Artist and activist Carlos Celdran fought the good fight until the end
The cultural activist passed away at the age of 46
Oct 8, 2019
When we interviewed Carlos Celdran for our Southern Living cover story last year as he was gearing up to spearhead the first Manila Biennale, he talked extensively about his love for the city. To quote our story: Manila was “both his muse and his medium, and it was also a place where he has slept in, woken up in, vomited in, gotten arrested in.”
“If I get you curious enough to leave your comfort zone, go downtown to see that sculpture, and hate it on site, I already won,” he said.
Celdran passed away at the age of 46 earlier this morning of natural causes. In honor of the performance artist, cultural activist, and renowned tour guide for Intramuros, let’s look back at the way he devoted his life for the city—and for the country:
1. Manila Biennale
The idea of a biennale for Manila was unheard of—and to some, even laughable. But Celdran had a vision to “bring back soul” into the city. “A biennale is when a city invites the world to come and experience art on its own terms—not to buy, not to wander, but really see how the city interacts with the art that we create,” Celdran explained to us last year. “There’s a difference in seeing a painting in a white box and seeing a painting next to the Manila Cathedral.”
In 2010, Celdran stormed into the Manila Cathedral dressed up like Jose Rizal while holding a sign that read “Damaso” to protest the church’s interference on the passage of a reproductive rights’ law. That one guerilla performance act quickly ballooned into a greater conversation about free speech and the role of religion in law, with Celdran being sentenced last year for “offending religious feelings.”
3. Guided Intramuros Tours
For years, Celdran had been known for his tours around the ancient walled city; it only made sense for someone who breathed the city that much to share his love for it in such a literal way. “Equally educational as it is theatrical,” he used his walking tour “Walk This Way” to talk not just about the city’s sights, but also about its culture, art, religion, and politics. Last year, he also incorporated a bike tour into his route—which unfortunately had to end when he was essentially exiled in Spain after his aforementioned sentencing.
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