Roberto Villanueva was born in 1947 in Olongapo,
Zambales, the Philippines. After graduating in 1973 with a Bachelor in
Fine Arts from the University of Santo Tomas he taught at the Philippine
Women's University. He began his artistic career as a surrealist, but was
gradually drawn into the film medium. In 1983 he became a member of the
Board of Directors of the United Filmmakers Organization. He has won several
awards in documentary film.
When Roberto Villanueva moved to the northern
highlands of Baguio in 1980 he was inspired to create art build from the
basic materials of the environment. His art acquired a shamanic aura, the
source of its powerful energy drawn from ancient but continuing community
symbols, rituals and traditions among the animist ethnic groups. He won
critical recognition for Archetypes: Cordillera Labyrinth set up
on the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) grounds in the summer of
1989. Forty-five metres in diameter and 600 metres in length, the installation
consisted of a spiral labyrinth made of bamboo and reeds. Its centre was
covered with rocks from a river bed, creating a sacred space peopled with
spirit figures from which life power emanates.
Another installation was Atang ti Kararua
(Soul Offerings) consisting of three bamboo floats carrying offerings
on a lake for the souls of those who perished in the big Baguio earthquake.
The artists also conducted a ceremony with a shaman to pacify the spirit
of Mount Pinatubo.
Roberto Villanueava tries to restore the communal
function of art and the priminitve life force it originally possessed but
which still survives in Cordillera mountain culture. He also seeks to recover
and understand the animistic strain in the heart of Philippine culture.
In 1990 he was invited to New York as Artist-In-Residence
of the New York State Council of the Arts and in 1992 won the CCP Thirteen
A recent work, Bridge Across Cultures,
which the artist did in Saitama-ku, Japan, shows his preference for setting
up water installations to symbolize migration routes linking different
cultures. His work acquires an anthropological aspect, calling to mind
the celebrated sea voyage of the Kon-Tiki across the Pacific.
With his use of organic materials and natural
locations, together with community interaction, Roberto Villanueva creates
an art that is integrated with the life of the people.
(reprinted from The First Asia-Pacific Triennial
written by Alice Guillermo)
After the Triennial, Roberto Villanueva
was diagnosed to have leukemia. He continued creating art until his death
in February 1995.