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Metro Artist Profiles: Jefrë Manuel

This Filipino-American artist recently unveiled his first solo exhibit, "Points of Connection" at the Orlando Museum of Art

Filipino-American artist Jefrë Manuel’s art is hard to miss given its size and eye-catching qualities. His site-specific installation art exhibits have brought color and life to public spaces worldwide, from Metro Manila, London, Miami, and most recently, Points of Connection at the Orlando Museum of Art, his first-ever solo exhibit which opened on October 3. 

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Opening Weekend! “Airport terminals Running to gates Crossing borders New territories Ghost voices , city sounds Alleyways of neon Celebration of art Dedications, parties and press cons Awards, recognitions, paparazzi Grounded Life on Pause 6’ apart Reset for reflection Defining a new normal The voices in my head... Chant in unison I am Loved I am Free I am Passionate I am Independent I am Brave I am Confident I am a Survivor I am Unique I am a Dreamer I am Creative I am Kind I am Respectful I am Beautiful I am Sensitive I am Blessed My heart beats I can breathe.” . . #art #sculpture #neon #installationart #artist #collectiveconsciousness #instagood #instadaily #instagram #talkingheads #philippines #asia #usa #airport #newyork #beijing #tokyo #orlando #tiktok #pointsofconnection #poem #haiku

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Points of Connection is an interactive exhibit that features human-scale installations and multimedia sculptures as well as pieces from Talking Heads, a previous and highly-lauded series. Through this exhibit, he hopes to immerse visitors in his “personal history as a child of immigrants, survivor of heart disease, and his practice as a city placemaker.” These installations are accompanied by stanzas from “Heart to Heart,” a poem written by Jefrë. 


Jefrë traces his love for art back to his childhood, where he developed an interest in taking apart everyday objects, tinkering with the various pieces, yearning to more deeply understand how things worked. “Upon reflection, this was definitely my way of exploring the world and seeing how I create functional pieces of art we can engage with in such an instinctive way,” he admits. While he never imagined himself pursuing art as a career—initially studying to become a city planner—a heart attack spurred him to re-evaluate his career choice. Wanting to do more with his artistic abilities, he started StudioJefrë, his own art firm “with the intention of developing site-specific projects that could celebrate cultural art as a catalyst for economic redevelopment.” Jefrë shares, “Art, in its simplest and purest form, compels us to feel the world through someone else’s imagination. We get to learn and communicate without having to even speak a single world out loud.

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Get to know more about Jefrë as an artist, his ongoing exhibit, Points of Connection, and his artistic inspirations in a special interview below. 

How have you seen your artistic style evolve as you developed as an artist? How do you envision it to further change in the coming years?

I guess as a public artist, the development of my work has always been processed based. It’s always been about the context and the people of the city. In terms of how it’s evolved in the coming years, it’s really about me getting more and more on a grander scale to make a much more impact on cities and people in terms of creating icons for cities.


Tell us about the process behind conceptualizing, designing, and building each installation. What does your work entail?

Concept and design, just like anything it’s all process-based work: it deals with research, surveys, studying, and the context of the people I’m working in and being inspired by that. Generating hand drawn concepts to clay models, to computer models to eventually, 3D printing, to actually making metal maquettes, 3D renderings and animations that actually show the vision or concept of the work, to presenting it to the owner for approval, that then actually, at the scale that I do, involves a lot engineering due to the fact that a lot my work is 3-50 meters high. It’s almost like designing a building.

In what ways do you think that the pandemic will affect art and the artistic process?

I think being in isolation actually allows you to not be influenced as much by the outside world. You can contemplate on what your passion is… In some ways, I think life came in the way of the artistic process. And what COVID had done is slow down a lot of the noise to allow me to focus.


How do you see the situation of the world today shaping your current and future work?

I’ve always focused on myself and that allows me to focus on others. If we’re all individually strong, we can all help each other become stronger.

What is the most fulfilling part of creating public art?

I think it’s the idea that people create memories with my art. They become destinations. They become photographic destinations for cities. They become selfie locations. They generate foot traffic that help businesses around them. And I think most importantly, they’ve created special memories for people. The Beacon at Lake Nona, several years ago I saw pictures of someone proposing in front of it just as if you might propose in front of the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty, or another major icon in a city. I think that gesture by a couple really touched me in the idea that I’m creating icons that have meaning and purpose.


Tell us about your upcoming exhibition in detail. Walk through the works, your favorite pieces, what it was like mounting this exhibit.

They all set the journey of me and my life as a second-generation immigrant from the Philippines. The second part deals with my issues with heart disease to my large series of public art, to this idea of how I’m dealing with my health in terms of pills, to this idea of coming to a collective consciousness about what everybody is thinking of.

Who and/or what are your artistic inspirations? Why them?

Maya Lin, a landscape artist who has done memorial competitions came from a similar background in terms of urban design and architecture. Andy Goldsworthy, who really deals with landscape and art. Christo and Jeanne-Claude, these amazing installation artists that do these amazing contemporary works of art at an amazing scale that I would love to get to.

Where do you see yourself as an artist in the coming years and how do you hope to evolve?

I think the biggest move is the museum exhibit. It legitimizes the fact that an institution recognizes me as an artist. I think I’ve made an impact on people’s lives that it can allow me to exhibit in an institution that talks about ideas instead of objects. I hope that the influence I have here translates to the exhibit going to other cities around the world.

JEFRË: Points of Connection runs from October 3rd, 2020 – January 3rd, 2021, exclusively at the Orlando Museum of Art, in Orlando, Florida, USA.

For his latest work, follow his official Facebook page Studio JEFRE and Instagram @jefre_artist.