As we continue our celebration of Pride Month, we cast a well-deserved spotlight on representation in Cebu's thriving art scene. In this third installment, we proudly introduce Van Opura, known by their artist name "Tapioca Terror," an immensely talented illustrator and digital artist from Jakosalem, Cebu.
Van's works have been exhibited in galleries as far-reaching as Osaka, Japan, under the esteemed curation of Gallery IYN. Their art has also been featured in publications such as Graphika Manila and Novice Magazine. Van has actively participated in local exhibitions, art fairs, comicons, and other art shows locally.
Van's artistic journey has been shaped by their upbringing as an only child. Growing up with cable TV, their influences stemmed from cartoons and anime. "I always liked to draw my own versions of things that I like. I wasn't very fond of copying existing art. So I drew my own Pokemon or my own Bratz characters," they shared. While their father's side of the family possessed crafty skills, it was their mother's side that nurtured their humor and imagination. This unique blend of influences contributed to the formation of their artistic style, infused with an offbeat vibe and a love for all things horror.
When asked about the inspiration behind the name "Tapioca Terror," Van reveals that during a conversation about drag names with artist-friend Drawer Kring, the word "Tapioca" came about spontaneously. They were drawn to its offbeat vibe, and the addition of "Terror" provided an alliterative flair. This unique moniker reflects their artistic persona, while their love for all things horror adds the touch of "Terror" to their alternate name. Indeed a name that embodies their distinctive style and creative spirit.
In the following interview, Van shares their insights about identity and how it has impacted their art.
How would you describe your art style in a few words or phrases?
Surreal cartoons in vivid technicolor. They are a product of my constant fascination with the creepy and the magical.
What influences or inspirations have shaped your art style?
I was privileged enough to grow up with cable TV, so I watched a lot of cartoons and anime that still influence me today. I've been reflecting on my childhood recently and thinking about all the different media I loved. Most of my favorite shows back then were very weird and surreal, and those are defining characteristics of my art. I am an escapist, so I gravitate toward artists and media that portray interesting, fantastical characters and universes. That's why I also like to read fantasy and speculative fiction, which influenced how I conceptualize and come up with ideas. I was also obsessed with DeviantArt and then Tumblr growing up! Being exposed to a diverse group of artists with unique points of view back then was also really formative, especially when I found out about other queer creatives, too! Another huge source of inspiration is looking back to the past and finding loads of amazing art and artists! It's fascinating to see how they portrayed the life and culture of the past century. It seems like a fantasy since it's all so different from our reality.
How has your experience been as an LGBTQIA+ artist in Cebu? Can you tell us about some of the challenges you've encountered?
I can recall one instance in college when I had a friend who was part of a local graffiti group, and I wanted to join. I was later told that they don't really like to have gay members because we tend to be loud and obnoxious. I was really disappointed. Imagine if they accepted me, I would've been a great graffiti artist by now LOL. But I have since moved on, and hopefully, the local art scene now is more welcoming. I do still have self-doubts. Since I post my artwork online, I sometimes wonder if they'll like my art less if they found out I was gay, but that's more of a personal issue that I'm trying to unlearn. It makes me hopeful since I have local straight artist friends online who admire my artwork regardless of gender and sexuality.
Can you share how your sexual orientation has influenced the style and content of your art?
Most, if not all, of the characters I depict are queer. I have recently noticed that I have been queering my childhood. I have created characters and realities I wished I had seen and experienced growing up. I liked shows about kid adventurers, like Harry Potter and Ash Ketchum, but they were all straight young boys. So most of the protagonists of my artworks are queer effeminate young boys going on adventures and being badass. But there is also a creepy and sinister aspect to them, which is very different from the wholesome male heroes of my childhood. Another thing I like to depict is relationships between boys. Something I wish I experienced growing up. I also think there's magic in being in the grey area of sexuality. There's something so special about being free from the binary. So I also like to imagine worlds between dimensions where the magic and the surreal are as natural as the air we breathe.
Can you share any specific techniques, symbols, or visual elements you use to convey concepts of sexuality and gender identity in your artwork?
There is a flamboyant quality to how my characters dress. The boys are usually surrounded by flowers and adorned in floral patterns, jewelry, and bright colors but still remain very boyish in shorts and shirts. Like boy scouts but with frills! They wear clothes I specifically want to wear. I also put written words or labels in some of my pieces. It's my way of labeling and defining my reality rather than others doing it for me. There is also a constant duality existing simultaneously in my artworks, which I think is very queer. Very cute but creepy, very wholesome but morbid. That's where I got the 'terror' in my artist name since it can be 'terrific' and 'terrible.'
Do you agree that art has the power to challenge societal norms and stereotypes regarding sexuality and gender identity? If yes, how do you aim to achieve that through your work?
Definitely! That has been proven a lot throughout history. Queer people have been dictating sensibilities and pioneering certain artistic movements because there is power in being yourself amidst all odds. That's why other people are so afraid of people who live how they want. That's why I'll unabashedly be myself and stop apologizing for who I am. I may constantly find myself, but I'll always be myself in life and my art.
Are there any other LGBTQ+ artists in Cebu (or anywhere) whose work you admire or draw inspiration from?
I am part of Sikada (@artofsikada), a local art group. There are currently seven of us, and most of us are queer. I admire them so much, and they continue to be such inspiring people. My good friend Meelo (@mangobursts), a longtime friend of mine, is very good at depicting likable and human characters. I admire Tokwa Peñaflorida (@tokwap), who I've admired for so long now, whose art is lush and delicate yet provocative. Michael Deforge (@michaeldeforgecomics) is a Canadian comic artist and illustrator whose unique point of view and design sense I am constantly inspired by. Choo (@choodraws), a massive inspiration of mine, whose illustrations are full of sinister characters with fantastic attention to detail and a sense of color. JC Leyendecker is another big one for me. With his inimitable style, he revolutionized publication design with his amazing magazine covers, usually depicting male characters referenced from his lifelong partner, Charles Beach. There's also Pierre et Gilles, a gay couple producing amazing ornate photographs. They design their own sets and style the subject by themselves. They're really a match made in gay heaven.
Looking to the future, Van envisions hosting a solo exhibit or show, providing an intimate platform to showcase their artistic evolution. They aspire to publish a comic or art book, inviting others to immerse themselves in their imaginative world. Collaboration with fellow artists is also a goal, as it fosters a sense of community and pushes artistic boundaries. As we continue to champion LGBTQ representation in art, let us honor and appreciate the colorful tapestry of talents, stories, and perspectives that make up the rich cultural landscape of Cebu.