The Life and Times of Purita Kalaw-Ledesma

The Life and Times of Purita Kalaw-Ledesma

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Authored by Patrick D. Flores, Clarissa O. Chikiamco, and Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez
Edited by Purissima Benitez-Johannot

Purita Kalaw-Ledesma, founder of the Art Association of the Philippines, was a towering and extraordinary figure in the development of Philippine art for more than five decades after the war and well into the postmodern era. In her manifold personas as patron, benefactor, community leader, educator, and cognoscente, Purita—as she was affectionately known—can be rightfully considered, along with Arturo Luz, Fernando Zóbel, and Roberto Chabet, as one of the true luminaries and tastemakers of her time.
Mining her extensive museum-worthy art collection and her own voluminous archive consisting of eighty-three volumes of journal and magazine clippings, art exhibition invitations, posters, and artists’ correspondence, four art scholars and critics trace the day-to-day activities and concerns of the emergent artistic communities she fostered and the dizzying tangents they pursued in art movements that spanned abstractism, nativism, neorealism, expressionism, surrealism, hyperrealism, social realism, conceptual art, and even postmodernism. Clarissa O. Chikiamco, curator at the National Gallery Singapore, covers the years 1948–1969; Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez of the Department of Art Studies of the University of the Philippines analyzes the turbulent decade of the 1970s; and Patrick D. Flores, curator at the Jorge B. Vargas Museum, contrasts and parallels Purita’s pioneering 1955 masteral thesis on art education with insights by artist Fernando Zóbel and poetjournalist Francisco Arcellana.
More than a historical and critical look at the art that revolved around the pivotal figure of Purita, this book serves as a splendid half-century retrospective of Philippine art as it consciously strove for relevance while it simultaneously broke away from the past. Masterfully edited by Purissima Benitez-Johannot, this art book documents Purita’s historical record from 1948 to 2000 and her single-minded faith in the empowering possibilities of art to transcend the quotidian.


This book is about Purita Kalaw-Ledesma, a great cultural worker considered primarily responsible for the position occupied by visual arts in Philippine modern art. The Art Association of the Philippines was established with herself as its founding member and first president. Her inspired leadership and unstinting dedication galvanized artists into a movement that gave birth to a highly respected annual arts competition and produced the much acclaimed Filipino painters of the twentieth century, including National Artists. This book shows us that art, while shaped by the talent and passion of artists, needs the vision and devotion of critics and advocates to truly grow and be appreciated.

- Virgilio Almario
National Artist for Literature
Chair, National Commission for Culture and the Arts