UP: A living, breathing museum

One day I took a break from all the thesis work that piled up on me. In my four years of living inside the campus I discovered the perfect spots to relieve my stress.

Being a lover of the arts, I would spend many hours inside the Vargas Museum, enjoying the works of great Filipino artists. Or whenever there’s a free concert, I would troop to the College of Music to listen to live performances of bands and choirs, and to numerous recitals of music majors.

But there are also dry days when I don’t feel like going to the museum because the displays haven’t been changed yet. Or there are only paid concerts at Abelardo Hall. During these episodes I choose to walk around the campus. After all, it is a giant, breathing museum.


Several sculptures adorn the pathways of the University Avenue, right at the very entrance of the University of the Philippines. My favorite is one of Ildefonso Cruz Marcelo’s twin sculptures—“Captivity.”

It is found at the intersection going to the Public Administration building. At the opposite end of the road, its partner, “Contemplation,” guards the entrance to the College of Fine Arts and Architecture.

“Captivity” is Marcelo’s rendition of Francisco Balagtas’ Florante tied to an “Asopre” tree. From afar, the work simply looks like a man sitting on a slab of rock. But at a closer view, there are chains and shackles binding his hands and feet.

In the 60’s the sculpture was an irony because of the great freedom on campus. During this decade, UP President Carlos P. Romulo gave the Philippine Collegian greater autonomy, striking down the “administrative and editorial powers” of the paper’s faculty advisers. Kule’ was left solely on the hands of students.

But in the 70’s “Captivity” was a prophecy fulfilled. Martial Law and the First Quarter Storm all happened during the decade. Life in UP became severely restricted as the Dictator stifled democracy all over the country.

Centennial Cauldron

A few meters away stand the famous Oblation Statue which I have always admired as an emblem for UP. But since the university’s centennial celebration in 2008, another interesting work of art adorned the fa├žade of Quezon Hall.

It is called the “Centennial Cauldron.” Designed by UP alumnus Joel Ajero, the metal sculpture is full of symbolisms.

The three beams represent UP’s main thrusts—excellence, service, and leadership. A vine wrapped itself around the beams and branched into seven flowers. The flowers represent the seven constituent campuses of UP all over the country which embody the ideals of higher learning.

The main cauldron which was set ablaze on Jan. 8, 2009 stands for the beacon of hope radiating from the university. The flame that burned throughout the celebration is the symbol of refinement and development every student undergoes in UP.

The Centennial Cauldron stands infront of Oble’ also to light his path as the university looks forward, gearing for the centuries that are yet to come.

Three Women Sewing the First Philippine Flag

One of the more famous works of Napoleon V. Abueva is set on a pedestal in the Charter’s Donors Garden, connecting the amphitheater and the UP lagoon.

“Three Women Sewing the First Philippine Flag” is a sculpture depicting the creation of the country’s banner. It is also Abueva’s rendition of Fernando Amorsolo’s “The Making of the Philippine Flag.”

The work was permanently housed in UP two years shy from the centenary of the Philippine Independence in 1996.

According to history, Marcela Agoncillo, her daughter Lorenza, and Mrs. Delfina Natividad hand-sewed and embroidered the flag for five days in Hong Kong. Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo commissioned Marcela to make the flag based on a design he created.

On June 12, 1898, this same flag was unfurled at the balcony of Aguinaldo’s house in Kawit, Cavite marking our country’s independence from Spain.


“Magdangal,” another of Abueva’s work, is dubbed as Oble’s muse. Among the latest additions on campus, it keeps vigil infront of the Arts and Letters building (CAL).

During its public inauguration in 2008, former CAL dean Virgilio Almario said the sculpture stands for our country’s “great national will to free itself from the shackles of history and create a new horizon of hope.”

A plaque on Magdangal’s pedestal contains the words from Almario’s poem bearing her name as title:

“Magbangon ka, aking Mutya,
Mula dagat ng dalita;
Pairalin mo sa lupa
Ang tarong, ragsak, at laya.”

Almario said the speaker of the poem calls out to his beloved Mutya—a native name for a precious pearl—“to rise from the sea of sorrows and bless the land anew.”

The last three words come from three languages in the Philippines describing the poet’s hope for the country’s future. “Tarong” is Bisaya for straight, the root-word of “katarungan” (justice). “Ragsak” is Ilocano for joy, and “laya” is the Tagalog root-word of “kalayaan” (independence).

Fredesvinda: The ASEAN Boat

Hidden behind the Vargas museum, amidst an untamed lush is a boat-like work of art called the Fredesvinda. It is located in Abueva’s former “sculpture studio.” The art once stood with several of the artist’s works from 1978 to 1985, most of which had now been relocated.

One critic described the work as a “surreal tambayan.” At a glance it looks like an ancient boat with rib cages for its hull. The repetitive beams resembled the Romanesque arches of cathedrals in Europe.

The Fredesvinda we know today is a duplicate of the original work of Abueva "which was included in the First ASEAN Sculpture Symposium held in Fort Canning Hill, Singapore, from March 27 to April 26, 1981."

Imao's Unnamed Sculpture

Fusing Muslim art styles, Abdul Marie Imao's Unnamed sculpture is among the few Islam artworks in a predominantly Catholic University

The sari-mosque, sari-manok and sari-okir themes are fused, yielding to an elegant abstract depiction of the Muslim faith and indigenous Moro culture.

The sari mosque is Islam’s charming 5-pointed star embraced by the crescent moon.

The sari-manok is the “mythical rooster-like-bird of dazzling plumage” that dominates the skies of traditional folklore and animistic beliefs.

The sari-okir reflects the Maranao and Tausug curves and line patterns from the “pako rabang and naga woodcarving motifs.”


These are some of my favorites around the campus. Whenever I feel tired and down, I drag a couple of friends and tour them to these artworks from the greatest artists of our land.

They may simply be stone, iron or wood, but the handling of masters gave these elements life and meaning. They will continue to stand as evidences of Filipino talent and craft.

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