Mark Valenzuela (b.1980) is a contemporary artist living and working in Adelaide, South Australia. Born in the Philippines, and having grown up in army camps across Mindanao – the second-largest island in the south – Valenzuela moved to Australia in 2011. His artistic practice has since oscillated between the two countries, informed by the geopolitics of both.

Valenzuela began his career as a painter in the late 1990s. He produced drawings, public murals and private commissions while studying mechanical engineering – the closest available offering to fine arts – at Silliman University in Dumaguete, central Philippines. Traditional painting supplies, however, proved costly and difficult to source. Valenzuela quickly turned his hand to ceramics instead, capitalising on the natural resource of terracotta clay soil found locally in Daro, a northern barangay (suburb) of Dumaguete. Valenzuela would spend his days travelling up into the mountains where he would dig, process and prepare the clay, in study of the material. During this period, under the informal tutelage of visiting practitioners from Japan, he also learnt the skills of makeshift kiln building, wood firing and pit firing – an early kiln-less technique where clay is baked in an open fire dug into the ground.

Although his practice wilfully resists categorisation, ceramics has come to be an enduring medium for Valenzuela. Over the past two decades, it has functioned as a linchpin to his wider installations – a practice combining elements of painting, drawing, sculpture, video, found objects, even street art. When using clay, Valenzuela says, “you make a friend and an enemy.”[1] It begins its life as a malleable, soft material which, once dried then fired at high temperatures, vitrifies into ceramic. This elemental alchemy – where fire transforms earth – makes it an ideal medium for Valenzuela, particularly in his explorations of control, conflict, fragility and resilience. “There are a lot of challenges in ceramics… it is part of the struggle. You encounter breakages, works crack, they can explode [in the kiln]; it is the perfect material for conflict.”[2]

The unique properties of clay also give rise to Valenzuela’s distinct ceramic forms. Inanimate objects are hybridised or seen to amalgamate with human and animal body parts. A rubber duck morphs into a car tyre; a pig’s ear coddles a human ear; hooked fingers become horns, noses, beaks and tails. Clay often dictates the form of these shapeshifters. “Sometimes, clay moves by itself. It will tell you, it will guide you to go this way or that… Clay is alive.”[3]

[1] Mark Valenzuela, in conversation with author, 22 April, 2021. [2] Mark Valenzuela, unpublished interview by Belinda Howden, video recording by Thomas Smeets, Adelaide, 12 June, 2021, 8:33.[3] Ibid, 18:23.

For Valenzuela, hybridity is not just a material approach but a conceptual tactic, too. Throughout Filipino art history, the hybrid has come to be an important metaphor. Many artists have used it to address violent, ongoing histories of Spanish and American colonisation and occupation, as well as forced migration, and the resulting challenges to their cultural identity or sense of belonging. As a result, the hybrid embodies transition and deformity, adaptation and resilience. Valenzuela’s part-animal, part-human bust Regrets I’ve had a few (2020) explores this idea. Not only is the figure a mutant – a portrait of a creature between states – but it also embodies the categorical freedom of the hybrid. The defaced man, with hair like a rooster’s cockerel, is crafted to be neither one thing nor another, and yet recognisably both.

Valenzuela is deeply interested in the politics of space. He articulates space through his installation practice, using combinations of mediums and objects to highlight the spatial tensions of a site. He makes use of available surfaces – the floor, walls, ceiling, corners, any pre-existing architecture, even outdoor settings or the street – as well as builds free-standing sculptural structures to support individual works. This practice has emerged partially to circumvent the traditions of ceramics, given its long historical association with vessels and functional objects. But, it also describes Valenzuela’s interest in concepts of territory and crossing boundaries.

The creatures populating some of Valenzuela’s installations are a combination of animals, inanimate objects and human body parts. Make a list of all the things you recognise. Compare your observations with others in your class.

Animists believe inanimate objects, rocks, trees, weather systems, places, even some words are considered alive and possess a soul. Think of a non-living thing which you find interesting. Imagine this object were alive. What would it be like? Would it be friendly or scary? What other characteristics does it have?

Look at Valenzuela’s 2007 terracotta installation Camouflage.This work was among one of his earliest solo exhibitions and took place in Galleria Duemila, a contemporary art gallery in the capital city of Manila. Choose a single ceramic piece in Valenzuela's installation Once bitten, twice shy. How is it the same or different. Describe the changes in form or material.

Research how visual artists have used their art as a way of protesting against social and political unrest in the last 50 years, in the Philippines, in Australia, and throughout the world. In some instances, artists have been imprisoned for challenging those in power. Research a political artist or arts collective and create a work of art that commemorates their life or achievements.

Mark Valenzuela, Philippines, born 1980, Aquarium, 2011, Manila, terracotta, wood, dimensions variable; © Mark Valenzuela.

Create a work using clay that combines a body part, an animal or plant and your favourite food or toy. Consider creating seamless joins to ensure your new creature appears surreal.

Installation art is a combination of works of art designed for a specific space or time period. Create a class installation using works of art made by each student that represent something who they are, their values, their strengths or cultural background. Select a place within the school or classroom where this work can remain for the term.

Animists believe that inanimate objects, rocks, trees, weather systems, places, even some words, are considered alive and possess a soul. Write a poem about a non-living thing which you find interesting. Imagine it is alive and you are describing their personality and characteristics to someone else.

Research how visual artists have used their art as a way of protesting against social and political unrest in the last 50 years, in the Philippines, in Australia, and throughout the world. In some instances, artists have been imprisoned for challenging those in power. Research a political artist or arts collective and create a work of art that commemorates their life or achievements.

Compare other contemporary ceramic artists’ work, including work made by Valenzuela to work made by Australian artists in the 20th century such as Merric Boyd, Gladys Reynell and John Perceval. How does their approach to concept and materiality differ?

installation view: 2020 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Monster Theatres featuring Once bitten, twice shy by Mark Valenzuela, Botanic Gardens of Adelaide; photo: Saul Steed.

Once bitten, twice shy (2020), was an installation by Mark Valenzuela that spanned both the Art Gallery of South Australia and the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.

Beneath the sunken rooftops of Once bitten, twice shy a bakunawa snakes, a serpent-like dragon of pre-colonial Filipino mythology. The bakunawa has many different imaginings according to the diverse Indigenous populations and regions of the Philippines. However, in the Central Islands – the Visayas, where Valenzuela lived as a young man – bakunawa was considered responsible for the natural phenomenon of lunar eclipses as well as natural disasters, such as typhoons or earthquakes.

In Once Bitten, Twice Shy (2020), Valenzuela installed a steel armature in the Palm House at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens. The triangular structure was populated with ceramic hybrids and a rooster-like figure, posed as the tail of the bakunawa. For Valenzuela, the bakunawa is “a symbol of invasion… ever since, my country is a space subject to colonisation. There are always forces around it trying to invade or trying to take it from us.”[4]

Valenzuela’s installation practice also includes processes of reconfiguration. “I reconfigure [works of art] all the time… It is part of my daily ritual. Like, ‘Oh, that’s nice there. But what if I put it beside this [work]?’ It has a totally different meaning.”[5] Rearranging works into new formations and spatial relationships is yet another expression of traversing borders and boundaries. In transplanting objects, taking them from one context to another, Valenzuela watches their new meanings and stories unfold.

[4] “Mark Valenzuela,” Art Gallery of South Australia, filmed as part of the Monster Theatres Virtual Tour, 2020, 1:20. [5] Valenzuela, unpublished interview, 12:39.

The snaking Bakunawain Valenzuela’s work is a warning, rearing its head to evoke the sheer scale of climate change. Research the behavioursthat native wildlife demonstrate when there is danger or if they are in trouble. For example, if you see a koala on the ground for a prolonged period of time it usually means they are sick or injured. Share your findings with your class. Which of these did you find the most interesting and why?

Investigate weather patterns where you live. What significant changes do you notice that have occurred in the last 50 years? Have summers become hotter, is there more or less rain during winter? Based on these changes create a drawing or painting that suggests what the weather may be like in another 50 years.

Valenzuela’s installations reflects the increasingly erratic weather patterns and human displacement as the result of natural disasters and climate change. Investigate the 2019/2020 bushfires which occurred throughout Australia. What are some of the long-term impacts of these events? As a class create an installation that responds to this event. Individually, create a work of art that responds to one aspects of the bushfires. You may like to focus on the cause, loss of life, wildlife, habitat, and property or the recovery process. Consider how you might create a work so that it is powerful without being literal.

Exhibition Catalogues

Flores, Patrick. Terraforming. Metro Manila: Jorge Vargas Museum, 2015. Exhibition catalogue, PDF, accessed 3 June, 2021.

Hilario, Riel. “Passage and Revelation in Mark Valenzuela's Warzone.” In Warzone, Metro Manila: Galleria Duemila, 2007. Exhibition catalogue essay, accessed 3 June, 2021.

Robb, Leigh, et al. Monster Theatres. Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia, 2020.


Australian Ceramics Triennale hosts Tambays in Tasmania.SBS Filipino, 4 May, 2019.

Chuaunsu, Jewel. “Global Filipino Contemporary Artists.” Art Archive, Vol. 1 (2017), 84-95. Published by The Japan Foundation: Manila.

Howden, Belinda. “Meet Your Maker: Mark Valenzuela.” The Adelaide Review, i488 (27 September, 2020).


Mark Valenzuela, artist website.


Valenzuela, Mark. Unpublished interview by Belinda Howden. Audio, 2:30:34. Adelaide, 26 May, 2021.

Valenzuela, Mark. Unpublished interview by Belinda Howden. Recorded by Thomas Smeets. Video, 51:43. Adelaide, 12 June, 2021.

The Gallery’s Learning programs are supported by the Department for Education.

This education resource has been developed in collaboration with ACE Open and the Art Gallery of South Australia. Written by Dr. Belinda Howden with contributions from Louise Dunn, Kylie Neagle and Dr. Lisa Slade.