Kristian Kabuay - Baybayin Artist

Baybayin artist, speaker, and author Kristian Kabuay’s interest in the pre-Philippine writing system began when he saw the Ka character on a calendar. He studied in the Philippines and immersed himself in the culture, growing his knowledge of precolonial writing system. Self taught in calligraphy and graffiti, with a fascination in indigenous culture and the precolonial past of the Philippines, Kristian’s art is both traditional and contemporary. He works in all mediums, pieces scaled in all sizes, and each with a story of its own.


How did you begin your work in Baybayin?
I started writing it as a hobby after finding a chart in a book after first seeing the Ka character on a calendar.

What was the appeal and inspiration to learning and sharing Baybayin
I've always been into writing arts like calligraphy and graffiti. As a kid, I spent a lot of my time reading and looking at pictures of different cultures. Of course, there wasn't much about the Philippines so when I learned about our prePhilippine culture, I dove right in like a pig in mud.

How have you incorporated your personal style in the work you do? Make it your own?
It took years to find my style. I started off copying writing samples and graffiti artists I admired and then tweaking it little by little as my natural stokes surfaced. My style came about with experimenting with different brushes, pens, and surfaces. This became my signature style - brush/graff/abstract. In 2019, I'm at the point to deconstruct it again focused on being more "technical".

What mediums do you work in?
Anything from commercial paint to a homemade ink mix. Watercolor, wine, saliva, alcohol, blood, Kikkoman, etc.


What are some of the favorite projects you've worked on?
Salesforce and Rideback murals - Epic in size and impact.
Artspan auction - My piece on decolonization was the lowest bidded piece of all the art
TEDx talk - My 1st rehearsed and produced talk
UCLA closing lecture - High energy with hundreds of students
Asian Art Museum performance & talk - A collaboration with Japanese calligraphy artist, Aoi Yamaguchi on a 30ft canvas. Pix of the performance went viral and lead to a tour in Europe 
Lecture in Pangasinan - Where my grandparents are from
Surat Magazine - This was hella hard to do. What started off as a weekend project turned into a year. The cover and reconnecting with Geena was the best part

How have your life experiences affect the art you create? Does your art bridge your life in the Philippines and in the US?
The script was something that I used to do but now it's something I am. When I first started, I would create pieces that were popular. Once I became comfortable in my artistic practice, I started to incorporate my personal experience. All my pieces have a story to tell. Recently, I've started working with multiple colors after a trip to Miami. Living in the South of Market area in San Francisco where I see poverty, drug abuse, and violence in the shows of billion-dollar tech companies, I'm aware of my inherited/earned privilege. This is expressed in my pieces with themes of duality and hypocrisy.

1st and foremost, my art is prePhilippine x Philippine art. Traditional and contemporary at the same time. I make it a point to go home often and have events to connect with folks back home and tell my story.


What's it like to create Baybayin live art pieces at events?
Sometimes it feels like the St.Louis World's Fair when it's done outside of a "Filipino" event but I like doing them as it's a learning experience for me. I often talk more about my art publicly than create.

How has your work been received by the Filipino American community?
In general, I'd say good but I don't have any real data to back it up other than social media. That might just be a bubble that I'm in. I'm actually more interested in the criticisms and hate because, in the off chance, someone brings up something new and legit, I'll grow from it. That said, I haven't heard anything new in years so what I've started to do is use these criticisms as an opportunity to teach others. There are certainly other artists, culture bearers, and entrepreneurs that may come across similar situations that would benefit from insight on how to deal with the public callouts. In my talks, I have a section dedicated to answering the most common criticisms. I take screenshots and address them in my arena turning it into a currency.  

Are there any projects you are excited to work on?
I'm excited to work on more murals, a new book, and online school in '19.

Photos courtesy of Kristian Kabuay

Photos courtesy of Kristian Kabuay

Jeannine Roson