Pio Abad is a transdisciplinary artist whose practice examines the social and political signification of things. Working across textile, drawing, installation and photography, Abad unearths suppressed histories and alternative narratives as a means of surfacing threads of complicity between these incidents and the people and ideologies involved. Abad attended the University of the Philippines before receiving a BA from The Glasgow School of Art and later an MA from the Royal Academy Schools, London.
For a 2014 exhibition at the non-profit cultural organisation Gasworks—Some Are Smarter Than Others, 12 September–16 November 2014—Abad examined the legacy of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, who were in power at the time of the artist's birth. Comprised of sculptures, photographs and printed textiles, Some Are Smarter Than Others explored the post-colonial myth that the couple propagated to the Filipino public. By including a series of fine and decorative art objects referencing objects owned by the Marcoses during their rule, the exhibition simultaneously strove to highlight the life of abundant luxury the pair led.
Abad's ongoing research project 'The Collection of Jane Ryan and William Saunders' is a further exploration into the role that certain artefacts have played in modern Philippine history. The project spans a number of solo and group exhibitions held in 2014, including Some Are Smarter Than Others. From Regency-era silverware to old master paintings, Abad reconstructed these items using inexpensive reproduction techniques as a means of examining the Marcoses' 'brand of civility' and the ideologies that they disseminated in contrast to their own lifestyles.
Abad's work Not a Shield, but a Weapon (2017) was included in Art Basel Hong Kong's Encounters sector in 2017. Comprised of 180 counterfeit handbags produced in the city of Marikina in the Philippines, the installation explored the effects of trade liberalisation—a move that has crippled what was once a thriving leather industry in the city. Presented in Hong Kong at the time of the 20th anniversary of the Handover and at a point of crisis in British politics, the installation provided a commentary on the neoliberal world order, partially put in place by Margaret Thatcher. The title directly references a quote by one of Thatcher's former ministers, Edwina Currie, who stated Thatcher's handbag was 'not a shield, but a weapon.'
Pio Abad is the nephew of the late Philippine-American painter Pacita Abad. In 2018, Pio co-curated a solo exhibition of Pacita's work, titled Pacita Abad: A Million Things To Say, at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD) with the Museum's curator and director, Joselina Cruz. In a conversation with Ocula Magazine, held near the time of the exhibition's opening, Joselina Cruz discussed how in working with Pio the show was intended to 'give the old formulations of Pacita—that of an exotic, crafty woman of colour—a different perspective for viewers of the 21st century'.
Pio Abad lives and works in London. His work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, including Notes on Decomposition at CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow (2016) and 1975–2015 at 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art in Sydney (2016), as well as many international group presentations, such as Conceal, cover with sand, replicate, translate, restore at Kadist in Paris (2017), Soil and Stones, Songs and Souls at Para Site in Hong Kong (2017) and Still (the) Barbarians at EVA International in Limerick City (2016).
This essay appears in 52 Artists 52 Actions: Small Acts of Disobedience, co-published by Artspace Sydney and Thames & Hudson Australia in 2019. It is now exclusively published online with Ocula in collaboration with Artspace Sydney. The publication is available to purchase from here.As part of his Instagram intervention for 52 ARTISTS 52...
Since 2011, Joselina Cruz has been the director and curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD), De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, Manila, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2018 with a series of programmes and special exhibitions, starting with Flatlands (7 December 2017–4 March 2018). A group show with James...
Pio Abad's solo exhibition begins, paradoxically, with a work by another artist: The Bridge (To Sonny Rollins), a hard-edge painting from 1981 by Leo Valledor. This prologue to the main act serves a number of purposes. It connects the show to its site through a local artist (Valledor spent much of his life in San Francisco).