From Fashion to Fabric: The Evolution of an Artist and His Timeless Tapestries

The Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. (RAFI) presents “Saulog: Encounter, Pilgrimage, Transformation,” a fashion art exhibit showcasing the journey of Christianity in the Philippines, designed by award-winning designer Steve de Leon. The exhibit features mixed media, including wall-bound tapestries, monumental altar-like installations, and textile ensembles. The grand opening is on January 27, 2024, at the Kabilin Center in Cebu.

On January 26, I had the privilege of attending a private viewing of the exhibit. It was a feast for the eyes, showcasing a collection of unique and inspiring pieces. Of all the pieces, the tapestries stood out to me the most. The way they were intricately stitched with other fabrics to create something entirely new was truly impressive. These pieces were a beautiful representation of Filipino culture.

The private tour was like taking a stroll through the history of Christianity in the Philippines, from the baptism of 1521 to the thriving faith of modern times. The journey showcased the impressive artistic and cultural achievements of the Filipino people.

The exhibit is divided into three sections. The first section, Encounter, explores the merging of folk and Catholic religious cultures, indigenous systems, and colonial power.

The second section, Pilgrimage, portrays the Sinulog, a dance that venerates the Sto. Niño de Cebu, and contrasts spiritual devotion with secular festivities and advocacies.

The third section, Transformation, showcases significant icons of the Christian salvation story. This aims to trigger personal transformation and a renewal of faith and social witnessing. It features installations of the Crucified Christ, Mater Dolorosa, the Risen Christ, and the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Following the tour, I had the opportunity to talk with the celebrated designer Steve de Leon. He is known for his exceptional work in theater, film production, and fashion. It was revealed that he had never exhibited his artwork outside of Manila until now. Curious, I asked him why he had chosen to showcase his pieces for the first time.

These tapestries, dating back to 1989, were originally part of his collection. However, he decided to take a new approach by stitching them together with other fabrics, creating something unique. He now feels that his collection is in tune with the current times and wants to share it with the public. This transformation from a fashion designer to an artist marks a significant evolution in his career.

Taking his collection pieces outside of Manila for the first time was a pivotal moment for him. It was a catalyst for his artistic awakening, as he transitioned from being a fashion designer to a soft sculpture artist. Instead of traditional painting, he found his passion in stitching fabric, which was a natural progression given his background in fashion.

Expressing the ideas in his mind has become crucial for him. If he doesn’t let these ideas out, he will experience a headache. This realization has come with age, as he now observes and contemplates the true essence of life. Sharing his art with people has become a priority for him, as he believes it is the best way to connect with others and convey his unique perspective.

Steve de Leon’s evolution as an artist from the vibrant world of fashion to the intricate realm of fabric is a testament to his creative versatility and adaptability. Through his timeless tapestries, he has stitched together a narrative of artistic growth and expression that transcends boundaries and stands as a testament to his artistic journey.

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