Throughout history, artists have played an integral role in shaping society. Armed with their ideas and medium of choice, creatives have sparked joy among communities and ignited conversations about important issues of our time. As a passionate advocate of innovation as well as the arts and a partner in nation-building, Pilipinas Shell has been supporting the local arts sector through its annual National Students Art Competition (NSAC), the longest of its kind in the country. Now on its 53rd run, the Shell NSAC has propelled the careers of numerous artists from all over the country—including renowned names like national artists Jose Joya, Federico Alcuaz, Ang Kiukok, and Ben Cabrera.
NSAC is one of the country’s longest-running student art competitions, this year calling on student artists from all over the country to showcase their talents in various mediums such as digital arts, oil and acrylic, watercolor, and even sculpture. Aside from the competition, a virtual event included an Arts Talk where thought leaders and industry insiders discuss digital arts in the restricted times of the pandemic.
Since its inception, the NSAC has taken on various themes such as ‘Metamorphosis,’ ‘ImagineNation,’ ‘Perspective,’ and the most recent ‘HOPE IN OUR ARTS.’ Each year has challenged young artists to tap into their inner psyche and spread messages of hope, positivity, and resilience. The NSAC is the thriving platform and community it is today because of the various people who supported these young artists throughout their early years. One such figure is the late Sonia Tejada, fondly referred to as “Mama Sonia” or “Mama Sons”, who served as the NSAC Program Manager for 25 years and is one of the cornerstones of the NSAC program.
“Combining love and passion in any profession spells the difference in the outcome of whatever career one gets into,” said Kenneth Esguerra, Senior Curator of the Ayala Museum, which is a long-term partner of the Shell NSAC program, annually exhibiting the competition’s winning pieces. Kenneth, who frequently collaborates with Mama Sons, added, “Ms. Sonia applied these key elements in managing the longest-running art competition in the country.”
Mama Sons dedicated most of her life to Shell’s mission of empowering communities, particularly artists. Recognizing their potential as movers of society, she has personally guided their growth, with a soft spot for those who did not have the same access to opportunities. “Mama Sons had this vision that budding artists from the countryside should be recognized on a national level. She wanted to encourage more homegrown artists to develop their gifts,” shared James Amusa from Museu Iloilo, who was a close friend of Tejada in the art community. “Eventually, local artists from all over the province started preparing for the Shell NSAC yearly because it was a stepping stone to becoming more confident in joining the arts scene on a national level.”
Tejada was known for going above and beyond her job description, pouring her utmost care and compassion into the entire NSAC community. With her determination, the NSAC became more than a competition. Aprille Tijam, Senior Manager for Exhibitions and Collections at the Ayala Museum, noted, “While it is known that NSAC is aimed at fostering opportunities for students who would like to start an artistic career, the presence of Ms. Sonia as NSAC Program Manager made it more accessible and approachable.”
That approachability allowed the participation of many artists who lived in far-flung areas, despite the challenges that geographical distance posed. Tijam attributes that inclusivity to Tejada’s cherished values: “She was guided by very distinct Filipino traits—pakikisama at pag-aaruga.”
One of her last projects was putting together a coffee table book entitled ‘The Golden Voyage: 50 Years of Empowering Filipino Artistry,’ which shed light on the program’s history and the many characters, artists, and collaborators who defined the NSAC community. “Despite her declining health, she exerted her energy and dedication in compiling and producing ‘The Golden Voyage,’” revealed Dopy Doplon, who designed the book with Tejada. “Tirelessly, she worked with the Shell team, documenting artworks and reaching out to previous winners to put the book together.”
Although Tejada recently passed away in April this year, she leaves behind a lasting legacy that will continue to make a positive impact on artists for years to come. Sankie Simbulan, Pilipinas Shell Country Social Performance and Social Investment Manager, said, “The pandemic has presented new trials, but the NSAC and our dedicated team will continue Mama Sons’ vision of supporting artists and showing that there are still opportunities to thrive. Now, more than ever, art plays a significant role in sowing hope among Filipinos and being a platform to showcase young artists’ hopes and dreams for the future.”