Four years ago, Paolo Dumlao, a pansexual Filipino, did his first performance art “as mema lang (out of whim),” he said. At that time, he just wanted to “tick off something from my bucket list.” But he fell in love with the form, and so stayed with it.
Here’s the thing: In his performances, Paolo is always without clothes since he is a nude artist.
There is reason behind this, he said. “It’s not because it’s something different, or because it’s something new since it’s been done before… but because for me, the feeling (when one is nude) is very vulnerable, and i think it’s my most vulnerable form, and I want to be in that state when I perform so I can emphasize with people.”
To be clear, Paolo is not a performing artist; instead, he is a performance artist.
Performance art is different from performing arts. With the latter, “you are portraying a character that is not you. So you’re using your body as a canvas to create another character. When it comes to performance art, you yourself are the character, and the message you relay is different outside of the text,” he said. “At least that’s what I am doing.”
Paolo noted that there are people who see performances of nude artists as sexual, and he said this is not necessarily true.
On the one hand, just because one is naked doesn’t mean the piece is sexual, as “it could be pure, it could be wholesome (even if the performer is not clothed). And I am able to show these (through my performances), and that (things aren’t) just black and white.”
And so, it is worth stressing, “it is not pornography; I am not selling my body, I am just using my body as canvas for my art.”
Paolo said that malice needs to be removed when viewing particularly his performances – i.e. “We don’t give malice when seeing a naked child, so why give malice when seeing a naked adult?” This is particularly true when “they’re not doing anything malicious or anything sexual.”
On the other hand, Paolo said with emphasis, even if the piece is also sexual, it’s not like there’s something wrong with that. “We’re all different; sensuality is different for everyone, just as sexuality is different for everyone. You can be modest and that empowers you, and that’s fine. You could be very, very promiscuous and very sexual, and that empowers you, and that’s fine, too. As long as you’re responsible with yourself, you’re responsible with dealing with other people, and you know for a fact you’re not stepping on other people’s toes.”
Though Paolo has been inspired by various artists, his main inspiration are the people he deals with while he is performing. “My interaction creates an experience for me, and from that experience, I get inspired to make more art,” he said.
Paolo said he gets two reactions when he performs. For one, there are people who get “the vulnerability,” he said. And, secondly, “there are times when (people) get intimidated.” But with performance art, “your art is effective when you get a reaction, once it creates discourse.” And so for Paolo, the piece still works “even if only one person gets it.”
There are members of his family who disapprove of what he does, though Paolo said this is largely due to security issues – e.g. he could get harassed, or he could be accused of harassing and could get in trouble for this. But Paolo said that he is actually cautious when planning performances, making sure that – yes – he does so in a safe space where he won’t be harassed, and only in contexts where he won’t knowingly end up harassing people.
For those who oversimplify what he’s doing as “just getting naked”, Paolo said performing is actually very draining, not just mentally but also physically. Which is why “I look after my body,” he said, “because I use my body as my canvas and I need to take care of it. I always make sure I am ready for it; it’s strenuous.”
If there’s one lesson his performances taught him, it’s that “we share similar stories,” Paolo said. “We share similar pain, we share similar happiness or success… The levels may be different on how we deal with these, but they’re similar.”
And after his performances, if there is one thing he wants those who see him to take away from seeing him, it’s the ability to “ask questions,” Paolo said. “Never be afraid to ask questions. It’s a start of being curious, of interacting with other people. So if possible, ask all the questions you can ask. It’s a way to grow as a person.”