A Living Sculpture that Talks

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Artist Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen is much more than the sum of her life’s parts.

Born in Manila in 1970 to a Filipina mother and Danish father, she realized at an early age that she was different. She was too tall and her round eyes made her stand out among her playmates.

When she was 8, Lilibeth’s family moved to Stevns, Denmark with a population of 2,000. Again, she was a standout with a big challenge to fit in.

Filipinos are very skilled at adapting to other cultures, but it must have been very difficult for a young Euro-Asian girl to be transplanted to her father’s hometown with few immigrants.

Lilibeth recalls how she couldn’t play with her friends on Sundays because she had to go to Mass. She didn’t want to tell anyone she was Catholic. And she even lamented her name. Why couldn’t she be a Tina like a lot of her fair-haired friends? Why was she a Lilibeth?

“All my life, I’ve dealt with being neither this or that . . .” Lilibeth says.

“I was brought up in the countryside: we where the only foreigners in a radius of 100 km. This was Denmark in the 80s and 90s. . . . (I) just got used to be the only half bread Filipino around.” So there’s the dilemma: Growing up an outsider in a rural area of Denmark, do you put on a show, or do you hide yourself?

Lilibeth attended the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and decided to become a performance artist. Her daring work challenges identity, culture, religion, gender and social relations with a strong feminist perspective.

For instance, in her piece “Absolute Exotic,” she deals with perceptions of identity. She wears an island costume and performs with two Caucasian men, which calls to mind the Hawaiian term Hapa or half and half describing children of interracial marriages.

“My consciousness about feminism got stronger when I was about 30 years old,” she says. “At the same time I got a child, and I got out of art school. It actually changed my works in a different direction. Since then they have had more focus on gender issues, and it has been important for me to do works about women.”

Outlandish humor is one of her strong suits.

“Filipinos joke around a lot. They joke around as much as they’re serious. It’s part of the rhetoric and a part of the culture. It’s a way to survive — and a way to talk about things that are hard to talk about . . . it’s a part of a culture that I was born into,” she says.

She achieves this by breaking things down into their separate parts and then examining them as she lures and captivates her audience. Her performances change the nature of the concept being observed, by changing our perception of it.

In however many characters she performs, Lilibeth is surely comfortable in her skin, and Danish Tina has been shelved a long time ago.

To learn more about Lilibeth, visit her site at http://lilibethcuenca.com.

Many, many thanks to Christian Lund and the staff of channel.louisiana.dk for the use of their video.

NOTE: Cuenca Rasmussen’s solo exhibitions includes Being Human Being, Nikolaj Kunsthal, Copenhagen, 2014, musical skies bouncing down to earth making trees fly, Röda Sten Kunsthal, Gothenborg, (Sweden), 2014, Inbetweeness, Horsens Kunstmusem, Horsens (Denmark), 2014, The Heidelberg Kunstverein in 2010, Ego Show at Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen in 2006, Lilith Performance Studio, Malmö in 2007 and Woman in the Rhythm at the Gävle Konstcentrum, Gãvle in 2006. She has participated in numerous exhibitions and performance venues worldwide including: Performa2009 in New York City with the piece “The Present doesn’t exist in my Mind and Future is already far behind.” In 2010 the performance was re-staged at Hélio Oititica in Rio de Janiero, at Verbo, Galeria Vermelho in São Paulo, The Living Room Art in Public Spaces in Auckland City, Location One in New York City, Statens Museum for Kunst and Aros in Denmark.