Napoleon “Billy” Abueva, widely acknowledged as the father of modern sculpture in the Philippines, died in the early morning of Feb. 16 after a lingering illness. He was 88.
The future National Artist was born in Tagbilaran, Bohol on January 26, 1930, to a prominent political family in the province.
His interest in sculpture began at an early age, when he would mold animal figures from mud. His early experiments, however, were interrupted by the outbreak of World War II. Both his parents were active in the resistance, and were eventually captured and killed by the Japanese. Abueva himself was imprisoned and tortured.
After the war Abueva continued to pursue his interest in art, winning a scholarship in 1951 that allowed him to enroll in the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts, where he graduated in 1953. Thanks to a series of scholarships, he was able to pursue advanced studies in the United States, culminating in a stint at Harvard University in 1956.
Back in the Philippines he was mentored by Guillermo Tolentino, the creator of the Oblation, who would also become a National Artist.
Abueva’s early works were done in the classical style of Tolentino, but he would soon go on to create works in various modern styles. A protean talent, he became adept at using different materials, including wood, stone, marble, brass, steel. Some of his best-known works are “Judas’ Kiss”, “Kaganapan”, “The Transfiguration”, the marble murals in the National Heroes Shrine in Bataan, and the Blood Compact Shrine in Tagbilaran.
He would later become dean of the UP College of Fine Arts, and influence generations of Filipino sculptors. In 1976, he was named National Artist for Sculpture, the youngest recipient of the honor at 46.
Abueva is survived by his wife, Cherry and children Amihan, Mulawin and Duero; sisters Ching and Inday, and brother Jose, former president of the University of the Philippines.
He also leaves behind a considerable body of work which is now part of the cultural legacy of the country.
Abueva’s remains will lie in state at the University of the Philippines chapel in Diliman, Quezon City.
Interment will be at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig.