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DAVID MEDALLA - b. 1942 Phillipines. Lives and works in London, NYC and Paris

"My mobility is partly out of choice because I like travelling, meeting different people, knowing different cultures but it's also out of necessity.
I still carry a Phillipines passport and that means, being a so-called Third World citizen, you're not given very long periods of stay in most countries....

...Home is the world for me." David Medalla

David Medalla has been an international artist for almost forty years. He was born in Manila in the Phillipines and has lived in Britain, on and off, since the sixties. His parents were from different ethnic Phillipino backgrounds (Tagalog and Visayan) but he also has Spanish, Malaysian, Chinese and English origins. Rather than feeling like an exile from his native land, in many ways he sees himself as a citizen of the world, feeling at home everywhere. Unlike artists who might exhibit around the world but make art from a singular cultural perspective, Medalla's work is always informed by the place in which he creates it and the people he meets there.

Medalla with Oriol de Quadras, 'Conversation Bi-langue' (detail) from the 'Magellan' series. 1978. (2)

Medalla, 'A Stitch in Time' (detail) one of many versions made between 1968-1972 (3)

David Medalla makes work which has frequently defied categorisation. It has ranged anywhere from sculpture and kinetic art to painting, installation and performance with all the spaces and overlaps between these forms, remaining fresh, spontaneous, shifting and playful. A continual, unfolding story...

Medalla has described his art as dialogic, that is, involving a dialogue between himself, his media and his collaborators/audience. His nomadic lifestyle, processes of collaboration and the spiritual and political beliefs which inform the work, have added up to a way of life as much as an artistic profession. The style and scope of work he has been involved with is much too broad to be categorised in this small page. Instead we feature a number of pieces which highlight this nomadic life and the spaces it has moved through.

A Stitch in Time
During the late 1960's and early 1970's Medalla made a series of 'participation works' where the audience was encouraged to be involved in the production of playful and experiential pieces which challenged the notions of creative heirarchy. 'A Stitch in Time' is about travel, time and chance, but it's also about production.
Medalla described the piece as "participation-production-propulsion". It involves the audience sewing small objects of significance onto a large cloth in a public space, which requires a creative concentration and an engagement with the artwork. The pieces now exist as large, beautifully textured cloths but they are also a testament to all those who contributed to them, as well as the collaborative process through which they were created.

Throughout his working life Medalla has been involved in performances, around the world, very often low key and spontaneous. These ephemeral pieces, which occur without an invited audience, requiring no funding, very often on the street or some other public place, he terms 'impromptus' or 'instant installations.' He is particularly interested in the notion of 'meeting' or the chance encounter, which is perhaps tied to to his state of being endlessly on the move, but also to the fact that he makes art in and with the public. Medalla has made hundreds of impromptu pieces. In one piece he danced with kitsch objects from a variety of cultures in a flea market in Rotterdam ('Celebrations of World Mythologies'). In another he acted out a Western drama with ice cowboys, melting under the heat of the Texas sun.

For Medalla, identity is layered and shifting. In several of his impromptu pieces he has made masks for himself, often from the torn pages of magazines. The mask both covers the identity and, for a moment, transforms it into something new.

Conceptual Art
Medalla carries with him a notebook full of scribbles, project ideas, notes and performance scripts. On occasion he has read from one of his notebooks, as a perfomance, recounting stories. Many of these projects are never actually made but exist only as an idea. Those who believe art only consists of beautiful objects, have difficultly with this idea of conceptual art.

"It is in the actual act of stitching, when you thread your own needle and start stitching, that you have your own space. your psychological space, apart from the physical space, and I find that very moving." David Medalla


The experience of being a travelling artist is integral to David Medalla's work. He very often makes work with just the materials at hand. He is also very interested in collaborative pieces which involve his audience.

  • What would you do or make, inspired by this artist's work?
  • If you could take just three things with you on a journey, what would they be? Perhaps you could design a bag or a coat which could contain all the things you might want to take with you on your travels. You could even make it if you like.
  • Think of all the little bits and bobs we collect and discard -
    a chewing gum wrapper, a bus ticket, a free toy, a lottery ticket. Momentarily important but ultimately of little value. What if you were to make a quilt with all these little bits sewn on, You could sew on a story about the thing too. If the whole class or even the whole school contributed items to it, over a month or a term, you'd have a giant memory blanket which captured a moment in time.

"A mask both conceals and reveals. It raises all those questions about cultural, personal and sexual identity." Gavin Jantes





(left) Medalla, 1 of 6 Impromptus with torn paper masks,
New York, 1991 (4)