Family members defend artist of ‘UPlift’ sculpture in UP Diliman

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Photos of a new sculpture at the University of the Philippines-Diliman’s Theater became viral on social media over the weekend—with some labeling it as the “Female Oblation.”

The brass sculpture shows a long-haired nude woman with outstretched arms and as if horizontally levitating above a pool of water. The artist, UP alumnus Ferdinand Cacnio, named it as UPLift.

In a Facebook post by the artist, he said that it took him 10 years to complete the work, and that it is their batch’s donation to the university.

While many lauded his work, others also noticed the similarity to Dutch artist Elisabet Stienstra’s The Virgins of Apeldoorn. The latter, which is a public installation in the Netherlands, was said to have been completed in 2001.

Breaking his silence over the controversy, Cacnio posted on Facebook, “To all those asking questions: Before today, I had never seen nor heard of Ms. Stienstra or her work. Hindi ko siya kilala. We’ve never been to the Netherlands. I was not inspired by her, I did not model my work after hers. I am not guilty of plagiarizing or copying her work, Virgins of Apeldoorn.

UPLIFT is my own creation,” Cacnio added.

Echoing this message, Cacnio’s wife and daughter—Bing and Bianca–also shared their sentiments over Facebook.

“My husband, Ferdinand Cacnio, has never heard of or seen the art of the Dutch sculptor, Elisabet Stienstra before June 24, 2017,” Bing said.

“I have only seen photos of the Virgins of [Appledoorn]. Based only on the photos, the female figures appear to not to be nude and are reclining or sleeping on beds that were taken out from underneath them for visual impact. Very clever, I think. Their heads are suspended by their hair and their bodies, propped up by their blankets. I doubt that they would stay up without those blankets. Ferdie’s nude female form in UPLIFT is not reclining. It is rising up. It is in mid-motion. And it did not need a blanket or any contraption to prop up the lower body parts. There are other differences but please go to UP and see for yourselves,” she also said.

Ferdinand’s wife also suggested to review Cacnio’s bodies of work before accusing him of plagiarism.

“Those of you who accuse him of plagiarism should do your research. Find out his training, interests, aesthetics and other aspects of his background and more importantly, his character,” she said.

She added that Cacnio’s works “will speak for him,” and that those who know him well can attest to his integrity.

UPlift sculpture is distinctly a Ferdinand Cacnio artwork..”

“In 2005 to 2006, Ferdie worked mostly on female dancer sculptures. They showed movement and lightness, capturing the female form in mid dance motion. A lot of them were suspended on air, where suspension was achieved using various clever methods,” Bing pointed out.

She also mentioned other works including Pasasalamat in 2006, which is a monumental sculpture in Bonifacio Global City featuring two nude male figures; and UP TO YOU, which is a sculpture made for the centennial celebration of UP in 2008. The latter, she said, is the inspiration behind UPlift.

Also citing that UPlift is reflective of Ferdinand’s works and style as a sculptor through the years, Bianca defended the controversial sculpture and her father’s integrity as an artist.

“Regarding the work in question, UPLift, I like to think that if you look at the background of my father, at his body of work, you will realize that this work is firmly his. It draws from his artistic background, and his own style. My father has always enjoyed incorporating his Civil Engineering background with his art. He likes “defying gravity” with his work. He crafts sculptures that are structurally sound but look like they’re impossible. He makes works of art that look like they’re moving or are about to move. Just one foot on the ground, or just hair strands, supporting the heavy metal that he works with,” Bianca said over a Facebook post.

UPLift is part of a series of levitating/floating female nudes Ferdinand Cacnio has made over the years. He has made them in different poses, many of which are more dynamic than this. As my brother, Paolo, said in his own post, this started in 2007 when a group exhibit challenged him to create something in the theme of LEVITATION,” she added.

Bianca pointed out that it is not only his father who explored on the image of a female body floating on their works of art.

“Over the years, many artists have composed work on the female body floating. We can find a lot of proof of this. Whether it’s photography, sculpture, or painting. It is a subject, and a pose. The pose is NOT HERS (Stienstra’s). She does not own it, she does not own the idea. I don’t think anybody does. The pose is something the human body can do, though typically in water or on a surface,” she said, and added that even the image of Mother and Child have been repeatedly recreated by different artists.

Comparing UPlift and Virgins of the Appledoorn, Bianca stated that at first glance, both works look similar. However, according to her, the two work are different.

“If you look beyond, at the background of both artists, details, intentions, and the like, I do hope you’ll realize they are just that, just similar at a glance. They are truly very different. You cannot mistake one for the other, each artwork has its own identity,” she said.

“It is not plagiarism. Nobody owns a subject. Like my dad has made dancers all throughout his career, however he does not own that subject. People have made dancers before him, people have made dancers after him, and anyone can decide that they want to make a work about dance in the future. My dad cannot say, “Uy akin yan, you cannot make dancers.” What he owns is his style, his execution, his work,” she added.

On dubbing the sculpture as the “Female Oblation,” Bianca clarified that her father did not intend the work to be a “counterpart” or be the “female version” of the iconic Oblation sculpted by Guillermo Tolentino.

“They share the similarity of the open arms, outstretched, but my dad never set out to create another Oblation. I understand that netizens and the media have dubbed it that, but I hope you realize that this artwork is its own self,” Bianca said.

“My dad says it’s about rising. It has a different message from the Oblation in UP. It’s about aspiring for honor and excellence, and enlightenment. Arms open, to welcome and embrace knowledge. Self-empowerment. It’s in the title itself, of UPLift. We uplift ourselves, and others,” she went on.

Bianca also shared a peek into the personal life of his father to readers of her post—that Ferdinand is “easy-going, religious, and always striving for excellence”; and that it “hurts” their family to see people judging Ferdinand so quickly.

“He has faced so many challenges in life, like his stroke a few years ago, his late start (he started his career in art when he was 45), his background, and now this. However, he is strong (and stubborn), and I see him as one of my role models and proof of what perseverance and hard work can do. He’s shown me that your dreams can come true, that you don’t have to set your passions aside, and that it’s never too late to go after what you love. He never gave up, and he definitely won’t because of this.,” Bianca shared.

The long post also included some photos of his father’s work.

Here are some of the opinions shared by netizens: