Jefrë, a Filipino American craftsman, conquers the Orlando Museum of Art
ORLANDO, Fla. – Similar to his work of art, the Filipino American and Orlando-based artist Jefrë is larger than life.
Jefrë, born Jefre Figueras Manuel, is a worldwide phenomenon known for producing life-size public art in cities like Manila, London, Abu Dhabi and most recently Orlando.
The Orlando Museum of Art installed the last of its first solo exhibition, Points of Connection, on May 6th. The One Love statue with figures showing two different hand gestures for love contained a multimedia element that the guests could use to direct their eyes to a retinal scanner that is to be projected onto the statue. In its eight-month run, the kiosk has captured over 18,000 eyes.
“The idea is that there are two figures sitting one behind the other and making hand gestures,” Jefrë explained. “One is the love symbol that you see on the other side, but the one you see here is actually this symbol (see picture above) that you see in Asia, very popular in Korea, which is the bottom of the heart, so to speak . ” (Photo: jefre_artist / Instagram)
“It’s the idea that no matter where we are, no matter what ethnic group, race, gender, it’s all about love,” said Jefrë. “And what you see up there is that due to COVID we all don’t see each other through our full faces now, but really through our eyes.”
The piece was part of a larger exhibition with six interactive and immersive galleries exploring Jefrë’s experiences with immigration, COVID-19, and healthcare.
“It was actually one of the first times that a Filipino American had a solo exhibition in a US museum,” said Jefrë. “At home in the Philippines, I actually got a lot of press to … open the door to Filipinos – not just Filipino Americans, but Filipinos in general – to offer the opportunity to be in institutions, to talk about to talk about their work. It was a great honor for me. “
Jefrë only touched his own heritage as he knew it to be. With 10,000 pounds of rice.
“The idea (of the rice fields) is that you can actually walk through them and then make your own path,” said Jefrë. “The rice field paths are actually laid out at 13 to represent the US flag.”
Old songs from his hometown, often used as the soundtrack to the Filipino water dance, accompanied the huge Rice Field installation and further connected Jefrë to his roots.
“It’s a dance my mother would do with glasses of water to pray for rain. It is really a traditional dance that they do in the Philippines, ”said Jefrë. “We have had some amazing Heritage Days where Filipino Americans and other Asian Americans came out to understand the idea of Asian Americans and immigration and how we are perceived or what we want to achieve in order to break down the American dream here.”
But Jefrë said the installation was bigger than Asian-American history. It was an immigration story, an idea he drove home in Heart to Heart, a poem he co-wrote with Aaron Gilbert and which followed audiences through all six galleries.
Stanzas from the poem, which Jefrë described as the “heartbeat” of the exhibition, lined the walls, examining how immigrants must leave families behind in their search for a better life.
“Regardless of the population group or region you come from, we all come from the same idea of finding a better life. And America has provided that for many of us, ”said Jefrë. “So when we come to the US, we will all be offered these opportunities. But then it’s really up to us as hardworking immigrants to keep working hard to actually achieve success, depending on how you define success here. “
Jefrë’s immigration story is just the beginning of his success. After a heart attack in his thirties, he completed his nine to five years of life in town planning, planning and landscape architecture, creating pioneering art worldwide, including two Halo and ER sculptures on AdventHealth’s Winter Park campus.
“It changed my whole career,” said Jefrë when his heart attack changed his view of his art. “I had to say, ‘What did I do to leave a legacy here?’, Paid off my 401K and ran art competitions.” (Photo: jefre_artist / Instagram)
“So help create an Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Libert Statue, Arch and Bean. This is what I have to do now … to help cities create icons, ”said Jefrë. “I have created works of art that are not really about me, but about the city and the context in which it is located. And it’s funny because I started in the big world and had to compress myself trying to figure out how to fit into a 15 story city ceiling. “
He discussed his heart problems in his “Points of Connection” exhibit and showed the 57,000 tablets that represent his decades-long relationship with the medicine that supports him.
One of Jefrë’s next projects is the creation of the world’s largest heart sculpture in Port. St. Lucie, who is a finalist on Jacksonville’s Waterfront Project, is not leaving Orlando anytime soon.
Jefrë will complete the highest heart in the world on Valentine’s Day 2022. Visitors can see the 100 foot sculpture in Port St. Lucie. (Photo: jefre_artist / Instagram)
“What COVID has done is help me reconnect a little with Orlando and actually Florida in general,” said Jefrë. “I think COVID grounded me and grounded a lot of us.”
Jefrë has several Orlando projects in the works in hopes of putting City Beautiful on the map for something more than their theme parks. He loves Orlando and Orlando loves him back.
“We fully support Jefrë on his ongoing global initiatives and how we can help them,” said Aaron De Groft, Director and CEO of the Orlando Museum of Art. “I think it is very important to have an internationally renowned artist, who lives at least partially in our community to take and support him. “
Jefrë prides itself on being an artist for the people, creating public art that is accessible to everyone. Whether it’s his roots and experiences or his background as an urban planner, he refuses to let that inventive spark die.
“In terms of the art world, it shouldn’t matter what ethnicity you are if you have great ideas, if you have a great passion. The work will shine by itself, ”said Jefrë. “But in terms of my personal work as an Asian American, it’s nice to be able to help the viewers communicate some of the struggles that gave me the opportunity to be here, whether or not it’s my Filipino American heritage or unrelated to my health care problems. “
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