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Juvenal Sansó’s skulls get a new lease on life

Above: The Sansó painting of a skull wreathed in flowers from where the exhibit draws inspiration: “Past Expressing” by Juvenal Sansó, 1960, colored inks, from the Marlon & Marissa Sanchez Collection 

An image of death and despair becomes a symbol for hope and optimism.

In Juvenal Sansó’s celebrated artistic career, the 1950s to the early ‘60s were known as the “Black Period.” It was a time of recovery—of coming to terms with his trauma from World War II. 

It was also the time when he chanced upon Charles Baudelaire’s Les Paradis Artificiels (Artificial Paradises), a book tackling how substance use offers a possibility for mankind to reach an “ideal” world. 

The manuscript had a phrase that described a human skull wreathed with flowers. The image fascinated Sansó, leading him to create multiple illustrations and paintings of skulls with flowers. To the artist, this represented the contrasting ideas of horror and beauty, death and rebirth, despair and hope. 

Juvenal Sansó in his Paris studio, 1960s. Photo by National Artist Bencab.

The maestro’s favorite subject is explored in Fundacion Sansó latest exhibit in collaboration with Art Lounge Manila, “Past Expressing.” It features 17 resin skulls, created by artist Pepe Mendoza, which are adorned with colors and embellishments by 17 Filipino guest artists: Agnes Arellano, Richard Buxani, Michael Cacnio, Teo, Jonathan Dangue, Anton del Castillo, Janos Delacruz, Louie Ignacio, Toym Imao, Kristine Lim, Pepe Mendoza, Kenneth Montegrande, Francis Nacion, Roel Obemio, Marge Organo, Jomike Tejido, and Melissa Yeung Yap.

The artists were given the creative freedom to interpret Sansó’s fascination in their own style and aesthetic. From kinetic sculptures, traditional paintings, to explosions of colors, the skulls got a new lease on life, seventeen times over.  

More than a creative exhibit, “Past Expressing” is a fundraising effort for the Sansó Student Stipend Fund, in support of art students of the Bulacan State University (BulSU) College of Architecture and Fine Arts. When Fundacion Sansó was created, Juvenal Sansó expressed his wish to establish a scholarship for art students, as he was one himself; thus, the Sansó Student Stipend Fund was created.

Juvenal Sansó.

Hope is also what Fundacion Sansó intends to give to deserving art students, as it is currently providing scholarships to its fourth batch of beneficiaries. Beyond death and despair, Sansó’s expressionist skulls become symbols of hope and new beginnings. 

“Past Expressing” runs until 12 November, 2022 at Fundacion Sansó, 32 V. Cruz St., Brgy. Sta. Lucia, San Juan City.  Exhibition is open from Mondays to Saturdays, from 10am to 4pm. Admission is free. For more information, email Fundacion Sansó at Follow us on Instagram at @fundacion_sanso and on Facebook at FUNDACIONSANS0.