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This 14 year Old Is Curating His First Art Show On Queer Identity

There was a time when “curator” was a loaded word, and its mere mention in the art scene, when attached to someone without exhaustive studies and experience in the arts, triggers an immediate rolling of the eyes. And then the publishing world adapted the term “curation,” to mean the mere choosing of images that will comprise a feature story. Most recently, social media claimed the word, too, as its own, defining the act of curating as the careful selection of one’s Instagram posts.

This is not to diminish the work and insight that Marco Llanes is pouring into his “curatorial debut” opening this Saturday at the First United Building in Escolta, Manila. Marco has gathered seven artists of different persuasions and disciplines for the first show he is mounting. Called “I,” the exhibition “aims to humanize queer identity” and explores the representation of the LGBTQ community in mass media.

But Marco is only 14, a student at the progressive Blended Learning Center-Manila. We imagine this would cause eyebrows to shoot up within the small art circle of Manila. The kid, however, is aware he is a newbie in his newfound practice, and knows exactly where he is coming from. “So far I can only define it most technically as the expression of themes, ideas, and/or narratives through the contextualization and arrangement of artists and their artwork with a certain point of entry/perspective,” the young man writes about curation. “But I’ve learned as well that at its core, so much of it is about negotiation, connection, adaptation, and flexibility: to be vulnerable in what you want to express and open to change and chance.”

Young curator Marco Llanes

Much of the frustration among young members of the LGBTQ community stems from what Marco perceives as a lack of representation in mass media. “And even when queer identity is considered,” the student adds, “we're too often caricatured and politicized in the process. This treatment impedes us from seeing and valuing ourselves equally as people, beyond the constant comedies and tragedies mass media tends to typecast us in. I wanted to say something about it, and to weigh in on the issue.”

He is approaching the dilemma not as an expert but as a young queer observer. A student exposed to so much information from many different media avenues. In fact, the idea for the show was born from a school activity. His class was asked what, as individuals, it would voluntarily spend time and effort on if they had to do it gratis. A project that was beneficial to others. “I feel strongly about how LGBTQ+ people are represented, and I love art, so I figured, why not put the two together?”

Untitled, digital art by Josizl

With mentoring from artist and curator Marika Constantino, executive director of the art group 98B COLLABoratory, Marco learned to trust his instincts and follow his own voice: elements we imagine especially necessary when dealing with an assembly of artists who are all, except for his twin brother Mateo, more senior in age, practice and experience. There are Ellie Fung and Josizl, two people he met in an online hiphop forum. Ellie is a 23-year old photographer from Brooklyn; Josizl is 19 and studies animation in Sydney. There is the fabulous Jose Tong, an architect, educator and visual artist who also goes by his drag name AI Hoseki. There’s the ex magazine art director Gabriel Villegas, also a visual artist, and proprietor of First United’s café The Den. There’s Miguel Lope Inumerable who creates art employing data science.

Domestic Machine, by Jose Tong / AI Hoseki

The most senior in the group is Marco’s stepfather, the retired photojournalist Jose Enrique Soriano who now runs the Fred Revolucion bars of Cubao and Escolta.

“With Tito Derek, it's interesting to work with him around LGBTQ+ topics because being his step-son, even though he would admit his ignorance on the subject, there's a clear and genuine attempt at really understanding me and others who are queer,” explains Marco. “When the table comes to a queer topic, he tries to tread on his words with an uncertain kind of care, still unsure of what to say, and what not to say, even after so many times trying to listen to my loaded ramblings on sexuality and gender. The same way he's accepted me, I've had to just accept that he's from somewhere different, and that I might never be given the time and effort to instill in him the same grasp my classmates, for example, hold of queer identity.”

For the show, Derek is bringing out photographs he took from San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair back in 2015. The Folsom is a BDSM/leather subculture event which attracts hundreds of thousands of fetish enthusiasts every September. “In the photos,” says Marco, “he acts as a voyeur and outsider, whose eye, I feel reaches less to expose or scrutinize, but to simply learn and capture scenes and moments.”

Folsom Street, San Francisco 2015, by Jose Enrique Soriano

Marco seems to approach his temporary post as curator with the same humility and sense of sense of wonder. He knows he is as much captain of the ship as he is collaborator. He instills his perspective but is open to broadening it with the insights of others. “The pronoun I—it's what we begin our stories and experiences with, what we use to realize and define our identities,” Marco says, explaining the show’s title. “As a Roman numeral signifying 'one', I intended to typify unity, yet also individuality; the alienation of having a queer identity, and the wholeness that self-acceptance brings. Through 'one', I also wanted to emphasize this project as my debut curatorial exhibit, a first step, the naïveté and inexperience behind it, and all the learning yet ahead.”


“I” is part of 98B’s ESC PlayGround and hosted by HUB | Make Lab. It will be on exhibit for a month beginning May 5, 2018 at the Ground Floor, First United Building, 413 Escolta Street, Manila. Opening reception is on May 5 at 6:30 p.m. For inquiries, please email or visit or