Written by Aprille Tijam, Senior Manager, Exhibitions and Collections, Ayala Museum (ITP 2019, Philippines)
Art competitions for students in the Philippines have helped launch the careers of many young Filipino artists like the Shell National Students Art Competition (NSAC) (established in 1951), Philippine Art Awards (began in 1994, held every two years), Metrobank Art and Design Excellence (MADE) (renamed in 2006, from the original name Metrobank National Painting Competition that began in 1984), Vision Petron National Student Art Competition (since 2000), Tawag ng Sining: The PLDT-DPC Telephone Directory Cover Visual Art National Competition (launched in 1986), and the Kulay sa Tubig Watercolor Competition (since 1988), to name a few.
Over the last 15 years, I had the opportunity to manage the annual presentation of the top 100 entries of the Shell National Students Art Competition (NSAC) at the Ayala Museum. It is the longest running art competition in the country. Around 38,000 entries were recorded over the years. It has produced artists recognised as National Artists for Visual Arts—BenCab, Jose Joya, Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, and Ang Kiukok—the highest recognition given to outstanding Filipino artists by the Philippine government in the fields of Visual Arts, Film, Literature, Dance, Music, Theatre, Broadcast Arts, and Architecture and Allied Arts.
My role as Exhibitions Manager allowed me to be part of the team that organised the annual exhibition of pre-selected artworks from more than 1,000 entries of officially enrolled college students nationwide. These are vetted by an esteemed panel of judges composed of artists, curators, art professors, and art critics. The entries are grouped into four categories—oil or acrylic, watercolour, sculpture, and digital fine arts. The top three winners in each category are announced during the awarding ceremonies and opening of the exhibition. It has been an amazing experience for me to hear the perspectives of these young talents, how they interpret the themes, and how they see the world through art. Many of them eventually become full-fledged artists and are recognised both here and abroad. What’s most interesting is that the honour is not just given to the individual student, but a grant is also awarded to the Fine Arts Department of the winning student in support of the school’s art programme.
As part of the legacy programme of this annual competition, more than 200 winning artworks from 1955 to 2016 were donated by Pilipnas Shell Petroleum Corporation to Ayala Museum in 2017. This coincided with the 50th anniversary celebration of this competition. Since 2018, an exhibition of select artworks from the donation, focusing on a theme, is presented every year by Ayala Museum. It is one way to see the range of styles and techniques employed by the student-artists and the sensibilities communicated by their art through the decades.
To document this donation and make this more accessible to the public, a catalogue entitled Through the Years: Shell National Student Art Competition Winners (1955-2016) was co-published by Ayala Foundation and Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation in 2018. And this collection inspired the writing of my colleague Joy Pena’s Master of Arts thesis – Golden Voyage: A Historiography of the Shell National Students Art Competition, 1951-2017, which will be a valuable resource in the study of this annual students art competition.
In 2019, the awarding ceremonies and exhibition were presented in a mall allowing a wider audience to freely view and appreciate the top 100 entries. The Head of the Department of Tourism supported the said event as the Guest of Honor. Unknowingly, it turned out to be a historic celebration. Because the following year, COVID-19 prohibited the onsite implementation of the annual Shell NSAC awarding and exhibition.
However, the pandemic did not put a halt to the spirit of the competition. It also pivoted into the new normal, continuing with the annual competition submission and awarding online in 2020. And the donation has become a rich resource and inspiration to illustrate stories and experiences with the audiences of Ayala Museum shared through the museum’s social media channels. Selected artworks were featured to commemorate national historic events, museum celebrations, special days, and more.
This year, Shell NSAC celebrates its 54th year focusing on the theme restART, with the aim for art to inspire Filipinos to rebuild the country, anchored on the Bayanihan (unity and cooperation) spirit. And under the new programme Juan Art Nation, the Shell NSAC expands its engagement with Virtual Art Interaction discussing art online, an Alumni association will be established to connect past, current, and future generations of Filipino artists who formed part of the roster of past winners, and art community programmes to reach out to more art students and art schools in various parts of the country. It is with great excitement that I share Ayala Museum’s continued support for this annual art competition, albeit online. And I look forward to the top 100 entries and the announcement of this year’s competition winners in December.
Pena, Joy. A Golden Voyage: A Historiogrpahy of the Shell National Student Art Competition 1951-2017, Highlights Presentation. 2020.
Reyes, Cid. The Golden Voyage: 50 Years of Empowering Filipino Artistry. Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation, 2018.
Sunday Times Magazine. 1951
The Evening Times. March 10, 1951.
Through the Years: Shell National Students Art Competition. Ayala Foundation, Inc. 2018.