Napoleon Abueva

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Napoleón Isabelo Veloso-Abueva born January 26, 1930, more popularly known as Napoleón Abueva, is a Filipino artist. He is a sculptor given the distinction as one of the National Artists of the Philippines for Sculpture. He is also entitled as the "Father of Modern Philippine Sculpture". He is the first and only Boholano given the distinction as National Artist of the Philippines in the field of Visual Arts. <ref name="boholtimes"> Napoleon Veloso-Abueva the first and only Boholano National Artist. The Bohol Times 25 January, 2004. </ref>


Biography and career

Napoleon Abueva, nicknamed Billy, was born on January 26, 1930 in Tagbilaran, Bohol to Teodoro Abueva, a Bohol congressman and Purificacion Veloso, president of the Women’s Auxiliary Service. His father was a friend and contemporary of former Philippine President Manuel Roxas and Ambassador Narciso Ramos. He was a member of the Provincial Board, and later became the Provincial Governor of Bohol. He ended his career as a Congressman in 1934. Both of Abueva's parents were to give their lives for their country during World War II.

Abueva has six other brothers and sisters: Teodoro, Jr., now based in New York, USA; Purificacion, married to Atty. Ramon Binamira of Tagbilaran City; Jose Abueva, former president of the University of the Philippines; Amelia Martinez, now living in Chicago; Teresita Floro, now living in Sydney, Australia; and Antonio, a landscape artist who met a tragic fate aboard Princess of the Orient; his body was never found.

In 1943, at the height of the Second World War, Napoleon Abueva became a victim of the atrocities of the Japanese. With his father, a leader in the underground movement, and his mother in the women's Auxiliary group, the family was hunted. His parents were captured, tortured, and killed in Valencia. Billy was then only 4 years old, but this did not spare him from the brutality of the invaders. He accompanied his grandmother to Ilaya, Duero where they were captured by some Japanese soldiers. His grandmother was later freed, but he was hog-tied, brought to Guindulman, and tortured for more than a week. He lost his front teeth, and the blue-black marks on his wrists and ankles took weeks to heal. <ref name="boholtimes"/>

As a young boy, Billy studied at the Tagbilaran Elementary School, and later at University of Southern Philippines, Holy Name College (now Holy Name University), and Rafael Palma College (now the University of Bohol) before making it as a sculptor.

A home-grown talent, he was given a break in 1951 when he won the Pura Villanueva-Kalaw Scholarship. He then took up a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines, where he graduated in 1953. This was followed by a Fulbright Scholarship for 1954-55, after which he got a foreign students scholarship at the University of Kansas (1955-56). At the same time, he won another scholarship at the Instituto de Allende in Mexico City which he did not avail due to conflict in schedule. It was also in 1955 that he finished his Masters in Fine Arts at the Cranbook Academy of Arts, USA. In 1956, he attended Harvard University on another scholarship grant.

At U.P, one of his mentors was Guillermo Tolentino, also a national artist, who created the statue the U.P. Oblation found at the university entrance .

Abueva has helped shape the local sculpture scene in the Philippines. Being adept in both academic representational style and modern abstract, he has utilized almost all kinds of materials from hard wood (molave, acacia, langka wood, ipil, kamagong, palm wood and bamboo) to adobe, metal, stainless steel, cement, marble, bronze, iron, alabaster, coral and brass.

In 1976, he was awarded the status of National Artist of the Philippines by then President Ferdinand Marcos. He was then the youngest recipient of the title at age 46.

Some of his major works include Kaganapan (1953), Kiss of Judas (1955), Thirty Pieces of Silver , The Transfiguration in Eternal Gardens Memorial Park (1979), UP Gateway (1967), Nine Muses at the UP Faculty Center (1994), Sunburst Peninsula Manila Hotel(1994), the bronze figure of Teodoro M. Kalaw in front of the National Library, and murals in marble at the National Heroes Shrine, Mt. Samat, Bataan. One masterpiece he dedicated to the Boholanos is the Sandugo or Blood Compact shrine in Bool, Tagbilaran City, a landmark at the site of the first international treaty of friendship between Spaniards and Filipinos. This is now a tourist attraction in Bohol province. This shrine is an expression of Abueva's awareness of his roots, and a manifestation of his artistic talents.

Abueva also performed the death mask procedure of the late Fernando Poe Jr. in 2004.<ref> Edson C. Tandoc Jr. Poe 'smiling' in death mask Philippine Daily Inquirer December 15, 2005. </ref>


He has exhibited his works in Cebu Plaza, <ref>CPH to inaugurate Abueva Lounge with solo exhibit by national artist Sun.Star Cebu 22 October 2002 </ref> University of Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Vermont, USA. Most recently, he has exhibited works in Tangláw: The UP's National Artists for Visual Arts at the UP Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center.

Cultural Missions

  • Century 21 Exposition in Seattle, Washington (1962)
  • Cultural mission to India
  • Cultural mission to Taipei
  • Arts Council in England (1964) - special guest
  • Venice Biennale (1964)
  • Fifth International Congress of Art in Tokyo (1966) - delegate
  • Sixth International Congress of Art in Amsterdam (1969).
  • Biennale de Sao Paulo, Brazil (1969).
  • art exhibit of the Philippine Pavilion in Expo 70, Osaka, Japan


Abueva is a member of the Ceramic Council of the Philippines; Rizal Center; International Institute of Arts and Letters (1959-61); Art Education Committee (1961); and the National Commission on Culture (1964-65). He was President of the Art Association of the Philippines (1965-66) and President of the Society of Philippine Sculpture (1967-68).

Awards and Recognition

  • First Prize, Sculptural Exhibition by the Art Association of the Philippines (1951)
  • First Prize in the Fifth Annual Art Exhibition (1952)
  • First Prize and Special Award on the Fourth Sculptural Exhibition (1952)
  • Awardee, "The Unknown Political Prisoner" in the International Sculpture Competition by the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1953)
  • First Prize and Special Award, Kaganapan (Marble), in the Semi-Annual Art Exhibition by the Art Association of the Philippines (1953)
  • First Prize, "Kiss of Judas" (Wood) in the Religious Art Exhibition in Detroit, Michigan, USA (1955)
  • Purchase Prize, "Water Buffalo" (Marble), in the Annual Show, at St. Louis, Missouri, USA (1956)
  • First Prize, "Figure" (Wood) in the Annual Show of the Art Association of the Philippines (1957)
  • Most Outstanding Alumnus of the School of Fine Arts, U.P. Golden Jubilee (1958)
  • Republic Award for Sculpture (1959)
  • Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) Awardee in Sculpture (1959)
  • Winner, U.P. Gateway Design Competition (1962)
  • Winner, Cultural Heritage Award (1966)
  • ASEAN Awards for Visual Arts in Bangkok (1987)
  • Honorary Doctorate in Humanities, University of the Philippines (1993)
  • Fourth ASEAN Achievement Award for Visual Arts in Singapore (July 1995)
  • Professor Emeritus, University of the Philippines (2003)


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