Sisterhood produces sculpture of connections


To mark its 90 years as a sorority of empowered women, the University of the Philippines’ Sigma Delta Phi (SDP) pooled its talents and resources in partnering with the state university to bring into sculptural form the characteristics that make the Filipino woman and the connections that she makes possible. 

Envisioned as a work by women, of women, and for women in a campus landscape dominated by male sculptors, the result is “Tagapag-ugnay”—a trilogy of solid organic forms reflecting woman’s resilience, in textures rough though smoothly recalling life’s challenges, and in varying heights representing growth. 

The tallest form celebrates accomplishment that is intelligent, wise, free, and passionate. The middle represents an “almost there” stance, and the whimsical third recoils as if to gather strength preparatory to leaping upward.

The 2.7-meter-high modernist work at the UP Diliman campus is in copper, a traditional healing element of love goddesses. Its base that is as tall is in granite, the oldest igneous rock and the traditional gift for a 90th anniversary.

Artistic heritage

The project, three years in the making, germinated from the seed of an intention, was nurtured to growth by academic researchers and historians, and brought to fruition by a confluence of events and collaborative hard work.  

Its principal proponent is Monalisa Lacanlale (SDP, 1968), who began the initiative when she was first vice president of the SDP Alumnae Association (SDPAA) board.

“While the sorority contributes professionals to the sciences and humanities, its Greek letters actually stand for ‘Society of Dramatics and Fine Arts,’” says Lacanlale. “It is just appropriate that for its Granite Year, the sorority proposed to enrich the university’s artistic heritage with a contemporary work.”

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The idea was carried out by the succeeding SDPAA board headed by lawyer Maria Luz Rañeses Raval  (1971), whose experience as legal counsel to UP administrations helped break down bureaucratic barriers to see it through.

Designed by Melanie Libatique (1985), a magna cum laude graduate of fine arts, major in sculpture, “Tagapag-ugnay” now stands gleaming against the trees in the middle of a developing Sigma Delta Phi Plaza at the corners of De los Santos and T. M. Kalaw Streets. The site, a short stroll southeast of Oblation Plaza and Quezon Hall, is right across from the College of Arts and Letters building being constructed.

Homage to women

The inauguration of “Tagapag-ugnay” drew a gathering of Women from 18 to 80, with two UP presidents and a chancellor as guests of honor.

Book author and SDP spokesperson Felice Prudente Sta. Maria puts it aptly:

“‘Tagapag-ugnay’ provides a counterpoint to the masculine Oblation by lauding ancient feminine divinities including Idianale, the goddess of labor and good deeds, and Ikapati, the goddess of cultivated land who introduced agriculture and was the most understanding and kindest member of the Tagalog pantheon.

“It is a modernist homage to women, the creators of vital, multifarious connections, mga ugnay, within society.”

From left: Sigma Delta Phi Alumnae Association (SDPAA) president Malu Raval, UP President Angelo Jimenez, past SDPAA vice president Mona Lacanlale, outgoing UP President Danilo Concepcion, UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo, and sculptor Nina Libatique.

“Tagapag-ugnay” was inaugurated In the early morning of Feb. 24 with an ecumenical blessing followed by an Indigenous offertory ritual held in rhythm with kulintang percussions. The ancient ritual was performed by the SDP proponents and the university officials who were instrumental in the sculpture’s conception and rise on campus: UP Presidents Danilo Concepcion and Angelo Jimenez, and UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo. 

Ode to women

Dr. China P. Reyes delivers an ode to women titled “Alay sa Tagapag-ugnay.”

The gathering of sisterhood from 18 to 80 listened in rapt attention as the physician China P. Reyes (1983) delivered her “Alay sa Tagapag-ugnay,” an ode to women who create connections between heaven and earth and who link the past to the future.

It gains even more resonance in the women’s month of March:

what is it that I offer?
I proffer
this trilogy.
Ugnay. Saysay. Husay.

The morning of this trilogy is Ugnay.
Woman as a point of connection.
The feminine pervades the direction
of the human race
that has lost its place
in this pandemic unmooring.
Securing the undoing,
we must emerge from this emergency.
I urge you with such urgency!
Connection is our power,
at this time and hour.
So, let us begin.

Hearth is
the cadence of creation,
within and without.
The cradle of the universe,
that begins with a shout!
Woman straddles possibilities
of birth and death..
As she establishes the first connection
with spirits well-met.

Height is
to reach,
perhaps to breach,
that glass ceiling or that unmarked door.
Connections continue
to elucidate
truth and passion at the core.

Heart is
the skein,
the forever unknotting.
Our sisterhood entwined,

The noon of this trilogy is Saysay .
The stories that we weave,
the meanings that we leave
in actions.
Like footsteps echoing,
reverberations across time take place
and create the sacred space.
Do we change history?
Or does history change us?
A life measured
by being open enough to become whole
and closed enough to score the goal.
Unexpected and sweet
in this achingly, beautiful world,
with fingers unfurled.

The night of this trilogy is Husay.
The quality of a sisterhood 
is built upon
neutrons and protons,
salad and croutons, And bridge! And batches!
of tomorrow and yesterday.
And was there ever really a beginning?
And will there ever really be an end?
Move mountains of apathy.
Shake rivers of complacence.
Mold worlds with quiet certainty
and eradicate obsolescence.
The quality of a life lived with change,
changes the life of quality.
We can only be our core,
morning, noon and night.
Sisters, let us stride out that door.
Let us make the world right.

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