In the University of the Philippines (U.P.) Diliman campus, there is the 2.2 kilometer elliptical road called the U.P. Academic Oval, where many of the major academic buildings and institutions are located. The oval is comprised of two major roads, with the Pres. Manuel A. Roxas Avenue (the 5th Philippine president) on the eastbound way and the Pres. Sergio S. Osmeña Avenue (the 4th Philippine president) on the westbound path. Entering the eastbound lane of Roxas Avenue, one is immediately greeted with a wide green field to the right. Amidst the grass and trees, one can spy odd and colorful forms jutting out from the green; this is the U.P. Sculpture Garden. This garden came about in 1978-82, when the National Artist for Sculpture and dean of the U.P. College of Fine Arts (CFA), Napoleón Isabelo Veloso Abueva (born 1930) constructed a sculpture foundry at the back of the nearby Vargas Museum. As soon as it was constructed, Abueva and his students started installing their works on the field, as part of their academic and creative exercises. Soon these pieces became a permanent part of the U.P. landscape.
The first major work in this collection is Napoleón Abueva’s “Fredeswinda”, which is also the last object that shows where Abueva’s foundry once stood. Completed in 1984, the sculpture is a second version of the design, which Abueva first made for the ASEAN summit in Singapore, in 1981. Also entitled ”ASEAN Boat: Sailing to Prosperity”, the original piece sits at the ASEAN Sculpture Garden in Fort Canning, Singapore. To get to the artwork, one has to pass through the rocky path behind the U.P. Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center parking lot.
Napoleón Isabelo “Billy” Veloso Abueva (born 1930) studied at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, under National Artist, Guillermo Estrella Tolentino (1890-1976), who was then the director of the school. Although trained in the classical style of sculpting, Abueva broke from its mold and began experimenting on modernist styles and techniques. Soon he became known as and Godfather of Philippine Modern Sculpture. Aside from the many historical monuments that are found all over the Philippines, Abueva has also been commissioned to create sculptures around the world. In his youth, he was awarded the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) award; which would herald more awards and distinctions in his life. He was proclaimed National Artist for Sculpture in 1976, making him the youngest recipient of this distinction. And just like his mentor, Abueva also served as dean of the U.P. College of Fine Arts.
Long before, another Abueva sculpture stood in the center of the field, which was his 1978 “Bridge of Love”. It is a statue of a nude man and a woman stretching over in an arch, as they touched each other’s private parts. Abueva moved this artwork back to his home studio, in Culiat, Quezon City. There are two reported reasons why he transferred the artwork, whether the general public was shocked by the risqué nature of the piece, or Abueva was frustrated that the U.P. administration just allowed the vegetation to overrun his work.
Near the entrance driveway of the Vargas Museum, visitors are greeted by the National Artist for Sculpture, Abdulmari Asia Imao’s untitled 1984 sculpture, which is sometimes referred to as the “Allah Configuration”. Creating a monumental bronze piece of a stylized Arabic script, Imao is also noted to the first Filipino Moslem to garner the prestigious National Artist honor.
Abdulmari Asia Imao (1936-2014) was born in the island of Jolo, and proceeded to Manila, where he earned a degree in fine arts from the University of the Philippines (UP) in 1959. Imao later took a master of fine arts degree from the University of Kansas in 1962, and took further studies at the Rhode Island School of Design and Columbia University in New York City. Imao’s sculptures and paintings draw inspiration from the Tausug and Maranao people’s cultures, of which he is a part of. Imao received the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) award in 1968, the Gawad CCP para sa Sining from the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1990, and the was honored as the 1st Moslem National Artist in 2006.
Far into the field is Renato A. Rocha’s (1937-2001) concrete sculpture “The Family”, completed in 1982. Rocha apprenticed under Abueva and Anastacio T. Caedo in the late 1950s to early 1960s, as he would later become a multi-awarded artist in his own right. Rocha selected to be part of the delegation to represent the Philippines in 1962 Seattle World’s Fair and the 1964 New York World’s Fair. In 1980 he was honored the Araw ng Maynila Award in Sculpture.
The latest addition to the Sculpture Garden is Cian Dayrit’s 2011 “Artefact X: A Narrative of Mystification and Demystification”, which is found along Osmeña Avenue. Part of Dayrit’s thesis in the U.P. CFA, which was entitled “Bla-bla Archaeological Complex”.
Although not a sculpture, an old water pump shed in the center of the field was transformed into a tribute to the paintings of Abulmari Ima in 2008. The concrete walls of the shed were painted with acrylic with the colorful form of the mythical sarimanok, which Imao has commonly used in his works.
Starting 2013 to 2015, the thick vegetation of the Sculpture Garden was regularly moved down, to give the public a better view of these artworks. Another initiative launched by the U.P. administration, the Vargas Museum and the CFA is the invitation to have artists of different disciplines to put up art installations for the public, called PLOT. In 2013, the artists Junyee, Reg Yuson and Leeroy New created installations that interacted with the already existing sculptures. This has brought new life to the garden and a renewed interest to the U.P. population and its visitors.