Yeo Kaa and the popularity of the ‘tortured artist’ | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Yeo Kaa and the popularity of the ‘tortured artist’
Her installation at Art Fair Philippies 2019
Yeo Kaa and the popularity of the ‘tortured artist’
Yeo Kaa has become known for dark, sexualized depictions of girls, inspired by the “manga” style

Artists are the new rock stars.

If you have any lingering doubts about this statement, consider Yeo Kaa.

Known for her disturbingly sexualized little girl figures drawn in “big eye” manga style, the 29-year-old artist has played out her emotionally fraught breakup with her boyfriend, who is also a well-known emerging artist, over the past year, in various exhibition spaces from Makati to Singapore to Berlin. The unhappy couple excoriated each other (and themselves in the process) on canvas, resin and mixed media for the art-viewing public to see.

The resulting art reviews read like supermarket tabloids, with intimations of emotional abuse, various psychiatric issues, and other recriminations, along with the usual chin-stroking analysis of the artworks in question.

The artists made it easy with their choice of titles: “Sorry, Sorry, Sorry,” “Anxious Dry Pechay,” “Alone But Not Lonely” and “Walang Saysay ang Lahat sa Kasaysayang Wakas.”

Makes one wonder, was this what it was like with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera? Johnny Depp and Amber Heard?


And what does that make us, voyeuristically and vicariously savoring other people’s psychic pain?

I mean, Bob Dylan got it all out in one masterly breakup album, “Blood on the Tracks,” but apparently it takes a couple of exhibits to exorcise all the demons.

If it’s any consolation, the art seems to have benefited. Kaa actually won praise for “bravely tackling issues of mental health, anxiety and sexuality through art.”

Her profile has also been raised considerably. At the Art in the Park press conference, normally sedate media persons turned into excited fanboys and fangirls when she arrived, sporting her trademark dyed hair, now in shades of lavender.

In any case, the artist says she’s moved on from all that.

“Naging komplikado lang lahat pero tapos na po ako doon, hinahayaan ko na lang siya kung ano ang gusto niyang sabihin,” she said, referring to her ex’s last salvo in an online art review.


Still, being one of the featured artists in this year’s Art in the Park must hold a special poignancy for Kaa, a reminder of more carefree times. Five years ago, she and her ex were part of Studio 1616, a collective of struggling young artists who were glad to have a booth in the “affordable” art fair, now on its 13th year.

Yeo Kaa and the popularity of the ‘tortured artist’
Her installation at Art Fair Philippies 2019

“Sobrang sikat ang booth namin,” Kaa recalls. “Pag- open ng Art in the Park, lahat sila takbuhan sa booth namin, nag-aagawan ng painting.
Sobrang wild!”

There might be a replay of that this year, considering that “I Don’t Know, Baby,” Kaa’s installation at the Secret Fresh booth, was the big hit of last month’s Art Fair Philippines, with people lining up to enter the space.

For Art in the Park, she’ll be exhibiting variations of the works she exhibited at the Yavuz Gallery in Singapore earlier this year, titled “Alone But Not Lonely” as well as other sculptures. (She’ll also have limited-edition stuff for sale.)

Also featured in this year’s Art in the Park are Leeroy New, Zean Cabangis and Oscar Mejia.

Art in the Park is a fundraising event for the Museum Foundation of the Philippines, to support its projects for the National Museum of the Philippines and its network.

A ceiling of P50,000 has been set for the artworks, to keep things “fun.” Be forewarned, however—things can get competitive between art collectors, specially since unsigned works by BenCab and Manny Garibay turned up at last year’s fair.

Appropriately enough, the music will be blues, provided by the Bleu Rascals, who represented the Philippines in the 28th International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee.

Art in the Park 2019 will be open from 10 a.m.-10 p.m., March 17, at the Jaime Velasquez Park, Salcedo Village, Makati City. Entrance is free.

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