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Urging young talents to leave their mark in Philippine art history

A brief history of the Shell National Students Art Competition

Every year, college students from different backgrounds all over the country take to wielding the mighty paintbrush like a sword, to take on the challenge of becoming the country’s next hero in the visual arts. This is what one could call the Philippines’ firmly established tradition of encouraging young artists to leave their own mark in the local art scene, through the Shell National Students Art Competition.

The Shell National Students Art Competition is a legacy program of Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation, a leading company in power, energy, and gas technology in the country. Shell believes that it has a role to play in nation building, sharing in every way to develop the potentials of the Filipino youths to become productive individuals while helping the country move towards progress.

What was first launched as Pilipinas Shell’s simple search for a calendar subject in 1951, has grown into a well-regarded and highly anticipated annual student art competition, which is now on its 46th year. During the contest’s maiden year, the Philippines had been undergoing rehabilitation from the rubble of the Second World War, and was entering an era of renewed economic vitality that ushered in great hope in culture and the arts.

Offering a sum of P250 for the winner, the Shell National Students Art Competition started with only one category—an exciting and spontaneous on-the-spot painting challenge. However, the novel idea soon proved to be the competition’s own bane, as more and more participants came in year after year, rendering an on-the-spot format unviable. Pilipinas Shell was prompted to organize the competition into categories by medium, which today include Oil/Acrylic, Sculpture, Watercolor and Digital Arts.

The competition proved to be a valuable venue for young Filipino artists across generations to demonstrate their keen grasp of society, the country and the world as they knew it, such that their artworks become a barometer of the spirit of the times. Artists were also able to demonstrate innovative methods in their craft. The competition’s formidable first two decades—from 1951 to 1971—produced winners who would later on become renowned National Artists. These are Jose Joya (1952), Federico Aguilar Alcuaz (1954), Ang Kiukok (1955), and Benedicto “Bencab” Cabrera (1962). 

Other notable winners who have went on to become some of the most revered Philippine art masters today are Juvenal Sanso,  Angel Cacnio, Angelito Antonio, Norma Belleza, Fred Liongoren, Danny Dalena, Junyee, and Nestor Vinluan. 

During the turbulent Martial Law years, the program went on hiatus, although this same period was marked by many competition winners and participants producing prolific, meaningful works and rising to the occasion to keep the voice of Philippine art alive. In 1989, the organizers and alumni of the student art contest unanimously pushed for its revival.

More than half a century since it started, the program continues to encourage young artists on a career path in the arts during their formative years in college. Every now and then, local and international exhibits bear the names of artists who were proud winners in the Shell National Students Art Competition, such as Ronald Ventura, Rodel Tapaya, Hanna Pettyjohn, Maria Taniguchi, Andres Barroquinto, Ivan Roxas and Gino Bueza, among many others.

Well beyond the competition, Shell also conducts workshops for the continued exposure and education of the winners. Through the Shell Art Interaction Program, which is a parallel effort and opening salvo to the yearly art competition, Shell also widens the reach of art education and instruction across the country. The program brings an established artist to rural and provincial locations, to conduct workshops for art students as well as to encourage valuable inter-generational dialogue. Previous contest winners also participate in the interaction program, for an opportunity to share their knowledge and experiences with their contemporaries.

Most importantly, winners not only personally receive a monetary prize, but their respective schools receive a faculty development grant as well, to contribute to the improvement of the quality of art education in Philippine academic institutions. 

What was once a modest search for a calendar subject has grown into a larger vision of giving back to society. The Shell National Students Art Competition—now the country’s longest-running contest exclusively for student artists—is definitely here to stay for more decades to come, to continuously pave the way for new Filipino talent from generation to generation.   

Shell is one of the leading energy companies in the world working to meet increasing energy demand and supply challenges by delivering smarter products and cleaner energy, smarter infrastructure, smarter use, and by developing new energy sources while addressing the impact on the environment.  Shell is committed to sustainable development and seeks to carry out activities in ways that combine environmental protection and enhancement with social and economic development. 

Tatlong Sabungero by Angel Cacnio

While still a student in 1953, noted Filipino watercolorist Angel Cacnio won the top prize in the 3rd Shell National Students Art competition for his work “Tatlong Sabungero”

Kristo by Angelito Antonio

Kristo” by Angelito Antonio won 2nd place in Oil category during the 13th Shell National Students Art Competition in 1963

Barcelona by Federico Aguilar Alcuaz

Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera, 2nd place winner in the 12th Shell National Student Arts Competition, went on to develop his distinctive figurative style as evidenced in later works, such as “Boy Afraid of Tremors” (1992), undeniably contributing to his eventual recognition as National Artist in 2006.

Barcelona by Federico Aguilar Alcuaz

National Artist for Visual Arts Federico Aguilar Alcuaz won 1st place in the modern art category of the 4th Shell National Students Art competition. Shown in photo is one of his famous artworks, “Barcelona” (1963), illustrative of his trademark abstract style and documented in the commemorative book “Shell Reunion Artists” of the Shell Art Competition winners (1951-1992).

Photo of winners

Shown in photo are the first prize winners together with the professors and judges Raul Isidro, Ramon Orlina and Nestor Vinluan. Taken during the awarding night ceremony of the 45th Shell National Students Art Competition held at Ayala Museum last year