HAVING spent half her life in her native Philippines and half in Qatar, fibers artist Radheya Visperas came to Savannah for a change of pace and scenery. Two years in, she’s finding her niche and is set to graduate from SCAD in the fall.
Visperas got her start in fashion design, and her fibers work is an extension of that practice. She views the work she does as painting with fabric.
A true creative at heart, Visperas is always creating and uses a variety of media to get her ideas across.
We caught up with Visperas last week.
1. How did you end up in Savannah?
I moved here two years ago. I graduated with my bachelors in fashion in 2017 from Virginia Commonwealth University in Doha, Qatar. I was working until 2018, and I decided I wanted a change of scenery. I was in this moment where I felt like I needed to do something kind of drastic. I felt really lost at that moment, and I was thinking about fashion design and how I can be a better designer. So it made sense to do my masters in textiles.
I moved here because of SCAD, but I had no idea what SCAD was. I was looking for schools in the US and literally Googled “best art schools in the US.” The first one was obviously Parsons; it was my first choice. Then I saw SCAD and thought, that’s a really interesting school, and it’s Savannah in the South, where I have no idea what it’s like to live in the South. This is a good sort of challenge.
It was a huge change for me. First of all, there’s so much greenery—in Qatar, it was literally just sand and palm trees. And I didn’t know anybody. I had no friends, no family, nobody. It was like, “Oh my God, Rad, what have you done?”
I remember when I got here, my dad flew here with me and when he left, I remember sitting on one of the benches on Liberty Street like, “Oh my God, I’m alone.” But it felt really good. It’s like me starting off with a clean slate. I can explore and be more in touch with myself.
2. What was your transition from fashion design to fiber work like?
The first job I had in Qatar was a start-up company, and it was only four people, all women. That was a great experience. It was so entrepreneurial. We were learning as we were going.
We were also doing some workshops to teach people how to do pattern making or how to sew. That aspect of the craft is part of the brand’s manifesto: it’s not a mass-produced company. When you make something, you should have intentions, and not for exploitation. I learned so much.
When I moved here, I had no idea. I had no plan of, “Okay, now I’m in the fibers program, let’s see where this is going to take me.” I was learning how to do some weaving, some print and pattern, and I was working with secondhand clothing and draping them and finding new silhouettes for fashion. But I felt like it wasn’t giving me what I wanted.
I had a lot of those secondhand clothing donations from different people. Eventually I was making fiber artwork, but I don’t think about them in the sense of just fiber art. I feel like it’s more than that. I’ve been painting from a young age. When I think about the artworks I’m making now, it’s like painting with fabric.
This series I’m making is borne out of frustration and like I need to make something that is me. Not something where I’m trying to please somebody, not something just because I want to get a job after school.
One day I put all those fabrics in, layered them and stitched them and I was like, “What am I going to do with this?” It was a spontaneous thing that evolved on its own.
3. What’s your creative process like?
Honestly, I’m a crazy maker artist person—I like to do a lot of different things, so this is one part of what I do. I do a lot of weaving, sometimes painting. When I’m bored, I can just do something else.
For my work, I have these two main concepts that drive my work. The first is approaching my practice with this idea of mindful inquiry. Being mindful asks you to slow down, to observe, to be in the moment. I really like that. Being a versatile artist, I’m always curious, always questioning things, always reading. Those two things are pushing me to explore something bigger than myself.
The second part is looking at evocative objects. The fabrics I use come from people that I’ve met. Yesterday, somebody donated some fabrics to me and I asked her to share a story about the fabrics. She was like, “Well, I got these from Hong Kong when I was there for study abroad.” It was so awesome because I’ve never been to Hong Kong, but she gave me this fabric from there that has so much memory and meaning. I really like that aspect in the work. I also think about the tools we use for our making. I feel like they tell us so much about the intentions we set for the work.
4. What’s your physical process like?
The sewing machine is the major part. I do so much sewing, even though you can’t really see it at first. I use a lot of tools to cut and repair it; there are a lot of dual characteristics.
I usually work on the floor. My apartment is always kind of cluttered—I keep some parts clean and some parts messy, because that’s just how my brain works.
It’s like painting with fabrics: I cut them and layer them, baste them and sew them. The washing process is important in the work. It’s that moment where you’re cleaning it but also changing the material to become different. Then I put it in the dryer, and it’s a surprise of, “Oh my God, this happened?” I want to keep making these and always be surprised.
5. What are you doing next?
Right now, the work I’ve done isn’t as large-scale as I would hope for. I have a piece that’s 120 inches long, so I’m moving on to larger work. I’m being bold with what I’m trying to say.
In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be working on some videos of the process to show what actually goes on in the work, because I think that’s a really important part: to show the audience this is what I do, but this is also where I get a lot of the meaning of the work.
I really want to focus on my practice. Right now, I’m renting an apartment, but hopefully I can find a house where I can have a home studio.
I’m interested in starting an artist collective space where artists can come have their studios and do more collaborative projects with each other, like an incubation place. I want people to go to a space and just do what they love to do.