with that, so long as we leave room to imagine ourselves in better places as well. 

Maghirang’s MA-NA-NANG-GAL installation runs now through March 31st at Lincoln Center’s Hearst Plaza.

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