PJ Gubatina Policarpio - Educator, Curator, Organizer
PJ Gubatina Policarpio is an artist, educator, curator, organizer, researcher, programmer, and writer based in San Francisco and New York City. Growing up in a family of educators, PJ worked towards teaching credentials but found his place in museum education. His work moves to engage community and art, with an emphasis on a diverse and multicultural audience. Themes in his work include decolonization, queerness, and intersectionality, and PJ produces programs at museums geared towards youth development, mentorship, and advocacy of POC. With projects like the Pilipinx American Library and Textiles of the Philippines book, PJ’s work is both meaningful and inclusive. Check out all the good he is doing and all that’s coming next!
How did you create your career path?
There isn’t a clear blueprint for a career in the arts especially for someone like me, coming from an immigrant, working class family. To be honest I didn’t even know that I could possibly pursue a career in the arts or in museums. I didn’t grow up going to museums or art openings, of know any artists in my family and community. But I did come from a family of educators - both my parents were teachers who met while teaching - so education was something that I was familiar with. I always thought I would be a classroom teacher just like them. While I was preparing to get my credentials to be a high school teacher, I pursued a summer internship at a children’s museum and I got it. That was the beginning of my museum career. I realized the great power of using art to teach and educate. I loved being in a museum space, the changing exhibitions, the amazing art and architecture. I was hooked. This led to an internship at the de Young Museum in San Francisco and then a fellowship at the Brooklyn Museum in 2012, which was also my first paid museum job! From San Francisco I moved to New York City and have since worked with/in various museums and art organizations including Queens Museum, No Longer Empty, More Art, and The Museum of Modern Art, which led me to where I am today.
Has art always been a part of your life?
I didn’t grow up thinking about art or seeing art but indirectly, I’ve always been drawn to stories and objects that tell stories. So in that sense that’s how I’ve always approached art. Thinking about what the object is and what it is saying and what we can learn from it. Another way that I've seen art is through my travels. Early on, I was more interested in collecting experiences rather than things. In college, I studied abroad in Madrid and Singapore and was opened up to Europe and Southeast Asia. This was another way that I experienced art.
What are you most passionate about?
First, I must recognize that as I am writing this, so many of my friends and family are under attack. Communities of color, Black, Brown, Indigenous, Migrant, Undocumented, Women, Queer, Trans, Differently Abled, Low Income, Incarcerated and so many others in the margins and in-betweens are under threat daily. We’ve always been under threat.
So what I am most passionate about is dismantling white supremacy and patriarchy through the work that I do and can do everyday. That is, to refuse to accept the dominant narrative of white patriarchal supremacy through art, history, literature, and culture. I refuse to accept claims that our stories narratives, and voices or those outside of the center are inferior, secondary, unimportant, and inconsequential. I hope that my work and practice shows a commitment to challenging readily available narratives and questioning a worldview that does not take into account the narratives, perspectives, contributions, and histories of those in the margins.
How important has diversity, inclusivity, and representation been to your work? And how has it been received by museum, panel, workshop audience?
One of the most important realizations I’ve had as a Filipinx-American/POC working in an almost exclusively white field of art and museums, is that I must take into account who I am, my full self, in order to be able to do the best work that I can do. For me this has meant being outspoken, making sure that my voice is heard, that I contribute to the conversation, and also working with spaces that share the same ethos. For me, a more meaningful contribution to diversifying the field has been through mentorship, support, and advocacy for emerging POCs in the field. I make sure to make time to meet, answer questions, and share my story and trajectory to anyone who reaches out to me. I give them support during jobs applications and offer pep talks when needed. I’ve been so fortunate to have so many amazing mentors in my professional life that I try to pay it forward. I believe that museums and audiences must recognize that the future of museums is now. The demographics of this country is shifting and they must recognize that.
What was the inspiration behind the Pilipinx American Library?
The inspiration behind the Pilipinx American Library is to exclusively amplify Filipinx voices and narratives through literature and printed matter. At the beginning of PAL, it was mostly a way for me and my collaborator Emmy Catedral to counter the fact that many people, Filipinx or not have not read a Filipinx-authored book or literature before. We wanted to create an opportunity for people of all backgrounds to be encounter and engage with a Filipinx story. For us this was an urgent matter. When we started PAL it was also the height of the presidential elections of 2016, and we witnessed first-hand the almost daily assault and rhetoric against migrants, working class folks and many others, basically our neighbors in Jackson Heights, Queens. We wanted to find a way to counter these narratives and provide a more nuanced portrayal of our lives and experiences. This is a major inspiration for Pilipinx American Library.
What have been some of your favorite projects you've produced?
The Textiles of the Philippines book and Pilipinx American Library are probably the two main projects that have become definitive of my practice so far and also my favorites. It’s been phenomenal to see how a personal project such as Textiles of the Philippines can become a part of the collection of the Thomas J Watson Library at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Looking back, I made this publication as a way to decolonise myself and never imagined it to be at the Met Museum although now I know that it deserves to be there. This has also opened up opportunities to share more about indigenous Pilipinx textiles in universities, and other places. Most recently, I was in conversation with the head curator for textiles at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. With Pilipinx American Library, it’s been a tremendous honor to be able to advocate for Filipinx voices and narratives through literature by writers, artists, poets, and scholars from the diaspora. To be able to shine a light on our vital stories by and from our own people. It’s exciting to be a part of this community, to be in conversation with writers and readers and to bridge that gap. If someone somewhere, Filipinx or not, picks up a Filipinx-authored book they encountered through PAL then I would consider that a huge success.
Do you have any upcoming projects you are excited about?
Right now I am working on special issue of TAYO Literary Magazine which I am guest-editing. For this special issue, I am looking to explore the radical and revolutionary possibilities of softness, of being tender, of care, kinship and hope. I’ve invited a dream team of poets, artists, and writers to respond and create work along these themes. I’m excited to see what comes out of it.
Photos courtesy of PJ Gubatina Policarpio