Sama-­sama: Kenneth Cobonpue on showcasing the global Filipino

WITH a strongly rooted yet global background, Cebuano Kenneth Cobonpue served as creative director for the recent APEC Economic Leaders’ Welcome Dinner. His role included handling the set design for the Mall of Asia Arena, where the dinner was held, as well as designing souvenir tokens and special chairs for the 21 Economic Leaders.

Kenneth shares that the rice terraces inspired his vision for the set design. “I wanted to transform the whole space into a huge outdoor garden,” he said. “Part of the challenge was how to transform the coldness and immensity of the arena and turn it into something that’s warm and cozy.”
To help achieve this effect, a grassy circular stage was set up in the middle of the arena, and colorful anahaw leaf-inspired designs were hung from the ceiling.

Yoda Chairs

Yoda Chairs
Yoda Chairs

The Leaders’ chairs also contributed to this garden-like atmosphere, as they were based on Kenneth’s Yoda chair design, which is inspired by blades of grass. Probably his most iconic and well-known piece, the original Yoda Chair does not have armrests or wheels. The ones to be used by the Economic Leaders, however, will have both.

“I designed this Yoda Chair to swivel because the program was going to happen 360 degrees,” Kenneth said. “It was important for the Leaders to be able to swivel their chair so that they could…follow the program.” Speaking about comfort, he added, “The beauty with that chair is you lean back on the rattan reeds, and the natural tensile strength of the rattan supports your back.”

Sama-sama Souvenirs

Sama-sama Souvenir
Sama-sama Souvenir

Also, Kenneth calls the souvenir tokens given to the Economic Leaders sama-sama, which means together. A visual narrative of the APEC community’s cultural, social, and political diversity, the sculptures represent unity, partnership, and cooperation among the member economies.

These limited edition sculptures feature communities of people grouped around island formations representing member economies. Made of brass and finished in yellow gold, pale silver, and warm copper (symbolizing different races), detailed figures are linked to each other as they ascend to the top — “towards the heavens,” as Kenneth described.

Set design for APEC Economic Leaders’ Welcome Dinner
Set design for APEC Economic Leaders’ Welcome Dinner

Each glass-covered token is housed in a hand-woven metal and buri (palm spine) carrying case with brass handles and clasp. The island formations are made from laser-cut metal sheets and wood veneer.

Kenneth shared that the main challenge was to project the image of a global Filipino. “What I always find challenging… is to still use natural materials and natural themes, and to make it sophisticated — to show that we are rooted in the past, but we are also right in the 21st century,” said Kenneth, himself a perfect example of the global Filipino. “I think it’s really important to showcase the best of who we are and what we are.” (PR)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *