Leo Abaya was an artist, teacher, curator, production designer, and film director.
December 13, 1960 – May 26, 2021
He was one of six artists commissioned by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) for “Attitude of the Mind” —an exhibition in 2017 for the birth centennial anniversary of National Artist for Music Jose Maceda, for which Abaya created an audio-visual installation.
Leo first earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from Holy Name University in Tagbilaran, Bohol before pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, majoring in Painting, at the University of the Philippines (UP), Diliman where he graduated with honors (magna cum laude). He also obtained a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.
Abaya took his love of education further by teaching theory, production design, and studio arts in UP where he became a mentor to generations of artists from the College of Fine Arts.
As an artist, he worked in diverse formats including paintings, collages, sculpture, installations, and other media. His works are in the collections of the Singapore Art Museum, the UP Art Collection, and the Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art.
As a production designer, he contributed to “Jose Rizal,” “Muro Ami,” and “Kubrador”. He received awards for Best Production Design in the 1998 Metro Manila Film Festival, the 1999 FAMAS Awards, and the 1999 Gawad Urian.
As a film director, his full-length feature film, “Instant Mommy,” was nominated for Best Film in the 9th Cinemalaya Film Festival in 2013. The film also gained attention in the 33rd Hawaii International Film Festival (Spotlight on the Philippines), the 50th Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival (Asian Window), the 11th World Film Festival of Bangkok (Asian Perspective), the 10th Dubai International Film Festival (Cinema of Asia and Africa), and the 9th Osaka Asian Film Festival (Special Screening). It also premiered in Canada at Your Kontinent: 4th Richmond International Film and Media Arts Festival in July 2014.
About the significance of art in daily life, Abaya said: “I subscribe to the notion that the proliferation of images used today for thinking and communication has broadened people’s sense of visuality. It continues to increase porosity to the boundaries that restrict conventional art practices…
“But I also think that the more daily life is inundated by images, the more we aestheticise almost anything today, the more we should be mindful and critical of their use – ethically, socially, and politically.”
He died on May 26, 2021 at the age of 60.
Art critic Lisa Ito remembers him thus: ”Prof. Leo Abaya’s lifelong work and memory will always be cherished by the Philippine arts community. He knew that engaging with history and the history of art enriched one’s practice and sense of the world beyond, and always made it a point to convey that same sense of value.
“He was also what an art educator should be in such times: fiercely caring for his students, teaching by principle and process, and committed to critical thought and practice. He was infinitely generous with his time, with his breadth of knowledge, and with his smile. Many generations attest to how his mentorship challenged and left many wanting to do better as an artist, a researcher, and a person.”