Abueva shines on

Published February 19, 2018, 12:05 AM


By Sara Grace C. Fojas

Portrait by Pinggot Zulueta

National Artist for Sculpture Napoleon Abueva (1930-2018)
National Artist for Sculpture Napoleon Abueva (1930-2018)

Even when he was a child, Napoleon Abueva loved playing with clay, forming simple human and animal figures in his hometown in Bohol. Years later, his curiosity and fondness with shapes led him to an illustrious life as a creator. His memory is now entrenched in various places in and out of the Philippines—his Nine Muses at the University of the Philippines, his 12-meter Sunburst displayed and adored at the lobby of The Peninsula Manila, his famous Transfiguration brass-and-bronze sculpture at the Eternal Gardens Memorial Park, his sculpture of Teodoro M. Kalaw in front of the National Library, murals at the National Heroes Shrine at Mt. Samat, his Sandugo masterpiece in Tagbilaran City in Bohol, and the Stations of the Cross at EDSA Shrine in Quezon City.

Sunburst, brass, copper, and stainless steel, 1994
Sunburst, brass, copper, and stainless steel, 1994

Outside the Philippines, his legacy is built to last: The Sculpture at the United Nations headquarters in New York City and his abstract sculpture of a balanghay (boat) skeleton Fredesvinda is in Fort Cunning, Singapore.

His pieces Kaganapan and Judas won first prize at the Art Association of the Philippines and Detroit’s Religious Art Exhibition’s contests, respectively. His political work The Unknown Political Prisoner was an awardee at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (sculpture competition) in 1953.

His hands were so incredibly gifted that the late President Ferdinand Marcos gave Abueva the National Artist for Sculpture Award in 1976, when he was only 46, the youngest recipient ever of the award. He was also given the distinction as the Father of Modern Philippine Sculpture.

Mother and Child, marble, undated
Mother and Child, marble, undated

Abueva began his career as a sculptor when he entered the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts upon bagging the Pura Villanueva Kalaw Scholarship in 1951. Under the guidance of the late National Artist Guillermo Tolentino, Abueva was taught with traditional and classic art styles to sculpt realistic human forms. As he learned, he started to develop his own aesthetic, creating masterpieces made of local and indigenous materials such as molave, acacia, ipil, and kamagong. He also explored other modern resources like metal, steel, marble, cement, bronze, and brass.

Abueva later introduced an early innovation called buoyant sculpture, which jutted out of the surface of a pool. In 1980, he was among the first Filipinos to put up a one-man show at the Philippine Center in New York.

In a Manila Bulletin report in 2009, art critics claimed that “no sculptor in the country was as important and pioneering before Abueva came along.”

Transfiguration, brass, copper, and stainless steel, 1979
Transfiguration, brass, copper, and stainless steel, 1979

His wife, Dr. Sergia Valles-Abueva, was a witness to how Abueva loved his craft. He worked through day and night, even in the dark, never stopping until he was satisfied, even when he had a stroke in 2008. His house on Gabriela Silang Street at Tierra Verde on Congressional Avenue is like a museum decked with sculptures in every corner and with paintings by his artist-friends and national icons on every walls. His workshop is cluttered with many of his unfinished works.

The National Artist passed away at the National Kidney Transplant Institute last Friday, Feb. 16, due to recurring pneumonia. He suffered a stroke in 2014 and in 2016, which left him bedridden. He is survived by his wife Sergia, children Amihan of Child Rights Coalition Asia, sculptor Isabelo Mulawin, and Duero; son-in-law and daughter-law Jaimenaro Lanoy and Joy; grandchildren Isabelo Sandino Lanoy, Isabel Diwata, Karl, DJ, and Kenneth. He was 88.

Even though Abueva has left us physically, he lives on in his works and through his achievements for the Philippines. Napoleon Abueva was one Filipino who made his country proud.



Note: Napoleon Abueva’s wake is at the Delaney Hall of UP’s Church of the Holy Sacrifice; final necrological service at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines; and interment at Taguig’s National Heroes Cemetery on Feb. 25.