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Ferraris has heart and art on life's canvas
Hong Kong-based artist celebrates life and times of OFWs

Artists are typically
notorious for their hissy fits,
egos as expansive as the
cosmos and attitude to

In this respect, Joel Ferraris
is a major failure. Not only
is he so down to earth as to
be almost subterranean, he
is also brutally honest
about his spirituality, a
frankness that can be
initially disquieting to some
but refreshing to others.

While a handful of people
may quibble over this
seemingly outdated mix of
art and heart, Ferraris – a
Filipino artist long based in
Hong Kong – believes that
it is precisely this spirituality
that has brought him to a
Joel Ferraris has the
world of OFWs
covered in his
exhibit. The main
piece is a huge
mural (top) made
from thousands of
phone cards.
new level in his craft.

Late last year, Ferraris was asked to show what amounted to a
retrospective of his works as part of the Spectrum Series program of the
University of  Pittsburgh in Bradford – the first Filipino invited to the
prestigious multicultural and multinational event.

“It was my first solo exhibition in the US. It was my first time to apply for a US
visa and my first time to go to the US. All were first attempts,” said Ferraris,
who started showing his works in Hong Kong with the John Batten Gallery
in Sheung Wan in 1997, along with Filipino artist Tito Cascante.

“The Spectrum Series presents a wide array of art and aesthetic
expressions from the rest of the world,” he added. “Being the first and only
Filipino invited to this program means to share with them our culture where
religion and spirituality are a major player.”

But it wasn’t that straightforward. After receiving the Spectrum Series
invitation in 2005, Ferraris found himself in a major quandary.

“I am a family man and my youngest kid was only a year old. That was also
the time I was doing a big mural project for a clubhouse in Tseung Kwan O
under my company [Ferraris Art Studio]. I was also facilitating two mural
projects for a hotel in Hawaii, which my two brothers in the Philippines were
working on.”

Fortunately, in a confluence of events that Ferraris could only describe as
divinely inspired, he was able to surmount major financial and logistical
hurdles with the help of family members and friends from Hong Kong and
his native province of Iloilo (including a crucial assistance from a former
elementary school classmate from 35 years ago who is now based in
Chicago) and new acquaintances in the US, both Americans and Filipinos.

“This was the main reason the title of my show is Free Flow,” Ferraris said.
“Simply put, it is accepting gladly whatever blessing that God the Father
Almighty has granted without being bitter if the things we expect did not

“All in all, I didn’t have a hard time applying for a US visa and entering the
US. People welcomed me and I received some kind of respect and special
treatment after they learned that I am an artist.

“It’s strange, but I feel that even the weather welcomed me in Pennsylvania.
A freak snow that was so thick at 30 inches – the last time it occurred was in
the 1800s according to Bradford residents – made it possible for me to
experience it. And when I was going to the airport for my trip back to Hong
Kong, a double rainbow adorned the California sky as if to bid me goodbye.”

Looking back at his experience in Bradford, Ferraris cannot help but be

“In the US exhibition, especially after I visited some art galleries, I realised
many things. What is the goal of artists? Is it fame, fortune or the guarantee
to have one’s name remembered in history? Or is it using one’s talent just
to survive when others are having a hard time surviving?

“The exhibition was not just about how an artist’s talent or his fame can turn
his every artwork into cash, but to make people realize that there’s more to
life than just being talented or gifted or rich. The show identifies and
stresses the need for spiritual enlightenment.

“It aims to encourage people, artists most especially, to examine
themselves and see their relevance in a society hungry for good role
models amid the effects of drug addiction, homesickness and separation,
immorality and decadence and all those negative things and influences that
are targeting the young.

“I did hope that in my small way, I was able to contribute to international
understanding and in making people realize the hardships experienced by
foreign workers forced to work abroad just to make sure their families
survive back home.”
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