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Why Are Justin Bieber’s Body Parts On Display In This Makati Gallery?

What does a world-renowned pop singer, a bunch of Filipino boys, and religious monks have in common?

In Paul Pfeiffer’s new show Incarnator, he opens with a short film featuring a young, teary-eyed Justin Bieber fan from Bangladesh who fervently pleads for the pop star to visit her country. It also depicts a bunch of young children from Bataan province, all of whom sport a Bieber-inspired haircut, happily mimicking the singer’s gestures.

The film is a digital introduction to the physical exhibit at the Bellas Artes Projects art space in Makati, which features life-size sculptures including Bieber’s head, torso, and arms suspended in mid-air. There is also a miniature sculpture of a congregation of Buddhist monks and of the planet Earth.



Bieber’s head and body parts were sculpted by one of our local santo makers, Willy Layug, who trained under encarnadores, or artisans, in Spain. He recreated the singer’s features as parts of a religious icon, with the traditional wide-eyed and childlike facial expression, and accentuated tattoos (including a ‘Son of God’ tattoo on the star’s midsection.



It’s a bit unsettling yet oddly fascinating to see Bieber’s likeness immortalized as separate parts of a whole, with the same glossy painted aesthetic as our Catholic saints are modeled after. Like a Santo Niño for the millennial generation all grown up.

And that’s the point of this exhibition.

“To me, the word ‘íncarnator’ is about production,” Pfeiffer explains. “The production of an image. The production of human flesh.”

He goes on further to say that in 21st century global capitalism where the means of production has been “radically separated” from their natural function, innocence is just another profit-making scheme. In this case, Bieber is the product that’s worshiped by young, impressionable fans all around the world.

As exemplified by the Bangladeshi girl and the Filipino children in the video, poverty doesn’t stop anyone from consuming as much as they can of Bieber or of whatever it is he has come to symbolize. By any means possible, they will see him and be him. And in this context, their innocence is merely leveraged by those who profit from Bieber’s stardom, the same way the faith of the innocent is leveraged by those who profit from religious institutions.   

The Honolulu-born artist Paul Pfeiffer has held several exhibits all over the world including the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Paula Cooper Gallery, Thomas Dane Gallery, Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart, the Honolulu Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design.

Several of his works are self-reflective pieces that tend to focus on people’s preoccupation with desire, faith, and modern celebrity culture—tackled from the audience’s point of view. Just like with Incarnator, his work compels us to look past those whom we worship as saints and instead look into ourselves and explore why humans feel the need to do this: become the people we choose to idolize.



Paul Pfeiffer: Incarnator runs until Oct. 6, 2018 at Bellas Artes Outpost, 2/F The Alley at Karrivin, 2316 Chino Roces Ave, Makati. Entrance is free.


Photos by Carmela Fernando