Napoleon Abueva

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Napoleón Isabelo Veloso-Abueva (26 January 1930-16 February 2018) was a Filipino artist known as the "Father of Modern Philippine Sculpture." He was the first and only Boholano to be given the distinction as National Artist of the Philippines in the field of Visual Arts – Sculpture, which he received at the age of 46, the youngest recipient of the award to date. [1]

Biography and career

Napoleon Abueva, nicknamed Billy, was born on 26 January 1930 in Tagbilaran, Bohol to Teodoro Abueva, a congressman in Bohol, 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, later becoming the Provincial Governor of Bohol. He ended his career as a congressman in 1934. Both of Abueva's parents died serving the country during World War II.

Abueva had 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.

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 when, accompanied by his grandmother on their way to Duero, 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. [1]

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


Abueva had helped shape the local sculpture scene in the Philippines. Being adept in both academic representational style and modern abstract, he 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 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 was 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, and which 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.[2]


He had exhibited his works in Cebu Plaza, [3] University of Kansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Vermont, USA. He also 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 was 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)

Death and Legacy

Abueva passed away on 16 February 2018 at the age of 88. He had been confined at the National Kidney Transplant Institute (NKTI) where he was treated for pneumonia.

Many national organizations including the Metropolitan Museum of Manila and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) shared social media posts to recognize Abueva’s influential career. President spokesperson Harry Roque also conveyed Malacañang Palace’s deep remorse for Abueva’s passing, saying “Mr. Abueva’s unparalleled contributions in the realm of arts will forever be etched in the hearts and minds of every Filipino.”




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