Throngs of grotesque human figures in different poses, faces of all shapes and sizes stuffed into every nook and cranny of the canvas, an overwhelming sense of profundity in its intensity–all depicted in blood red. This is the intriguing art style of Filipino artist Rasel Trinidad, otherwise known as Doktor Karayom.
Every work is carefully crafted with fragments of his own soul. With each piece, he seeks to reach into his audience’s minds and to awaken feelings both new and forgotten with time. For Karayom, his creative process is an experience in itself, offering viewers the chance to form unique perspectives on his work. He claims, “Natutuwa ako kasi nakakabuo [‘yung audience] ng sarili nilang pakiramdam doon sa piyesa na iyon na kunwari iba [sa] pakiramdam ko noong ginagawa ‘yun.”
(I’m glad because the audience forms their own feelings from the piece that could be different from what I felt when making it.)
Beyond his red ink and bizarre motifs, Karayom’s art translates how the minuscule workings of reality blend with his radical ideas to form commentaries on oppressive power structures.
With bare bones
His inclination to the arts started at the back of the classroom, drawing on his textbooks out of the teacher’s watchful eye. However, it wasn’t until the end of high school when he stumbled upon the street art blog Pilipinas Street Plan that the artist bug finally bit him. Karayom relays, “Sila ‘yung unang-unang nagpamulat sakin na meron ganitong klaseng eksena [na] ang laya niya kasi sa kalye siyang gagawin.” After visiting street art sites around Manila, he promptly decided to pursue Fine Arts in college despite his parents’ apprehension.
(They were the first ones who made me aware that there was this kind of scene that was so liberating because it was being done in the streets.)
At the Technological University of the Philippines, he was exposed to all kinds of art forms and styles. Now, Karayom doesn’t restrict himself to using a single medium when creating his pieces, utilizing whatever’s available. Whether it be working with acrylic paint, clay, resin, or plaster for sculpture making, he begins with sketching down ideas on his sketchbook, using his trusty red ballpen. “The ballpen always stays because it’s what can go along with the impulse of my hand and mind,” he conveys in Filipino.
For his inspirations, Karayom absorbs the world around him, transforming reality into concepts he can use for his projects. He notes that ideas rush in while he puts himself in a meditative-like state, detailing outside walks and visits to an almost empty Baclaran Church, among many instances. He imparts, “Parang pinipili [ng mga ideyas] ako as [a] medium. Hindi sila [‘yung] piyesa ko; ako ‘yung ginagamit nila para mabuo sila.” And as he develops the concepts, he takes his time to understand what it says about himself.
(It’s like the ideas pick me as a medium. They’re not my pieces; I’m the one used so that they can be formed.)
In fact, Karayom likens his art to a form of prayer, revealing that he’s able to communicate “more secrets and feelings, whether they’re lighthearted or heavy,” through his drawings. “‘Yung language ng isang artist para makipag-usap, usually ‘di naman berbal talaga,” he posits. Where his style may be atypical and eccentric to some of his audience, he lets his art tell its own story. Karayom furthers, “May storytelling [na] siya bago ko sabihin [ano ‘yung meaning], bago mo maintidihan ‘yung ibig sabihin niya.”
(The language an artist uses to speak isn’t usually verbal anyway…There’s already a story being told even before I say what it means, before my audiences understand what it means.)
Art as audience
A work of art lives and breathes beyond its creator’s conception, burrowing itself into the minds of its audience. For Karayom, this is an exciting aspect of the process. Regardless if his art is an object of praise or criticism, the momentary attachment when a viewer engages with his work is often enough. “Nakaka-connect ako sa kanila…at least, diba, sa dami-daming nangyayari at tao sa mundo, nagkaroon ako ng connection sa‘yo.”
(I connected with them. With the many, many things and people in the world, I at least was able to have a connection with my audience.)
But the work of the artist does not end only at fleeting connections. Karayom recognizes that, in a sociopolitical landscape battered by many injustices, the fight is an uphill battle. “Karamihan sa atin hindi naman sobrang yaman talaga para tapatan ang mga bini-build nilang empire,” he admits.
(Most of us are not wealthy enough to match the empires that the powerful build.)
Amid this fight is the artist’s special role: “Bilang isang artist, mas maganda na ilarawan mo rin ang totoong nangyayari sa lipunan…sundalo ka rin. Sundalo ka rin ng kung ano sa tingin mo ‘yung tama.” Beyond being a soldier of truth, he holds that an artist is a message bearer—one who gives warnings about our sociopolitical environment to inform people.
(As an artist, it’s better to illustrate the things that are truly happening in our society. You’re also a soldier. You’re a soldier of what you believe is right.)
Karayom himself has created a number of these messages. In October 2018, he was granted the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Thirteen Artists Award—the youngest in his batch of awardees—to honor his work as a contemporary artist in highlighting the country’s social realities through his work Isla Inip, a floor-to-ceiling work featuring the likeness of Dr. Jose Rizal’s corpse surrounded by an interactive board game. In it, small people are noticeably unbothered by the entrails—in fact, they seem to be in a state of boredom. The exhibit appears to represent desensitization, which discusses how many often use entertainment to distract themselves from the realities of bleak day-to-day life in the Philippines.
Keep calm, carry on
Not even accolades, however, can protect the artist. The future for politically-outspoken creators looks challenging, especially for those who risk themselves by being at the forefront of exposing truths. “Hindi mo alam kung kailan ka mawawala,” Karayom laments, noting that even some other artists get red-tagged for producing radical works. “Kalayaan mo ‘yun sa pagpapahayag ng nararamdaman mo sa nakikita mo sa paligid,” he furthers, hoping for artists to resist against this unnecessary vilification.
(You don’t know when you’ll be taken out of the picture…You have the freedom to express what you see and feel about the things around you.)
Despite the rising dangers, Karayom believes that he has to keep his chin up and to be brave. After all, some things in life stay the same. “Hindi pa naman ako hihinto sa ginagawa ko at mas pag-iintingin ko pa ‘yung pag-aaral ng mga materyales,” he declares. Karayom also plans to engage in knowledge-sharing sessions about the creative process, expressing that he wants to return the favor to those who taught him before by helping cultivate artists of the next generation.
(I won’t stop what I’m doing and I’ll work even harder to study and to explore different materials.)
But to be an artist goes beyond honing one’s craft—one must also be unapologetically authentic. “Gawin mo lang kung ano ‘yung sa tingin mong makakatulong, sa ikabubuti mo at sa kaluluwa mo,” Karayom advises. “Tuloy-tuloy lang natin ‘yung ginagawa natin.”
(Do what you believe will help you and your soul…Let’s just continue with our work.)
Artists must hold the line with their medium of choice and trudge on. Because in today’s sociopolitical landscape of shifting realities, Karayom finds it extremely essential to paint the truth so that we may never forget the atrocities that plagued the Filipino masses in the past.
EDITOR’S NOTE: AUGUST 2, 2022
In a previous version of the draft, Karayom’s alma mater was stated as the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. The publication apologizes for the oversight.