Designer Kelvin Burzon’s Couture Confessionals

Kelvin Burzon wearing a handmade teal, vegan-leather shirt and trousers with long matching gloves
Kelvin Burzon, artist

Right now, I am _____________.

Sitting in my home office and sewing studio where I teach online for Ball State University in Muncie and George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.  

What projects are you currently working on?

I think the better question is, what projects am I not working on? I always have several pots simmering on the burners, moving from one pot to another, until one is brought to a completion. My current bodies of work are ongoing and will probably keep living and evolving until there is a point in my life that I feel I’ve said all I can or that I’ve resolved the conversations internally.

If you could live in anyone’s shoes for a day, who would it be?

My very first thought is to think of someone famous or admired or wealthy, but upon further internal dialogue, I would probably pick someone closer yet distant. Like a distant cousin who still lives in the Philippines. My entire immediate family immigrated to the U.S. when I was 11 and I’d probably benefit from knowing how families that have been left in the Philippines live their daily lives.

Do you think Indianapolis is embracing its arts culture more as it grows?

Absolutely. I think there are so many opportunities here for the impressive saturation of talented people. Of course, there is always room for improvement, but I believe the proper culture and structure is set for a progressive growth.

As a drag fan, I noticed RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Silky Nutmeg Ganache in some of your works. How did the two of you meet?

Silky and I have had a creative partnership since we met as students at Wabash College. They have always been a huge supporter of my work and part of the reason why my sewing and designing career has continued.  

Since you’re versed, let’s talk drag for a minute. If you could raid any drag queen’s closet, who would it be?

More and more queens are present and relevant in the high-fashion world. RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni such as Miss Fame, Symone, Violet Chachki, and Shea Couleé are invited to fashion events, published in magazines, and featured in couture shows.

Being cultured in drag and performance arts, have you ever considered working your way into costume design  or set design even?

I’ve done commissioned design for dance and drag performances. My works have been featured by Indiana University’s African American Dance Company, Bloomington’s Echo Dance Company, and on several seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Never have I stepped into a role of designing for a theatrical production, but that might be something that will happen in the future.

What is some advice you would give your younger self?  

I’ve seen this question answered many times now, yet have never taken the time to think about what my answer would be. It would probably be along the lines of, “Focus on the love that surrounds you, ride the support until you blossom, and then return the love and support to every individual you meet that needs you.”

I grew up Catholic and am aware of how difficult it can be for some to feel comfortable being themselves and embracing it. Have you noticed any resentment toward your art?

Not really. My work doesn’t aim to ruffle any feathers. All I have to do with my photographic series, “Noli Me Tangere,” is to create a beautiful space for the discrepancies, the individuals in the cracks of the [religious] conflict, and a space for the conversation.

I read in your bio that from childhood you aspired to become a Catholic priest. Do you consider what your artistic career would be like, or exist, if you took that path?  

I definitely wouldn’t have been my true self if I followed that path. The allure was through culture and traditions. I believed in the religion because it was my familial and cultural identity. And because I was attracted to the drama, theatricality, and camp of it all.

As a very versatile artist, do you have a preferred medium when creating?  

I always believe that the content and concept of the work should dictate the medium. I, of course, prefer mediums that I have studied in the past. But I will not shy from taking on the enjoyable process of research and learning.

When did the art of dance come into play?

Dance is very integrated in Filipino culture. Organized dancing has always been part of my life but it wasn’t until I was working on my graduate degree at Indiana University that I began to see dance as a medium of expression. All the credit goes to Iris Rosa and the African American Dance Company for introducing me to the power of movement.

At what stage of your life were you aware that you possessed all these incredible skills? Dancing, playing instruments, art, photography, and more. 

I’ve always excelled in anything creative. I don’t think I can pinpoint a moment of epiphany but I can say that I’ve always been aware of my strengths and have relied on them for expression,  regulation, and self-reflection.

Pushing the limits within your art and taking a risk by making people uncomfortable is very admirable, but I can imagine not everyone agrees with me on that. Have you had any pushback from family or members of your church?

I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by nothing but support. Without the culture of love and blessings, I would have never conceived of making the work that I do. My privilege is the voice that is provided to me by those around me. On the contrary, there are innumerable voices out there without this privilege. And with that, innumerable unheard stories and perspectives.

Is there a piece you’ve created that means the most to you?

Everything I create holds pieces of myself, the life I’ve lived, and the people that I love. But the pieces that depict and explore my relationship with my parents and family are some of the heaviest in my portfolio. I recall a piece early in my exploration I called “The Living Bible.” It is the Bible that I have altered by stitching in family photos, writing confessions, apologies, insults, and affirmations. It was one of the most emotionally difficult pieces I’ve attempted, and it is the object that has led me to the artist I am today.

On the subject of garments, your “Liwayway” works are one of my favorites. How did that unique concept come to life?

“Liwayway,” the body of work where I recreate traditional Filipino clothing as portraiture for family members, came about after my family completed the naturalization process. Renouncing my Filipino citizenship encouraged me to examine my family’s relationship with nationality, the immigration process, and our changing identities as Filipino Americans.  

Which brings me to Galicia Garments. Talk about wearable art! I love every piece I’ve come across on your Instagram. How did this line come about?

Galicia Garments is my label for my costume design work and sustainability-focused upcycled garments. It came about at the dawn of COVID-19 when materials were scarce but time was ample.

Do you plan on coming out with a collection eventually?  

Fashion has always been a hobby set in the backburner, but more and more I have emerged in garment-making and design. It’s not in the plans per se, but is a strong possibility.  

How would you describe your personal fashion aesthetic?

Classic, creative, and sufficiently extra.

You are commendable when it comes to the transparency of yourself and beliefs. What supported you in finding your voice?

Art. The creative outlets I am immersed in create a healthy environment for discussion and expression.

Explain your outfit in three words.

Homemade, sustainable, personal.

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