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Gericault De La Rose is a queer trans Filipinx woman, and refuses to change for anyone.
“Being that queer trans person completely owning herself I hope gives other people permission to be themselves, too,” she says.
A master’s student in UC Berkeley’s Department of Art Practice, Gericault explores in her art Philippine mythology and her experience as a trans woman. One time, she dressed up like a manananggal — a kind of monster that detaches from her lower body at night to look for unborn babies to eat — and then slept in an art gallery for six hours.
“I look at the manananggal as kind of a metaphor for how society sees trans women — how this is literally a woman detached from her reproductive organs. And what are you as a woman if you can’t reproduce?”
When Gericault came out to her parents as trans in her early 20s, they disowned her. For her thesis project, Gericault will unravel huge tapestries with images of her parents’ stomachs on them.
“It’s about disconnection and severance,” she says. “I’m thinking about how much of myself is a part of them and how much of them are a part of me, and it’s kind of this final goodbye.”
Gericault’s final MFA piece is part of the Annual UC Berkeley Master of Fine Arts Exhibition, which opens on May 10 at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). Learn more about the emerging artists’ work.
Read more graduation stories on Berkeley News.
Read a transcript of Berkeley Voices episode 110: Gericault De La Rose knows who she is and won’t change for anyone.
Anne Brice: This is Berkeley Voices. I’m Anne Brice.
When Gericault De La Rose first strutted into the ballroom scene in Oakland two years ago, it felt like home.
Gericault De La Rose: Immediately, when I walked into that space, I was seen as a woman, and it was something that was completely different from the queer scene in San Francisco. I went to some queer events and queer parties, even trans-specific parties, but they were mostly white, and a lot of people did not know how to dance. I really go for a dancing aspect when I go out.
[Music: Ballroom music from Oakland to All video]
When I walked into ballroom, it was such a completely different experience. It was majority Black and brown queer and trans folk. Most everyone knew how to dance or move in some way. It was something that I’d always dreamed of.
Anne Brice: She’d recently moved from Chicago, where she has this big, supportive group of friends. Her chosen family, she calls them. And when she moved to the Bay Area in 2021 for her master’s program at UC Berkeley’s Department of Art Practice, she really missed her people.
Gericault De La Rose: When I moved out here, I was so homesick. I was so sad. I cried literally every weekend.
Anne Brice: But when she walked into the ballroom scene at Oakland To All, she felt the same connection, the same radical acceptance and belonging that she felt in Chicago.
Gericault De La Rose: In the world of ballroom, this is the space that we can make a name and that we can make history and be remembered. Because outside these walls, the world actively wants us to disappear. But in this space, we are allowed to take our 30 seconds of the spotlight and show people what we’ve got.
Anne Brice: The ballroom scene, which first emerged in New York amid the Harlem Renaissance in the early 20th century, incorporates fashion, pageantry and dance alongside community-building and self-care. Between the 1960s and 1980s, the city’s drag competitions transformed from pageantry-style balls to voguing battles. The scene centers queer trans and nonbinary people of color in an empowered performance space.
Gericault De La Rose: So, I’m going to this ballroom event, eight-minute walk from my apartment, not knowing anyone. I was in line, and I was like, “OK, so where do I go?” So, I came from the back, and I walked. That means I vogued — there are five elements of vogue that you need to know to get your 10s: catwalk, duck walk, hands, spins and dips, and floor performance.
Anne Brice: In ballroom, participants compete or walk in a specific category. First, they walk for judges and either get their “10s” and move on to the battle, or they get chopped.
Gericault De La Rose: I walked in Chicago, but I always got chopped. It was cringe. It was cringe. I got sat. I didn’t even deserve 10s. I was just like, “What am I doing?” Chops. Chops all around. Right?
But there were people there that were encouraging me, like, “Keep doing what you need to do. If you keep working hard, you’ll eventually get your 10s.” I get my 10s now. I still get chopped here and there, but, you know, everyone gets chopped.
Anne Brice: These days, Gericault practices at least every week, sometimes many times a week. And she has a new chosen family and a place where she’s free to express a side of herself that she can’t really in other spaces.
Gericault De La Rose: It allows me to channel parts of my femininity that I can’t in art. It’s just a different way. And it helps me find freedom and a sense of belonging. And it’s a way to work out the physical traumas in my body. It is a form of therapy that is just so indispensable for me in my life. It’s a great way to stay active and it’s a great way to look forward to attaining goals. That’s the thing with ballroom — it helps people save their lives. They’re able to find community. They’re able to work towards common goals. They might also win grand prizes that help them out significantly financially.
I’m really glad that I found it, because that’s how good art is made, is by having a life and living a life.
Anne Brice: In finding her community in Oakland’s ballroom scene, Gericault also felt her world open up at Berkeley, where in her art she has explored themes of gender, culture and disconnection from her parents, who have refused to accept her for the queer trans femme queen that she is.
And now, two years later, Gericault will be graduating on May 17 with a master’s degree from the Department of Art Practice. Her thesis project is part of the Annual UC Berkeley Master of Fine Arts Exhibition, which opens on May 10 at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA).
[Music: “Menehune Dance” by James Pants]
Gericault De La Rose: I am a first-generation American immigrant. I came here when I was 4 years old from the Philippines. I grew up very heteronormative, very Catholic, as many Filipinos do. I don’t want to say, “Ever since I was a kid,” because there’s so much more than that, but the reality of it was that I knew that I was queer from the get-go. I didn’t really have the language to think through my gender and gender expression until I was in undergrad.
Anne Brice: Gericualt grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, where she went to Catholic school for her whole education, so from elementary school through high school.
Gericault De La Rose: Obviously, I faced a lot of homophobia, queer phobia, all that stuff. I was bullied. Absolutely — I went to Catholic school! I was also, in many cases, one of the only people of color. And so, I was like a fish out of water, always.
Anne Brice: After she graduated from high school, she came out as queer to her parents, who were kind of OK with it. But, she says, it likely wasn’t much of a surprise.
Gericault De La Rose: I was absolutely feminine as a kid. I was looking back at childhood photos, and I was like, “My parents had to know.”
Anne Brice: After high school, she enrolled in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she learned how to do everything artistic. She took woodworking and metalworking classes. She learned how to sew costumes and do theatrical makeup, and how to shoot and edit video, among tons of other skills.
In her art, she explored her culture and religious upbringing and how it informed who she was in the world. She became part of this strong network of artists and activists within the queer Filipinx community in Chicago.
Gericault De La Rose: My last birthday in Chicago, before I moved out here, I had a giant birthday party. So many people came up to me during my party and were like, “This is the first time I’ve ever been in a space with other queer Filipinx folk like me.” I was kind of like this origin point for a lot of people to connect with each other.
That community, I never really take it for granted. It’s how I became who I am. And, in terms of that love and community, it’s really about building genuine friendships.
Anne Brice: Gericault graduated from the institute in 2017 and, a year later, finally decided to tell her parents that she was trans and that she was going to start medically transitioning.
Gericault De La Rose: I came out to them because I was like, “I’m going to get hormones, whether or not you want to help me.” I was somewhat prepared, somewhat hopeful that they would be accepting, but they weren’t.
I don’t know, something kind of ticked for my dad, and one night when I was visiting the house, he just went off on me, and it was one of the scariest and most traumatic experiences that I’ve ever had. Not fun. Not fun to have your father of … I think I was 23 or 22 at the time, telling you that you’re sick and an abomination. And I don’t know, I knew who I was and it wasn’t something that was going to change to make my parents happy.
Anne Brice: At Berkeley, a lot of her new work focuses on this severance, a separation that feels painful, but necessary for Gericault to live a full life as her true self.
[Music: “Road Fellow” by Blue Dot Sessions]
Gericault De La Rose: As a queer trans Filipinx woman, I try to make work for myself and for people like me. It also means that I kind of don’t have a choice in being political because my body is constantly politicized, and there’s so much legislation around trans bodies right now.
So, whether or not it’s intentional for my work to be political, it always will be. But I do intentionally think about my positionality in the world, my ancestry and the histories that I’m interfacing with to develop the pieces, because I don’t want my work to just be pretty, I want it to be conceptually resonant.
Anne Brice: Gericault’s main medium is performance art. A lot of her practice involves research into Philippine mythology. She’s interested, she says, in the consumption, digestion and regurgitation of her culture and how Filipinx people metabolize their colonial trauma.
Gericault De La Rose: And also another important aspect is kind of questioning the need to go back into the past as a means to justify who I am or who we are, in terms of overromanticizing pre-colonial Philippines to the point that it is not necessarily realistic or too idealistic, as if Indigenous people from the Philippines don’t exist now and are alive and are actively fighting for land sovereignty.
So, drawing from Philippine mythology and ghost stories, or myths and legends, I kind of look into that and derive my work.
One of my first pieces dealt with this mythological creature, the manananggal. The manananggal is a type of monster that is a beautiful woman by day, but a monstrous woman at night. She detaches herself from her lower body, and she becomes a flying torso, flying around looking for unborn babies to eat.
I look at the manananggal as kind of a metaphor for how society sees trans women — how this is literally a woman detached from her reproductive organs. And what are you as a woman if you can’t reproduce?
Anne Brice: For her piece, Gericault kind of reworked the myth by making a dragified version of it. She dressed up in a manananggal costume with fake wings and then slept in a gallery for six hours, rendering herself — the monster — vulnerable and harmless.
The performance also drew on U.S. history, when Indigenous people from around the world, including people from the Philippines, were put on display in human zoos.
Gericault De La Rose: What does it mean for me to, like, also take on this legacy? What does it mean for me as a brown woman to be taking up space in a white cube gallery? And with that question, I just slept. And I found rest. I literally gave the audience nothing, but also gave myself everything.
Anne Brice: For her first MFA show at the Worth Ryder Art Gallery on campus, Gericault built a giant wooden cross platform and made a cast of her upper body out of wax.
Gericault De La Rose: And for the performance, I broke that down and melted it and used that melted wax and poured it on the lower half of my body. That piece is called “In Between,” thinking about in between life and death, like monster-human, what’s in between my legs is kind of a point of contention for the authenticity of who I am as a person, literally on a cross there.
The performance was this kind of futile attempt of casting the lower part of my body. And that gesture was, again, very metaphorical for the experience of transitioning, both the pain and the beauty that comes with it and the attempt at striving towards femininity in a society that constantly invalidates your femininity and might not ever see you as a woman.
[Music: “Pasture” by Blue Dot Sessions]
Anne Brice: Gericault says being at Berkeley, where she has felt challenged to develop her craft and concepts, has helped push her forward in her life as an artist.
Last year, she won the Jack K. and Gertrude Murphy Award, given each year to one MFA student in the Bay Area of “unusual caliber with great artistic promise.”
Gericault’s final piece, which she’ll present in June, involves her parents again. This time, she’s using archival photos of them that she took several years ago.
Gericault De La Rose: I made two tapestries from images of my parents’ stomachs. I took an image of my mom’s belly and my dad’s belly. My dad has a scar from having colon cancer and having his appendix removed, and my mom has stretch marks from giving birth.
Essentially, for the performance, I’m literally unraveling these tapestries string by string, taking these strings from the images of my parents’ stomachs, tying them to my body and pulling away, creating this visual tension with the threads to the point they come off of the tapestry and alter the tapestries permanently. And then what I’m left with are these strings.
And this performance, I think it’s really fitting to be my final performance because it’s about disconnection and severance, and I’m thinking about how much of myself is a part of them and how much of them are a part of me, and it’s kind of this final goodbye.
Anne Brice: After she graduates, Gericault hopes to get gallery representation, and she’s also applying for artist residencies. She might teach someday, but for now, she wants to work on her own practice while she still has the energy.
Gericault De La Rose: My dream is to not have to struggle to survive. I want to thrive. I want to actually live a life, make my name mean something. And that’s what a lot of people in ballroom want to do, too.
And so, in these little pockets of reality that we create, we attempt to, in a lot of our own delusional ways, create something out of nothing.
I’m not changing myself. Every time I step onto campus, I make sure I’m the best dressed. I make sure that I stand out and that no no one can tell me anything. So, being that person, being that queer trans person completely owning herself, I hope gives other people permission to be themselves, too.
[Music: “Tidal Foam” by Blue Dot Sessions]
Anne Brice: The Annual UC Berkeley Master of Fine Arts Exhibition will run from May 10 through July 23 at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA). You can find more information, including details about this year’s artists’ talk on May 12 and Gericault’s final performance on June 11, on BAMPFA.org.
I’m Anne Brice, and this is Berkeley Voices, a Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs at UC Berkeley. If you enjoy Berkeley Voices, tell a friend about us and leave us a review on Apple Podcasts.
We also have another show, Berkeley Talks, which features lectures and conversations at Berkeley. You can find all of our podcast episodes with transcripts and photos on Berkeley News at news.berkeley.edu/podcasts.
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