Karen Mary Solomon Balikbayan

  • Tauira / Student
    Karen Mary Solomon
  • Kaiako / Lecturers
    Kim Meek, Phoebe Ellis, George Hajian

The title of this project, “Balikbayan” originates from the words balik, meaning ‘to return’ and bayan meaning ‘country’. It is a personal archive of my family and their experiences as first-generation New Zealand immigrants. It follows a narrative that highlights unique perspectives within the concepts of immigration, identity, and the phenomenon of Filipino diaspora.
Focusing on themes of struggle, triumph, culture, and belonging, it lays clear comparisons between the individual’s thoughts and feelings which have been shaped by both a generational and cultural gap. Simultaneously, this body of work allowed others to learn integral aspects of the Philippines’ economic history, more specifically the Marcos-era, that led to influence other families’ migration.
This project has been informed by two artists who explore the concept of migration and belonging, Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan, a Filipino husband-and-wife artist duo. In 2018, they exhibited their interactive installation “From Pillars to Post: Project Another Country” at Auckland Art Gallery. Their chosen material, recycled cardboard, is an allusion to what Filipinos call a ‘balikbayan box’ in which Isabel describes as, “… an ingenious invention of the Filipino diaspora to stay in touch with their families, relatives, friends, and motherland."

Utilising the cultural significance of the box helped determine the design. This includes the graphic symbol on the front cover and debossed slipcase, along with the use of red as representative of travel – the 'fragile' red tape found in those boxes.

“Balikbayan” features precious memorabilia such as old photographs, handwritten letters, and other ephemera supported by family anecdotes and archives. Due to the nature of oral interviews, transcription in this publication features both the 'spoken voice' in red to represent Tagalog and the 'translated voice' in black, representing English. Additionally, there are pockets of information integrated into the book addressing culturally significant words to give context and enlighten the reader.

This project is dedicated not only to my family — but also to fellow Filipinos who have followed a similar path and encourage other immigrants to one day share their own stories of a better tomorrow, full of the same determination and love for family.