Filipino diaspora artist Joshua Serafin has been featured at the 2024 Venice Biennale with a piece titled VOID. This performance piece has also been documented as a video on multiple accounts. VOID is the third and final installation of a series Serafin has dubbed the Cosmological Gangbang.

The series follows the birth of three fictional Filipino deities: Uling, who represents light and dark; Talu, who represents people’s reflections of themselves; and Void, who represents nothingness and emptiness. For Serafin, the series explores the Philippines’ pre-colonial animistic culture. A time before Spanish colonization introduced Catholicism, which was also a time when Filipinos embraced queer, non-binary and fluid identities. 

Photograph of Joshua Serafin by Isaieh Humblet. Image courtesy of Joshua Serafin’s website.

Hence, the body of work decolonizes the Filipino identity and returns it to its roots, where non-binary identities were the norm. It recalls the Babaylans, queer Filipino shamans who were revered as community leaders. As Serafin themselves put it, Cosmological Gangbang is about “This creature that is born needs to live and travel the mortal world to observe humanity and to learn what humans need from gods in this time.” In a broader context, the body of work shares historically empowering narratives of non-binary and queer people, serving to honour and empower them today. This makes the piece reflect the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of Gender Equality and Reduced Inequalities.

VOID O Quilombismo by Joshua Serafin, performed at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. Image courtesy of Joshua Serafin’s website.

Every time VOID is performed, Serafin will begin by first laying at the center of a patch of dirt. There, they are covered in thick black slime, from which they will then attempt to break out as if seeking to be birthed from the darkness. Yet, true to the deity’s name, VOID will only succeed in spreading the darkness around, covering not only their surroundings but also themselves. This process does not look gentle. The deity heaves and labours. They struggle in a Sisyphean cycle of trying to break out from the darkness, only managing to spread it further and becoming trapped in it. Finally, they will come to a stop, laying still in the middle where they began. But as audiences have witnessed, from how the performance is repeated at different times and how its video is played on a loop, Void is merely resting, gathering enough energy to repeat the process all over again.

VOID Myth Makers by Joshua Serafin, performed at the 2023 Art Basel Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Joshua Serafin’s website.

“Void’s choreographic movements embody the sadness, pain and grief of our current society,” writes Serafin. The story that Serafin is trying to tell is about a non-binary God who listens and empathizes with humankind’s sorrows to the extent that they feel it as if it is their own pain. They then take all this embodied knowledge into the astral realm, the realm of the Gods, so that they will be able to understand exactly what it is that humankind requires from them.

VOID Myth Makers by Joshua Serafin, performed at the 2023 Art Basel Hong Kong. Image courtesy of Joshua Serafin’s website.

At a time when the American National Library of Medicine (NLM) has found that gender minorities (non-binary and transgender folks) are 29 percent more likely to live in poverty and 40 percent more likely to commit suicide, VOID’s story empowers non-binary identities. They have been placed at the forefront as messengers for humanity to the Gods, becoming representatives who seek to do nothing but bring forward kindness and betterment. A message that, hopefully, with each showcase of VOID, will be conveyed to a large audience and contribute to creating better living conditions for gender minorities.

Find out more about Joshua Serafin’s VOID and their other pieces by checking their Instagram on @joshudoser.

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