After years away from the public eye, Jose Alcantara’s masterpiece depiction of Philippine life and folklore in the form of carved wood has found a new home. And it’s a home the larger public can visit: the National Museum. The multi-panel piece, 1, 536 meters in all, used to adorn one of the outsize walls of the Philam Life Theater in U.N. Avenue in Manila—until the building was acquired by commercial developer SMDC in 2012. Now the work graces the Gallery XVI of the National Museum of Fine Arts where it was unveiled Friday by the Philam Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of the esteemed insurance company. Only the right side of the mural was unveiled, however. Panels of the left mural will be sent to other areas of the museum more relevant to the scene it depicts (i.e. the anthropology panel will eventually grace the anthropology museum).
Philam Life commissioned the carving in 1961, not only to bring life to one of the walls of the building’s then newly established theater—the work’s epic size encompassed the length of the theater’s orchestra— but also perhaps to soften the edifice’s modernist design which was by the architect Carlos Arguelles. The auditorium was known for its excellent acoustics which were done by Bolt, Beranek and Newman who are also credited for the Sydney Opera House, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and the United Nations Assembly Hall in New York.
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The Alcantara panels made from carved wood relief and lacquer feature elements from Philippine folklore, traditional musical instruments, and mythical characters like Maria Makiling and Malakas at Maganda. It is a celebration of the Filipino imagination and the Filipino’s hardwork, faith, and sense of camaraderie, what with its tableaus of people gathered in dance, labor and prayer.
Alcantara is known to be the last maestro of traditional wood carving in the country. Born in Pasay City, he trained in the atelier of the prince of Philippine sculpture during the colonial period, Isabelo Tampinco, after which he worked as a carver in the furniture shop of Gonzalo Puyat. Alcantara’s talent took him to numerous art shows and gave him countless accolades here and abroad.
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Depicting a tradional Filipino fan dance.
A tableau dedicated to the Filipino laborer.
Rural folk in transit and a group of women gathered in prayer.
An indigenous ritual.
Another gathering that necessitates dance.
The Alcantara carvings were commissioned, together with paintings by Vicente Manansala, by Philamlife for the then newly established corporate headquarters along what was formerly known as Isaac Peral St. “It is in this theater where the Alcantara carvings adorned its walls as silent witness to the grand performances of world renowned artists through the years. Not to mention high school and college graduations,” said Max Ventura, Philam Foundation President, during his speech at the National Museum. For the past five years, the Foundation has given the National Museum an institutional grant of PHP5 million which supplements funding for acquisition, preservation, and restoration of artworks, as well as for the upkeep of key pieces of Philam Life’s art collection. “We hope this partnership,” added Ventura, “will pave the way for further appreciation and cultivation of our love for the arts.”
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