Insider Series: Rydel Cerezo

Mallory Gemmel

How do I come to recognize the space that exists between my internal self and my external self: the point where the inside of me and the outside of me coincide, the junction where parts of my being meet one another?

As an intentional and explorative image-maker, Vancouver-based artist Rydel Cerezo uses his practice to ask questions. To what degree can I visualize the junctures where my religious, racial, and sexual being align, intersect and contradict? What does it mean to unbelong? Born and raised in Baguio, Philippines, at ten Cerezo emigrated with his family to Canada. His queer, Filipino, Roman Catholic body has come of age mediated by disparate colonial histories and complex geographies. Though grounded in research-based practice, Cerezo’s time at BAF is ultimately about ideas coming into being, using his photographic practice to make sense of how religious faith, queerness, and Filipino identity intersect.

Prior to his degree in Photography at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Cerezo started making images as most photographers begin, by informally photographing those around him. While most artists ultimately redirect their gaze as they evolve, Cerezo continues to photograph intimate subjects—his parents at home, his grandmother and brother at church, or his partner’s family during a summer in Belgium—choosing faces, places, and bodies that quietly invoke both private negotiations with selfhood and intergenerational trauma, and more public contracts with religion, queerness, and racial identity.

Remarking on the choice to substitute his younger brother’s body in place of his own in Am I a Sea, “out of the frustration of not having two of me in the world,” Cerezo articulates a tension, for self-reflexive photographers, between being the subject of a photograph—wanting to be seen or to recognize oneself—and being the creator of it—wanting to see, orchestrate, and control authorship. Using subjects other than himself, Cerezo echoes an authorial method employed by many auto-fiction writers; he positions his photographs at a tender distance, creating a comfortable space from his own trauma.

Divinely imbued with lucid colour and crisp focal textures, Cerezo’s film photographs are frequently composed with medium and large format cameras. Intimately treating each subject with care, Cerezo creates a powerful clash that positions his narratives in opposition to the cold colonial aesthetics of visual ethnography. In 1978’s landmark book Orientalism, Edward Said posits that ‘the Other’ or ‘the Orient,’ as depicted in books, film, and photographic media, is constructed by, and acts as a foil for, the Western, ‘Occidental’ imagination. In other words, pictures of ‘the Other,’— marginalized bodies— exist through derived relationships of power. Operating these cameras, historically used by White bodies for ethnographic practices, Cerezo develops a form of making in line with longstanding feminist and queer technologies of reclamation.

Considering family systems in various photographic series, from studying his family’s relationship to Catholicism in Am I a SeaI, or his place within the whiteness of his partner’s family in To Be From The Same Tree, Cerezo’s body of work investigates the idea of “likeness.” He is interested in how racial and family ideologies are often based on phenotypic similarity—the visual perception of likeness—that normatively speaking, one has to ‘look like’ one’s family to be perceived as belonging to it.

During his residence at BAF, Cerezo is researching notions of unbelonging and betrayal, drawing on Jack Halberstam’s iconic reframe of the term “failure.” In The Queer Art of Failure, Halberstam makes a poignant argument: failure is powerful, a terrifying but transformative force. Generic perceptions of “success” are grounded in heteronormative, capitalist, and racist systems of thinking and being. For Halberstam, embracing failure opens up a world of exploration, experimentation, and possibility, enabling marginalized individuals to enact refusal and resistance in unexpected places. For Cerezo, too, recognizing one’s unbelonging creates a radical space to rethink likeness, envisage identity, and examine the systems that define our existence.

Rydel Cerezo’s upcoming show, created in the BAF residency program, will open on April 22nd.