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Dreaming With Eyes Wide Open: My Experience Of The BTS x James Jean Seven Phases Exhibit in Manila

I discovered James Jean in 2010. His art that graced the covers of Fables, a series of graphic novels published by DC/Vertigo, is as mesmerizing as the stories written by Bill Willingham. Not only are his tonal values, texturing, lines, and spaces elegant, they were also dream-like and at times, surreal.

The images and characters he drew for the cover of Fables pulled me in like magic (if you haven’t yet, check them online). And there in the pages of the comic book, I came to know my beloved folk tale characters depicted in strange, weird, and uncanny ways.

I found myself buying selected issues and recommending the titles for purchase in our school library’s collection. Needless to say, his cover art for the graphic novels contributed in establishing the identity of the series, the brand, and the franchise.

It propelled his career to greater heights. He had won awards for his works and peers in the industry recognized his contributions. Who would have thought that the struggling Asian American artist during the 9/11 era would find success and international acclaim?

On a personal level, what I truly admire is James Jean’s style and artistic approach in combining Asian and Western motifs, themes, symbols, and imagery. At the time when I was defining my own style and approach to writing children’s stories that bespeak inclusion and diversity, I came across a visual artist who already succeeded in doing so. James Jean is a source of inspiration to this day.

Moving forward to May 2021 when I first learned that he has art pieces with BTS as the centerpiece, I was floored! It drove me insane. It was during the pandemic when HYBE Insight staged the BTS x James Jean Seven Phases exhibition in South Korea. The lockdown measures in the Philippines prevented travelers from flying out. By the time air travel was allowed, the exhibit had been replaced with Proof and museum pieces of HYBE artists. My chances of viewing this magnificent fusion of visual art, literature, and music were flushed down the drain.

I did manage to acquire a poster of "Moonchild" and prints of Seven Phases. Such precious BTS "budols" in the COVID-19 era. I have not given up my dream of traveling to the Land of the Morning Calm. To see and witness any of James Jean’s art beyond the comics he created, a sculpture, or a painting remained on my bucket list. The gods in Hybe must have heard my prayers. I was fortunate to be in line at SM Megamall on the opening day of the BTS x James Jean Seven Phases exhibition with friends from Titas of BTS last October 28, 2023.

Art for healing

To stand at each painting was awe-inspiring. I felt small but no less insignificant. It was not only a visual experience for me but a tactile and sensual experience, too. I kept my hands off the paintings yet, I could feel Moonchild’s silky feathers tinged with indigo sap. Narcissus’ bees buzzed in my ears. I am swept with the tide with Meowtide who stands firm in the water. Solaria is majestic – I bow to thee! I was so tempted to embrace Champignon’s softness and warmth. I can feel Violane’s strength and hear the laughter in Cottontail’s mirth. It was an immersive experience, truly! Reaching the final piece, the Garden, I lingered for but a few seconds more. James Jean has created a world where I can dream with eyes wide open.

And then, it hit me.

The BTS x James Jean Seven Phases collaboration holds great relevance as it brought many aspects of popular culture that appear disparate and divided into a sense of balance and harmony. At a time when the world was wrapped in palpable uncertainty and isolation, Seven Phases is a message on the lasting value of stories for growth and healing.

Now that the world is pushing past the trauma of the pandemic years, the Seven Phases speak to me of the continuity of hopeful dreaming; to persevere in the face of challenges; to laugh and play in between boring robotic routines. Such themes of duality exist in the music and stories of BTS, and James Jean adeptly captured them and more! His characterization of each BTS member into his own creations shows a high level of respect, depth of research, diligence, exceptional craftsmanship, and care in his own creative process. And for this, I admire him all the more for honoring and loving our Bangtan Guys!

A worthwhile visit

I encourage you to visit the BTS x James Jean Seven Phases exhibition at SM Megamall until December 3, 2023. How apt that it was launched to the public in October when we celebrate Museum and Galleries Month.

A bonus for me was the BTS Assets on display. The costumes, attire, and fashion wardrobe that BTS donned in performances that are now considered milestones in Bangtan lore and history have their own stories to tell. I got goosebumps staring at the microphones, in-ear monitors, their beaten luggage, and the “trophy room” that flexes BTS’ monumental rise to the charts of the Western Music industry.

An hour is too short. Thus, I will go back with more ARMY friends in tow and family who support my fangirling. Don’t forget to take pictures (except in no camera zones!) and write a note, a love letter to your bias, wrecker, and all seven, of course, at the ARMY Room.

There is a merch area too for BTS budol. Come prepared with cash or card if you wish to bring home souvenirs or memorabilia. It is not every day a traveling exhibit from HYBE comes to Manila, and a BTS x James Jean art and museum pieces at that, so take your chance if and when you can.

Visiting the exhibit is also a perfect exercise if you are working on an ARMY Glow-Up goal. Depending on how you appreciate your experience, you can tick off several goals like Recreation, Lifestyle, Skills, or even Relations.

Before I close this piece, here are seven ways to fully enjoy the gallery viewing of Seven Phases:

  • Plan ahead and purchase tickets a few days before your intended visit. Make sure you have all the necessary information on hand. It will also help if you do a bit of research about the art pieces on display.

  • Arrive early and follow the rules. Observe courtesy to the staff and co-visitors who are in your selected time slot. Respect the space, other attendees, and the exhibits themselves. This will ensure a pleasant experience for everyone involved.

  • If you only have one chance or schedule to view the exhibit, make the most of it. The Seven Phases is designed to showcase the tremendous talent of two reputable and life-affirming artists of our age and time.

  • Read the descriptions and curatorial notes, watch the videos, and immerse yourself in the experience.

  • Capture memories but strike a balance in immersing yourself fully in the moment. You don’t want to miss the details and nuances in the art pieces on display, especially the ones in the BTS Assets and Trophy Room.

  • Engage with fellow ARMY. Meet, connect, strike up conversations, share stories, and make new friends who share the same love for BTS. Have fun!

  • Find a way to express or channel the experience you had with fellow ARMYs. Post photos and reels on social media. Converse with friends and co-ARMYs on your takeaways from the exhibit – budols included. If you are inclined to draw, to write a poem, to create art of your own, to sing and dance a BTS challenge on Tiktok, go ahead!

Art has many purposes and functions. One of which is that it makes us grateful to be alive. Inspiring us to seek outlets of creativity and become a source of joy amidst the complexities of daily life.


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