In their study of Indigenous Filipino cultural knowledge, illustrator Marc Conaco and artist Louie Bretaña reference queer ancestors, babaylan, who were spiritual leaders and an integral part of their shared heritage. Syokes sees Marc and Louie reclaim the power of the queer Indigenous identity as divine conduits by showcasing the magic of creating spirits and deities through storytelling.

These spirits were known as diwata to the Bisaya (people in Central and Southern Philippines) and anito to the Tagalog people (Northern Philippines). A part of daily life was venerating and giving thanks to spirits through offerings of food, drink, song and dance. This was a way of seeking equilibrium, good fortune and health for individuals and the wider community. The number and type of diwata/anito varied between families and communities depending on history and geography. People who lived by the sea or by the mountain, farming folk and hunter-gatherers would all have very different diwata/anito. In addition, ancestors who pass on into the afterlife become diwata/anito themselves.

In Syokes, Conaco and Bretaña create their own diwata/anito, in response to their personal histories, connecting through their artistic practice and Indigenous cultural knowledge from their homeland while living in Aotearoa New Zealand.


Philippine-born Marc Conaco is a graphic designer, illustrator and aspiring farmer who is in process of re-indigenising by learning about his pre-colonial history and culture. His zines and illustrations centre on the heritage of his ancestors and the importance of keeping their stories alive.

Marc Conaco’s practice looks at pre-colonial cultural traditions from the Visayas, a cluster of islands in the middle of the Philippines, an important place within his family history. He explores indigenous mythology, tattoo cultures and a pre-colonial Visayan writing system known as Suwat Bisaya or Badlit within his illustrations and design, highlighting and reviving the knowledge structures that have been lost through the Spanish colonisation of the Philippines.

Louie Bretaña was a creative director in advertising in the Philippines before the fates blew him to Aotearoa. The realities instead pointed him towards a different path, where the challenges of being a migrant POC became his opportunity for reinvention and a rediscovery of his ethnic identity and culture. He is now pursuing a contemporary art practice that centres on colonial discourse and racial power dynamics through expressions of his Filipino heritage. 

Louie is a graduate of Elam School of Fine Arts and the College of Fine Arts, University of the Philippines. His work actively challenges Euro-western colonial histories through relational practices, encouraging a respectful engagement with culture via conversation and interaction.

Marc Conaco, Syokes

Marc Conaco and Louie Bretaña, Syokes, 2020. Image: Samuel Hartnett.