Wave Riders: Archie Geotina On How Siargao Has Inspired His Artistry

Photographs by ARCHIE GEOTINA in collaboration with JOSE MIRASOL and PAULA ORTEGA

Photographs by ARCHIE GEOTINA in collaboration with JOSE MIRASOL and PAULA ORTEGA

ARCHIE GEOTINA or CHICHIMONSTA on how moving to Siargao sparked a new way of seeing. Photographs by ARCHIE GEOTINA in collaboration with JOSE MIRASOL and PAULA ORTEGA

I wanted to lean on what I would see. Who were the heroes in front of me?” Archie Geotina says. The artist, also known as Chichimonsta, is explaining how Siargao influenced his artistry and has lead to the creation of his viral works. His “Pearls“, showing surfers Josie Prendergast, Ikit and Aping Agudo, and Maricel Parajes was shared by thousands while the world was still reeling from the pandemic. 

Geotina shares that his move to Siargao from Manila was what cemented his artistic identity and voice. He recalls growing up seeing Spanish looking iconography poised in his grandmother’s altar. Relocating to the surf town and seeing its local heroes (“the saints of the surf world”), the artist thought to place them on pedestals of equal reverence. “The way I frame my muses is parang pwede mo sila ilagay sa simbahan. [The way I frame my muses is as if you can place them in a church.] I guess that was the equation: religious iconography plus our people,” he shares. “[Siargao] gave me a local filter. I needed to be honest with myself and that’s what Siargao had given me.”

The artist spoke with Vogue Philippines about his viral project, women empowerment, and persistence in his craft.

Photographs by ARCHIE GEOTINA in collaboration with JOSE MIRASOL and PAULA ORTEGA

Tell us about your hometown. What was it like growing up?

I grew up in Manila. I was born in Manila, but my whole family comes from Dinagat Island, Surigao del Norte, which is an hour away from Siargao. Siargao used to be a district of Surigao del Norte, so I grew up in a household full of Bisayas and Surigaonons. They were always speaking about the places we grew up in and Philippine folklore and all of that stuff, so although I never grew up in Dinagat Island per se, the food, the language, and the ethics have always been shared to me. It’s because everyone in my household, even our helpers, came from Surigao. 

I kind of have a very unique sort of upbringing because I kind of have rural sensibilities with urban knowledge, kind of, if you know what I mean. Yeah, so I’ve always known about Siargao. I’ve always known about Dinagat. I’ve always known that our country center isn’t just Metro Manila, basically. I was aware of that. So growing up in private schools, wherein you’re sort of taught that Metro Manila is the capital of the Philippines, I always had a different perspective about it, knowing that there’s so much treasure around our country from north to south, basically.

Photographs by ARCHIE GEOTINA in collaboration with JOSE MIRASOL and PAULA ORTEGA

What inspired your move to Siargao?

I’ve been based in Siargao for about eight years now. The Manila thing was kind of burning me out. Being a young creative in Manila, there’s a structure to how you can work and how to succeed in life. You need to get on social media. You need to get on with some brands and agency work and stuff like that. And then you have to go to the galleries. There’s so many avenues that basically nobody’s teaching you how to get through it. You just kind of try everything. And that hamster wheel kind of burned me out after a certain time. So I wanted to challenge myself and I started questioning myself if this was it. You know what I mean? Five years from then, I believe that was like 2014, where I was already being disillusioned by the hustle of the city. Because I was able to travel to Japan and Hong Kong, and I saw that the structure of power and creativity and expression was kind of the same in the city. So I was like, sh*t, I need to change my pace and I’ll pick the hardest place for me to move to, which is an island. Growing up as a city boy, knowing about the islands, I was like, if I can survive in that place, then I can evolve into something better, someone better. That was what ultimately gave me the decision to move to Siargao… But it’s definitely the need for change, change of perspective is why I moved to the island. 

How has Siargao, I guess, inspired or contributed to the spirit of your artistry, you would say?

Because I grew up in a household of Surigaonons, it always gave me wonder. Folklore and cultures or superstitions around outside Manila. Like, Filipinos are very… We were initially animistic people, right? We would praise nature, the mountains were our friends, the oceans were our friends. I was looking for connections for that in my artwork, which for some reason, I just couldn’t find when I was living in Manila. So for the longest time—because it’s like I wanted to keep Siargao a secret—I was never using where I lived as an inspiration for my work. I wasn’t yet at that time until I matured and I started to decide to become honest with what I see. Instead of blocking it so that people don’t talk about it, I had then decided to be like, wait, this is my truth. I love surfing, I love the ocean, I love Philippine culture. I hate and love that we have lost, that we are still trying to fight for our own identity in terms of culture and subculture, because of colonialism. That’s always been like a thesis of my work. Anyway, long answer short, it’s basically being honest to my suppressed interests. And because of living on the island, I had been able to fall in love with nature again, with the ocean and basically with our cultures that are not being spoken of. 

“If I can survive in that place, then I can evolve into something better, someone better

Your now viral work of “Pearls,” how did you come up with it? How did it come to life? 

First of all, I don’t think “Pearls,” the virality of it and the success of it, doesn’t come from me. I think it’s sort of like lightning in a bottle wherein I had allowed whatever voices in my head to speak to me in the most honest way and I had allowed myself to be as honest as I could be with what I wanted to see. The struggle of being a visual artist or a creative, for example, if you’re a musician, you have songs in your head and you kind of want to play what is exactly in your head. And sometimes we don’t get the right song. For visual art, sometimes our painting skills don’t match the pictures in our head, right? But that’s still your work. That’s still your expression. With “Pearls,” it’s one of those like deus ex machina wherein, yeah, basically lightning just struck and then we were able to capture it in a bottle. I had that image in my head a year prior, those images, and I had always been inspired by these people I surf with who are respected in the surf world, in the country. And I just basically wanted to frame them the same as I had always been with my previous works as religious iconography. So put two and two together, that was the result. And I’m happy that my friends who I collaborated with: Bren Fuentes and Jose Mirasol who were the first two photographers that I tapped to work with because I don’t shoot in water. I don’t believe that art should just be about one person. I believe in collaboration a lot. I sometimes like to think of myself as a producer who likes to put out ideas. We get people together and we make ideas happen. It just so happened that these ideas also came out on my platforms. But to me, it was a collaborative sort of endeavor. And mixing all of these things that I just told you equates to the virality of the work, I guess.

You also worked on the Salcedo Underpass years ago. 

I was commissioned to do 2,500 square feet of mural in the Salcedo Underpass. That’s where I incorporated photos from traveling in the Philippines. I also incorporated archival photos from vintage shops. I collaged them and basically applied that on the ceiling. So it was my version of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel but it was in the underpass. It had Filipino culture in it as well, aesthetics. During the installation of that work, I borrowed a photo from Ikit Agudo and she was surfing in her bikini. Across her was a picture of, I believe it was a woman from the 1930s who was wearing Filipiniana. I was sitting, installing that piece, looking up I saw Ikit and I saw the Filipino woman and I said, yeah. Yun yung Eureka moment ng “Pearls.” That was February 11, 2019. That was the day I thought of “Pearls” to be Ikit. But that image had been in my head a year prior to that. 

Photographs by ARCHIE GEOTINA in collaboration with JOSE MIRASOL and PAULA ORTEGA

Did you always aspire to be an artist? Was that always the dream? 

When I was younger, drawing was always my pastime. I was always a kid outside playing. I ventured into a lot of sports also, but I never really excelled in them. But drawing or using my imagination was always my safe space. Like if I just wanted to stop playing with the kids I’d go into my room, get a bunch of crayons and just sit there by myself. 

I was so calm doing that as a kid. And then as I grew older, it was street art. Not graffiti lang, street art kasi street art has so many different styles. Wheat pasting is what I do. Stenciling. I guess I’ve always been on the creative side of things. 

Now that you’re a full-time artist, how did you turn that childhood dream into reality?

With persistence. You have to be persistent. You also can’t quit on yourself. Even though sometimes it’s hard, It’s never been always successful. I always say with 10 successes, there’s always 1,000 failures, 1,000 trials. You can’t quit on yourself. I tried to have normal jobs, but I wasn’t a good follower of rules. Yun yung personality trait ko daw eh. [That’s a personality trait of mine, apparently.] I’m not good with rules sabi ng psychologist—I studied psychology, by the way. But yeah, I never really applied it onto jobs. Yeah, I guess for younger artists also, like, you have to have a knack for business. You can’t just be creative. You have to take care of yourself. You have to eat. You have to understand how the business works. That’s artistic as well. People who are good with managing themselves, doing business with themselves, having relationships with co-workers and with people. That’s a very underrated skill to have. That’s how I’m able to do it, I think. 

There’s a discipline into being an artist also. Di pwede yung, “wala, creative ako eh. You have to understand my feelings.” No, man, the world can’t always adjust to you. You have to meet it halfway in certain points in time. You have to meet the world halfway. Like I said, being an artist is not about just myself. At least in my world, it’s about the community and what I talk about. All artists are narcissistic, but if they accept that they are, then there’s so much communication to go around and that’s how you share the work. 

Vogue Philippines: April 2024 Issue

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