As we passed through the Philippines we met our fare share of different creatives from poor to rich and everything in between, but one character that will always remain at the front of our minds is our now friend, Hersley Casero…
So Who Is Hersley Casero?
When you think of a typical artist, the image of Hersley Casero is not what comes to mind…young, dressed plainly and very unassuming – you’d think he was just any other guy born and raised in the bustling and vibrant city of Dumaguete; a city on the verge of discovery and complete Westernisation, but still very much raw and rich with the cultures of a thousand invaders. However, when you enter into his studio, the ‘Bakery’ as it came to be known, it is clear that Hersley Casero was born to do what he does.
Casero came from very humble beginnings, and jokes that he is the perfect example of “from rags to…broomstick”. As the oldest of 4 siblings, he began to do what he could to help his family earn a livelihood and put food on the table from as early as 5 years old. In the years to come he experimented on and off with art, without really being fully aware of his talent, and focussed mainly on his academic education, until eventually it was in fact his art that was noticed and earned him a scholarship through University, allowing him to achieve his Marketing degree.
His First Break
During his time as a student at Foundation University, he began to earn himself a reputation as the go-to artist and photographer, and was first choice if any event needed documenting or any wall needed a colourful painting on campus, and, as word got out, around the whole city. Despite the ever-growing list of requests and a degree still to finish, more often than not his answer was ‘yes’, and for his efforts and enthusiasm he was deservingly awarded an ‘Artist of the Year’ award in recognition of his generosity and ardent pursuit of his talent.
After graduating, he went on to develop his photography and art whole-heartedly, and his reputation began to grow further. Within just a few short years his works had been featured in newspapers, magazines and galleries all over the world. The sales of his pictures and paintings allowed him to fulfil his childhood endeavour of taking care of his family; building them a home, providing for critical medical care and seeing his younger sister through her own university degree.
Now, almost a decade into his already impressive career as a visual artist and documentary photographer, Casero’s heart still very much resides in Dumaguete, he is still based in a chaotic yet awe-inspiring studio on the Foundation University campus and still disarmingly warm and humble, and helping his family and community in any way he can through his talent and seemingly endless supply of ideas and energy. The community project he is best known for is the ‘Ha?’ Project, of which his iconic photograph of the ‘laughing boy’ is the poster. The aim of the project is to promote authenticity in the arts, and encourage people to express their individuality through making art. You can check out the project here!
However, making a difference to his community isn’t his only passion. It seems that over the years Casero has tested his talent, creating a wide variety of styles with a wide variety of materials. “I love to experiment and explore the unlimited possibilities of creating art” he says, and this is very apparent from his portfolio. He has spent his entire career as an artist so far pushing the boundaries of his own imagination and skill, and now he is beginning to push the boundaries of art itself.
Hersley Casero’s latest works – part of a series he has named ‘MAONG’, the word for ‘denim’ in his regional language, Visaya – explores the use of the modern and resilient material as an artistic medium. The idea was sparked by the alarming rate at which the city he knows so well is becoming more and more unrecognisable due to a reasonably sudden influx of Western media, tourists, expats and influence on the millennial generation in particular. It seems that denim is as prevalent around the globe as the culture that it represents, spreading its ideologies like creeping vines and becoming the ‘uniform of the world’.
In order to realise his vision, Casero employed the non-working mothers of his ‘Barangay’ (or ‘neighbourhood’) to cut the denim into the familiar silhouettes of creatures, plants and small everyday household objects. He admits while beaming that his relatives and neighbours cut the denim so eagerly that for the months that they worked with him he ended up paying them more than he himself was earning. For these women, the denim cutting work was not just a useful income, but became an outlet for creativity, a shared community project and a huge sense of pride upon seeing the pieces evolve.
The result of this teamwork was – and continues to be – a collection of unimaginably unique and prolific works of art, and despite the MAONG series still being in its infancy, it is already being snapped up by collectors and admirers around the world, and has already participated in a successful show in the Philippines’ Capital, Manila. Words cannot describe Casero’s latest creations as well as the images themselves, so be sure to check out his website, Instagram or Facebook page – or, if you are ever in Dumaguete, the ‘Bakery’ itself, where you will find Hersley Casero as creative and colourful and modest and warm and busy and passionate as ever.