Artist Kidlat De Guia in the eyes of his brother Kawayan 2
Kidlat de Guia: “He not only understood the organic psyche of the Filipino and the artist but also the grid-like calculation of the western mind.”
Culture

My brother Kidlat: He always shone bright like a star

"I felt he was on the verge of a breakthrough…He was in the process of realizing his Kidlat-ness. Or, as our father would say, “Finding your sariling dwende”.
Kawayan De Guia | Nov 23 2022

[For a special section featuring the photographs of Kidlat De Guia in the ongoing Fotomoto festival in UP, the artist Kawayan de Guia penned a tribute to his late brother. It’s a moving essay that traces the young Kidlat’s singular journey and talks about his many talents, his innate star quality and, finally, his own ‘duwende,’ which his father, the National Artist Kidlat Tahimik, once described as that “something in you that sees the world with a unique frame.”] 

My brother Kidlat unexpectedly departed this world on the 8th of March, 2022 during the first day of taking down the epic installation “Magellan, Marilyn, Mickey and Fr. Damaso: 500 Years of Conquistador Rockstars.” It was my father Kidlat Tahimik’s tribute to Enrique de Malacca’s first voyage around the world. The two Kidlats, both my father and brother, along with other Cordilleran artists worked hard to get this mammoth of a project mounted at the Palacio de Cristal in Madrid. The work was spiritually charged and heavy on many levels. Now, looking back on it from a symbolic platform, the work had all the right auspicious ingredients for a magical mystery tour—as if the exhibition opened a portal to another dimension and unleashed hungry spirits from a pre-colonial world.

Kidlat and Kidlat: The artist son and his father, National Artist for Film Kidlat Tahimik.
Kidlat and Kidlat: The artist son and his father, National Artist for Film Kidlat Tahimik.

This was evident that it attracted so many people. Over a million people came to visit the exhibition during its four-month run. Never did an exhibition of this kind attract such an audience. It was a record breaker.

Only after the death of Kidlat did I find out that the director of the Reina Sofia Museum was so impressed with both the exhibition and my brother’s handling of the work as project manager that they wanted to hire him full-time. Imagine that! The museum where Pablo Picasso’s Guernica is housed recognized Kidlat’s set of skills. I thought that only a bright, and witty guy like him could pull such a project off. These are some of the things he didn’t get to tell me but was seriously thinking about for sure.

With brothers Kabunyan (top left) and Kawayan.
With brothers Kabunyan (top left) and Kawayan.

Kidlat always shone bright like a star. He projected a certain warmth and carried it with confidence. Even as a boy in Kidlat Tahimik’s second film “Who Invented the Yoyo? Who Invented the Moon Buggy?” (1979), the brown-skinned three-year-old with big brown eyes approached the camera and displayed his natural charm.

He was a clever guy who had many talents. As early as eight years old, he was the projectionist at our father’s small independent screenings and even knew how to operate a Steenbeck 16mm editing table. It was almost as if he knew intuitively how to operate anything mechanical. He was our go-to guy, the tech genius that could solve any problem. His days were inundated with: “Ummmm… Kidz can you help me with this? Kidz, this doesn’t work. Ha? What? How did you do that? But I was just blah blah blah…” That was his everyday life with us, Mr. Troubleshooter.

You could say that the use of cameras of all sorts were second nature to him. They were his toys. By 12 years old, he was already in the darkroom developing and printing black and white images. He then decided to shift lanes and studied in Manila at the Philippine Science High School and then on to UP Diliman where he took up a degree in Mass Communication. It was neither art nor film. Was this his way of rebelling against my father and his tribe of longhaired artists? Probably. It was the early 90s. Smooth-talking yuppies were in full swing. And in order to find one’s identity, you had to go against the grain and attempt to slay the father, especially when you are the first-born and have the same name, ‘Kidlat.’

Looking at one of his woven photographs, with artist Nona Garcia.
Looking at one of his woven photographs, with artist Nona Garcia.

This didn't mean that the kid abandoned his art world upbringing and heritage. He was a natural storyteller and found his way in the production houses where he produced, directed, and edited both commercial and personal projects. He developed a love for documentaries and became a favorite correspondent to international organizations. This was because he was Kidlat. He not only understood the organic psyche of the Filipino and the artist but also the grid-like calculation of the western mind. German was his first language, which he spoke fluently. He had a unique set of skills that made these two worlds gel flawlessly. 

How could he not? When he was the first-born son from the love and union of our mother, a German stained-glass artist turned academic, and our father, Filipino economist turned filmmaker artist. Like his woven photographs, Kidlat attempted to weave and juxtapose two very different images and worldviews. This for me is what he represents and was always doing, harmonizing that union and understanding, weaving a single unified image with the techniques of making a banig or a woven straw mat. Here, he again projects that comfort and security, a straw mat for you to lay down, rest, and dream.

With his child Amihan.
With his child Amihan.

His love for photography was boundless, and went under the wing and guidance of his mentors Emmanuel Santos, Angel Shaw, Mark Gary, Wig Tysmans and Tommy Hafalla to name a few. And throughout the years, he came out with numerous exhibitions while also working as a documentary filmmaker. He was a jack of all trades and had a tendency to jump around like a rabbit too often, too fast, and in too many suits, that’s why as a spectator you couldn't really see a linear pattern in his practice. Was he a filmmaker? Artist? Editor? Director? I would say, perhaps all of the above. I felt he was on the verge of a breakthrough. Some sort of self-realization. That’s why his passing was simply unthinkable. He had so much on his plate and was just about to tackle the many projects that were lined up for him. He was in the process of realizing his Kidlat-ness. Or, as our father would say, “Finding your sariling dwende”.

One of his works at the ongoing Fotomoto.
One of his works at the ongoing Fotomoto.

You always had your dwende, Kidlat. It never left you. You are the dwende.

You were just too clever for anyone to hold you down. And, like a flash of light, you flew off, leaving a vacuum. That's when we all understood what you were doing all along. And I must say, quite a load my friend. The opposite of that laid-back happy-go-lucky guy you always projected.  

To you my dear brother and friend. Thank you.

[Fotomoto is the country’s foremost and currently only photography festival. This year’s show—ongoing until December 9–is at Parola UP Fine Arts Gallery, University of the Philippines, Diliman. For more information, click on this link.

All photographs courtesy of the author.