“Halo-halo is a sweetened dish made with sweet beans, shaved ice and fruit,” SA-based multi-disciplinary artist Alyssa Powell-Ascura explains.

“Typically, you eat it as a mixture, but you can also pick at it in layers… and this made me think about myself as a ‘halo-halo’ of identity, a mixed identity. It reflects my Asian-Australian background as well as the various artistic mediums used in the works showcased.”

Through performance, video, photography and mixed-media visual art, Powell-Ascura explores her connection to her ancestral Filipino home and her experiences growing up in Australia.

“I didn’t feel completely Australian [growing up], but when I’m over [in the Philippines], of course I sound different and I don’t completely understand what they are saying. Food was the introduction back into Filipino culture.

“My lola (grandmother), Pacita, was a community elder and used to run a sari-sari (convenience store) and karinderya (eatery) back in the Philippines … I was really inspired by her love of food as way to connect and share.”

The centrepiece of Halo-halo – Powell-Ascura’s first major solo exhibition – is a performance piece titled Kain Tayo! (Let’s Eat), which documents kamayan, a traditional method of eating using your hands.

“In this work, communal feasting becomes a metaphor for shared experiences and collective consideration. This idea is something that I have incubated for a number of years now… It’s my favourite conceptual performance to date, and one that I’m really proud of as it establishes a unique dialogue between the viewer and the artist in an immersive way.”

Powell-Ascura was the recipient of the 2023 Delima Residency in Rimbun Dahan, Malaysia, presented in cooperation with the Mahmood Martin Foundation.

“During my time there [in Malaysia] and subsequently a brief visit to the Philippines, I was urged to create something that is reminiscent of tropical South-East Asia – this feeling of warmth and of home.”

In her three-month residency at Rimbun Dahan, Powell-Ascura experimented with new artistic techniques and researched her family archives and migration patterns through the Asia-Pacific. These themes are evoked in the balikbayan box installation, which pays homage to memories of her mother sending “sweets and treats” to “give a gift to her family members back home” in the Philippines.

As a finalist at the 2023 SA Environment Awards, Powell-Ascura is committed to environmental justice in her artistic practice. The Halo-halo exhibition features a strong emphasis on repurposing and recycling.

“Most of the items I have used are repurposed. It’s probably because I’m a bit of a hippy, but it also highlights migrants’ resourcefulness… my family is always repurposing items, using them for things that they weren’t made for.”

Powell-Ascura hopes that, by bringing familiar objects into the gallery setting, new questions will be asked of home, community and belonging. While specific memories may be evoked for “those who are familiar with the contexts of the works”, the exhibition promises to resonate with all who carry stories that travel from places near and far.

Halo-halo will be open until August 23 in Gallery II at The Mill and is part of the SALA Festival.

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