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Beyond Fashion: Justin Rivera's Journey to Decolonize Design and Redefine Culture
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Dive into the world of Justin Rivera, the creative force behind the brand Bakala, as they take us on a journey through their inspiring design philosophy. In this interview, we explore the concept of "Pre-colonial Futurism," a movement that Rivera identifies with, combining pre-colonial past knowledge and applying it to contemporary life. We also discuss how their Filipino roots play a vital role in shaping their perspective, as they draw inspiration from indigenous cultures, nature, and archeological artefacts. From sharing their passions outside of fashion to their aspirations for connecting with the Philippines' surviving tribes, get ready to be inspired by Justin Rivera's unique outlook on life and design.

N: Hi Justin, it's a pleasure to have this interview with you. How are you feeling and what does a day in your life look like these days?

J: I feel like I'm on a roller coaster ride these days. There are ups, downs, with a hint of fear (of the unknown) and euphoria, but overall, I'm feeling secure about where I'm going in life and with my practice. I currently work for a luxury retail brand to pay the bills and hustle to make space for my creative work.

N: You frame your artistic practice as part of a larger movement that you call "Pre-colonial Futurism". I would describe it roughly as the social awakening to pre-colonial truths and ways of life. Can you expand on that a bit more?

J: You're right in putting the movement as a social awakening, as it was an awakening for me. When I started using this term, it was groundbreaking and it unlocked many ideas in my head.

"I see Pre-colonial Futurism as a movement that takes knowledge from the pre-colonial past and applies it to the way we think and live now, in order to collectively advance our society."

For example, when I read "Brown Skin, White Minds" by E.J.R. David, I discovered that indigenous men and women had equal roles when governing the tribe. A tribe can be matriarchal, as seen with the T'boli tribe of Mindanao, a surviving tribe found on the southern island of the Philippines, led by women who call themselves "Dream Weavers." This is also when I uncovered that trans identities existed in pre-colonial Filipino culture and coexisted as "babaylan" or shamans. I imagine a utopia where this is the norm.

N: I find your perspective especially interesting given your Filipino background. Before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, the indigenous cultures of the Philippines exhibited a more fluid understanding of gender and sexuality, which was later suppressed by the imposition of the Catholic faith. It's almost as if your clothes belong to a parallel universe where indigenous people were left untouched and free to determine their future. What do you think about this?

J: A big portion of this movement is decolonizing mentality. Through the important work of Filipino psychologists like Carl Lorenz Cervantes, we can now have a better understanding of the Filipino psyche and how indigenous beliefs shaped the way we see ourselves today. My practice surrounds research on Filipino history and culture, but I hope that through this movement, we can combine lost truths in order to understand the purity of pre-colonial cultures and maybe bridge the gap that socio-political issues often divide us today.

I often wonder what the world would look like if indigenous tribes were left untouched to advance. I try to imagine what we could be wearing now, what our society would look like, how different our relationship to nature would be, and what kind of technology we would have innovated. By creating this parallel universe, I can use it as a refuge to escape the harsh realities we're living right now.

N: Speaking of parallel universes, if you hadn't pursued fashion, what other career might you have considered?

J: I would probably be an architect, linguist, physicist, or astronaut. To be honest, I'm still very interested in these subjects, so I try to incorporate them into my practice.

N: You seem to draw inspiration from nature, archeological artefacts, and indigenous costumes. What does your research process look like?

J: I had very little material to work with in the beginning of my research, so I always find myself in reflection or meditation to truly understand what it was like to live as part of the tribes I was researching. It's a spiritual process, as I often find myself tapping into ancient knowledge.

N: We have come to the end of our interview. Thank you, Justin. Before you go, what's next for you? Where do you hope to take your career?

J: I hope to take my practice to the Philippines. Most of the research and process I have done happened during lockdown while I was studying here in London, and I haven't been home since. I hope to connect with the surviving tribes and local artists there.

All images courtesy of Justin Rivera.
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