At the University of the Philippines (U.P.) Diliman campus’ Main Library south parking lot is the entrance to the Bulwagan ng Dangal (Hall of Honor), an art gallery and museum of the library that opened in 2009. The creation of the Bulwagan ng Dangal was spearheaded by Prof. Rubén David F. Defeo, and houses artworks donated by mostly College of Fine Arts (CFA) alumni. The small façade of the gallery’s entrance hides the wealth of works in its collection, which the visitor experiences once stepping into the vast exhibition space below the library. Aside from the gallery collection, the Bulwagan ng Dangal holds regular exhibitions that highlight artists, who have done significant works that have brought honor to the Philippines and inspired many young artists.
Rubén David F. Defeo (1948) is a noted art educator and administrator, as well as the art critic and curator. Defeo was once a teacher and College Secretary at the U.P. College of Fine Arts (CFA), where he garnered a Professor 12 ranking. After his retirement at the CFA, Defeo moved on to serve the University of the Philippines as the administrator of the University Theater, UP Diliman Information Office (DIO), and Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts (OICA) director. It was through Defeo’s work at the OICA that the U.P. Main Library was able acquire a massive collection of contemporary Philippine art, to develop the Bulwagan ng Dangal (Hall of Honor) at the library’s basement. Aside from his work at the UP, Defeo has penned many books and articles on art history.
The entrance of the Bulwagan ng Dangal that greets visitor is the small gallery, with a few artworks and a large untitled bench sculpture by Jerry Araos. From this small gallery is a door that leads to the main hall, where the main collection is exhibited.
Jerusalino “Jerry” Villamor Araos (1944-2012) was a self-taught sculptor, who originally studied English at the University of the East before he pursued a life of activism and art. In the 1960s, Araos went into the mountain to join the communist New People’s Army (NPA), in their war against the dictatorship of Pres. Ferdinand Marcos. He was later captured and tortured, which became the theme of his first exhibit “Bartonilna” (Jail), in 1980. Since then, Araos has been known to create sensuous abstract sculptures of people as well as sculptural furniture using old wooden from demolished houses and dead trees. Araos has also made a name for himself as a landscape artist, and he has represented the Philippines in many international exhibitions.
Upon entering the main gallery of the Bulwagan ng Dangal, the first section that faces the visitor is the “A Legacy of Excellence” exhibit, which features the works of the National Artists who were products of the university. The exhibition notes proudly state that since 1972 to 2015, the fourteen (14) honorees for National Artist for Visual Arts, nine (9) of these were graduates from the UP CFA. From the 9 National Artists, there are four (4) represented in the collections: Napoleon Abueva, Jose Joya, Abdulmari Imao, and BenCab.
Napoleón Isabelo “Billy” Veloso Abueva (1930-2018) 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.
José Tanig Joya Jr. (1931-1995) graduated from the U.P. School of Fine Arts in 1953, and became immediately part of the Neo-Realist movement of the period. In the 1960s, Joya served as the president of the Art Association of the Philippines, and he served as the dean of the U.P. College of Fine Arts from 1970-1978. In 1962, Joya and Napoleón Abueva (born 1930) were selected to represent the Philippines at the prestigious Venice Biennale. It would take 53 more years, before any Filipino artist would participate again at the Venice Biennale. As an artist, Joya was honored with the Ten Outstanding Young Men Award (TOYM) and Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1961, the ASEAN Cultural Award in 1970, the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award from the City of Manila in 1971, the Order of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres by the French government in 1987, the Gawad CCP para sa Sining in 1991, and he was conferred the title of National Artist in 2003.
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.
The “A Legacy of Excellence” exhibit is part of the main hall of the Bulwagan ng Dangal, with the rest of the collection is introduced by two large social realist murals by Pablo Baen Santos. Aside from Baen-Santos’ murals, there a many artists representing the Philippines’ golden era of art (1970s-1980s), when government support for art was at an all time high with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) opening the avenues of public appreciation of art, and launching the careers of these artists here and abroad. And despite the dictatorial rule of President Ferdinand Marcos during those times, all types of artistic expressions flourished, including the critical social realists, like Baen-Santos, Cajipe-Endaya and Neil Doloricon. Other artists gained recognition for their experiments of abstract form and alternative materials such as Gus Albor and Benji Cabangis.
Pablo Baen-Santos aka Adi Baens Santos (1943) is a known social realist, whose paintings were inspired by his exposure to the ills of society during his stint as a photographer for the Manila Times. In his first exhibit in 1974, he also founded the KAISAHAN (Unity) art group of social realists. Santos has garnered many awards for his essays, paintings and photography, but his highest accolade was the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Thirteen Artists award, in 1990.
Augusto “Gus” Besido Albor (1948) is a painter and sculptor, who has experimented in various non-traditional materials in his abstract pieces. Albor graduated from the University of the East School of Music and Fine Arts in 1973. Albor later took a study grant at the West Surrey College of Art in England in 1978. Representing the Philippines in many exhibitions abroad, Albor was later honored the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Thirteen Artists award, in 1976.
Imelda Cajipe-Endaya (1949) is writer, curator, painter, printmaker and installation artist; whose creative expressions focus on Philippine identity and women’s issues. Cajipe-Endaya work extends to helping found the women’s art group, KASIBULAN (Growth). Cajipe-Endaya has represented the Philippines in various international exhibitions, and has also won several awards abroad. Cajipe-Endaya was honored by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) the Thirteen Artists award in 1990, and the Philippines’ One Hundred Culture Heroes in 1998. Other major awards received by Cajipe-Endaya are the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan by the City of Manila in 1998, the Natividad Fajardo Galang ALIWW Honors for Women in the Arts by the Ateneo de Manila in 2008, and the Ani ng Dangal by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in 2009.
Benjamin Isla Cabangis (1957) is a noted painter, printmaker and art educator, who taught from 1978 to 1980 at the Philippine High School for the Arts in Mount Makiling, Laguna, and now continues to teach at the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts (CFA). Cabangis has become a resource person for various art initiatives of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and other institutions, such as the SEAMEO Project for Archaeology and Fine Arts. Cabangis’ abstract works have been feature her and abroad, and he was honored by the CCP the Thirteen Artist award in 1978. Other recognition Cabangis received are the UP Gawad Chancellor as the University’s Most Outstanding Visual Artist in 2000 and the Fernando Amorsolo Professorial Chair Grantee (for the year 1992, 1996, 2002 and 2004).
Leonilo “Neil” Ortega Doloricon (1957) is a painter, who is more known for his social realist prints. After graduation from the University of the Philippines (U.P.) College of Fine Arts (CFA), Doloricon worked as an illustrator for various dailies, such as the Manila Times. Doloricon started teaching at the CFA, and served as its dean for a time. In his service to the university, Doloricon received the 1999 Jose and Asuncion Joya Professorial Chair; the 2004 Guillermo Tolentino Professorial Chair; and the Fernando Amorolo Professorial Chair both in 1994 and in 2011. In 1990, Doloricon was honored the Thirteen Artist Award by the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
The next set of artists represent the 1990s to the 2000s, where the new wave of artists had to face a new struggle against waning government support, while the private art dealers zoomed in to fill the void. Many of the artists gained prominence by winning in the many privately funded art competitions booming all over the country, outside the already established Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) contest. Among these multi-awarded award winners are Dansoy Coquilla, Jerson Samson, Grandier Bella, Jeff Dizon, Norman Dreo, and Anton Del Castillo. Others took a different route from chasing awards, to pursuing other artistic grounds before entering the painting world, such as Leo Abaya who made a name for himself as a production designer and film director. In the case of Yasmin Almonte (not the MMA fighter), she continued the cause of her forbearers in women’s issues, with her own unique perspective.
Aside from paintings and prints, there are many sculptures in the collection, with most pieces coming from the artists who started their careers in the last two decades. Some are second generations artists, such as Toym and Juan Sajid Imao, who are the sons of the National Artist Abdulmari Imao. And like Jerry Araos before him, Pete Jimenez also uses recycled materials for his sculptures, this time metal pieces.
I have also contributed one of my own drawings to the Bulwagan ng Dangal, and I cannot help but think how the next generations of artists will contribute to this every growing legacy of honor.