Artist Nicole Coson on her Silverlens New York exhibition

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Nicole Coson
Artist Nicole Coson at her recent exhibition 'In Passing' at Silverlens New York. Photo: Miko Tiu Laurel.

London-based Filipino artist Nicole Coson talks diaspora and identity in her latest exhibition “In Passing” at Silverlens New York



On a frigid Thursday evening, Silverlens New York is bustling with both visiting Filipinos and big-city locals. In typical New York fashion, everyone is wearing black. I stand out like a sore thumb wearing red. But there is a comfort to being surrounded by Filipinos, many of whom are diaspora who have become native New Yorkers—a mix of both Upper East Side collectors and artist types from Chelsea and the West Village. 

Gallery owners Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo are present despite the demanding art month tour from Art Fair Philippines, Korea, Mexico, Frieze Los Angeles, and, now, this show in New York City.

READ MORE: Art Fair Philippines shines a spotlight on photography

Silverlens is holding the opening of “In Passing,” the first solo exhibition by artist Nicole Sy Coson in the Philippine gallery’s New York space. Her work is dispersed throughout the gallery in varying sizes: a tall panel at the entrance, small pieces in the anteroom, and hanging installations of oyster casts amid broad, larger-than-life diptychs.

Nicole Coson
Photo: Miko Tiu Laurel.

The works mounted on the wall reference ubiquitous plastic shipping crates, which at first glance appear like structural or architectural imprints. This latest series is a mix of frottage (pencil rubbings) and calligraphy. Meanwhile, the hanging chains of oyster shells suggest movement through geographical contexts.

The London-based Filipino artist is known for her consistently polished aesthetic, grounded in forward-thinking theory. Now as she navigates these different forms of expression, Coson addresses what she calls an “entangled nature of my own identity and lived experiences.”

In an interview with Lifestyle.INQ, the artist shares an inside look into her recent exhibition in New York, an overview of where she is in her practice, and what’s next for her as an artist.


‘In Passing’ and its conceptual levels

From Coson’s personal background to her globally conscious artistic intent, and even the transcontinental journey of the works themselves, the works throughout “In Passing” mirror the artist’s multi-level understanding of globalization. 

Nicole Coson
Photo: Miko Tiu Laurel.

Coson left the Philippines at an early age. She originally wanted to study fashion, which shows in her Carl Jan Cruz ensemble, although she says she found herself compelled by visual art and continued to finish a degree in fine arts—first with a BFA at Central Saint Martins then an MFA at the Royal College of Art in London. 

READ MORE: Carl Jan Cruz’s conscious acts of creation

Beyond her background as a diasporic artist, the works themselves expand into a greater global and conceptual undertaking, traveling from her East End studio in London and reflecting how the content of the works covers concepts of migration.

In her process, she gathered crates from big grocery stores she describes as “temporary sculptural arrangements bursting with finer produce”—-vegetable crates symbolic of the “diasporic communities that define the social fabric of London.”

Her work encompasses a variety of mediums, including printmaking, video, sculpture, and even culinary projects. “I always find myself lurking around these temporary modular structures looking for ingredients to make Filipino food when I miss home the most. Often, I’m looking for ingredients to make sinigang, the dish that instantly brings me back to my childhood and a litmus test for a good market stall or grocery store.”

She describes how she hunts for tamarind and kangkong in the Vietnamese shops near Hoxton, white radishes called mooli from the South Asian vendors in Tower Hamlets. At the same time, she finds okra, eddoes (a variety of gabi), and aubergines in West African stores. As she transforms something so simple as a crate, she puts weight onto the works with themes of nostalgia and displacement. 

Nicole Coson
Photo: Miko Tiu Laurel.

At first glance, this mix of tangible ingredients for sinigang seems so far removed. But it feels closer while looking at the sculptural work that hangs from the ceiling: casts of oyster shells that are spray painted silver and hung on chains. 

The Aklan oysters were originally sourced in collaboration with Toyo’s Jordy Navarra, reflecting the artist’s fondness for the beaches of the Philippines, while also referring to Félix González-Torres’ light chain works.

READ MORE: Inatô’s a la carte experience shows that any ingredient can be Filipino

“As I return to my apartment with my haul and simmer everything together in a pot, I contemplate the circulation of these goods, the histories of these cultures, and the people who brought them here in search of a grounding sense of familiarity and home.”


On using medium for meaning

As the artist searches for the concept of home, there is a sensation of displacement that permeates her work. Printmaking is the grounding principle of Coson’s approach to art-making and in history, the medium has often been used as a political and social instrument, an essence she carries out through her work. 

Nicole Coson
Nicole Coson, ‘Untitled’ 2024, oil on linen 98.5 x 282 in. Photo courtesy of Silverlens.

She describes printmaking as an archival instrument for both “preservation of cultural knowledge” and “as a conduit for revolutionary and progressive thought,” highlighting the importance of the “egalitarian quality in how accessible printmaking is, and how it is, to an extent, something everyone can do.”

In much of her work, Coson has been known for creating pieces that emanate kinetic energy in patterns of camouflage. She confirms that imprinting these repeating textures on huge canvases was physically tasking, although a skill refined through persistence, time, and practice. Yet, these patterns give the general impression of a veil of mystery though not without undertones of social politics.

“As a woman of color making art in the West, there is a constant attempt of tokenization and exoticism of me as a person and the context within which my art is situated. A strategy I often find useful to refuse such categorization has been obfuscation and camouflage; by denying and rejecting direct polemic readings of my work (and in extension, myself).”

Through this ambiguity, Coson defies imperial, colonial, and Western-centric understandings of history, ultimately existing outside of what she describes as “the normative hierarchy one often encounters in the art world.” This helps viewers connect with her work on a personal level while tackling sweeping global issues at the same time. 

“Maybe we could dare to paraphrase or expand on the radical feminist slogan of the late 1960s: ‘The personal is political’ and propose a critical post-colonial version that would read something like ‘The personal is global.’ Now there’s a thought.”


What’s next for Nicole Coson?

When I get another chance to speak to Coson, she is settling back into her London home after a dizzyingly busy week in New York. She tells me she is next going to be participating in Art Basel Hong Kong with Silverlens Gallery next, then heading back to the Philippines to spend time with friends and family to recharge. 

I ask her how she feels about going home.

“No matter how long I spend in the UK, I will always consider the Philippines home and myself as first and foremost Filipino. Distance and time won’t change that. However, what does shift and is constantly in flux is what that means to me, how I situate myself and my personal histories in relation to the worlds in which I operate.”

Nicole Coson
Artist Nicole Coson. Photo: Miko Tiu Laurel.

While hyperaware of her role as a diasporic artist in our post-colonial world, Coson is ultimately grounded in the personal, pushing a new concept today that the personal is both political and global.

Photography by Miko Tiu Laurel, assisted by Trinity Yeung.

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