By Martin Genodepa
Dr. Dionisia A. Rola, PhD is a trailblazer in more ways than one. She was part of the first group of faculty members who were deployed to the newly-opened UP Iloilo in 1947. The pioneers led by Dean Tomas Fonacier called themselves T(h)omasites, referencing the group of 600 American teachers who came to the Philippines aboard USS Thomas in 1901.
When she became the Dean of the UP College Iloilo in 1975, after holding the same position in UP Baguio, she established the Visayan Studies Program, now the Center for West Visayan Studies (CWVS). The CWVS is the first local studies center in the region.
Dr. Rola was also instrumental in the establishment of UP Visayas and became its first Chancellor.
In mid 1970s, she started to bring life to the moribund cultural life of Iloilo in general by supporting the summer art workshops conducted by then UP Fine Arts Dean Jose Joya. She also facilitated the holding of art exhibitions of artists in the roster of Gallerie Dominique owned by Ilongga Nikki Coseteng. Dr. Rola supported local artists by acquiring their works shown in makeshift exhibition spaces in UP and elsewhere. Several of these personal purchases were for the university. The UPV Art Gallery, which opened in 1987, was also her brainchild.
Admiration and respect for Dr. Rola were also expressed in art. Several artists, colleagues, and student groups gifted her with artworks; her three portraits were gifts from students and co-workers.
Dr. Rola’s support for the artists and students – struggling or established- never waned and continued even after her retirement from UP Visayas. The artworks in her collection are dated in the 1960s through the early part of the new millennium.
In 1997, Dr. Rola bequeathed to UP Visayas her personal collection of over 50 pieces of artworks: paintings, prints, and drawings. In a short speech during the first exhibition of the donation, she self-effacingly stressed that she never thought of herself as a collector; instead she thought of herself as a steward. The donation, therefore, was an act of a turning over of the stewardship to a new custodian.
Works by artists Arturo Luz, Jose Joya, Malang, Romulo Olazo, Lito Carating, Manuel Rodriguez, Botong Francisco, Nelfa Querubin, Rock Drilon, Jonah Salvosa, Ed Defensor, Darnay Demetillo, Virginia Flor Agbayani, Donato Sermeno, and Fred Orig were among those included in the lot.
In 2019, Dr. Rola turned over some more of her art possessions to the University. They consisted of works by Jose Joya, Ang Kiu Kok, Solomon Saprid, Manuel Baldemor, Malang, Nelfa Querubin, and Nelson Ferraris, as well as some old stoneware and porcelain jars.
Belgian artist-collector Jean Willy Mestach (1926-2014) once said, “Tell me what you collect, tell me how you collect, and I will tell you who you are.”
Dr. Rola’s art collection speaks to us about her visionary passion, her great heart, her noble soul.
To celebrate Dr. Rola’s contribution to the cultural life of UP Visayas and Iloilo, an exhibition of selected works from the collection of art she bequeathed to the university was put on at the UPV Art Gallery since February of this year. The show titled CHOICED presents over 43 paintings, prints and sculpture.
With the restrictions on people’s movement because of the pandemic, the Office of Initiatives in Culture and the Arts (OICA) of UPV is sharing with the public the exhibition through social media. Visit UPV OICA’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/upv.oica.1).