Miguel Robleza: Journey of a Social Designer

Updated: Dec 6, 2019



Similar to a number of folks around, Miguel Robleza took years before finally completing college. To earn while young had become an endearing opportunity during the early part of his journey as an artist. He worked with some of the biggest Development sectors in the country - Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education, and the Ateneo De Manila University.


However, a point in time came when he saw his need for formal education despite his existing skills. So immediately, he went back to school and completed a degree in Studio Arts major in Sculpture in Kalayaan College. Now, Sir Miguel is known as an artist, social designer, sculptor, and lecturer.


He also pursued helping the development sectors by focusing his craft on social design, or the building of materials for the benefit of improving human lives. Besides his professional work, he does one of the things he loves the most - sculpting or more particularly, jewelry making.


The interesting story of Sir Miguel inspired us to invite him for a short chat so we can all learn from his journey as an artist:


How did you start your career?


I’ve always been self-sufficient and self-supporting, even while in high school. Back then, I was a scholar as an athlete [Colegio de San Juan de Letran] so I would strive [harder]. It has become my mentality from the time I graduated from college up until now that “once I can do it, I will do it.”


I applied for a development sector job. The reason why it [working in the development sector] became a highlight [of my career] is that it pushed me to study again and finish my undergraduate studies. That became my “push” because my coworkers were graduates, teachers, principals, researchers, and engineers. Basically, nakakahiya when I’m building for a project, as an undergraduate, and then sometimes it would go around that the only reason I was there was because of my low rate. Of course, I didn’t want to be known as such. I wanted to be seen there for my perseverance and hard work, so what better way to prove it than coming back to school?


What are the highlights of your career?


My professional career highlight is probably getting the opportunity to work in THE Clothing, DepEd, CHED, Ateneo School of Government, AusAid, UKAid etc., even if I was still an undergraduate. Basically, that’s where I proved that, besides the need of a degree, the youth has the power to direct their own path or make their own doors.


Has your passion always been into art or sculpting?


Yes, I’m into arts and design but that was not really a ‘passion’. Honestly, my passion before was to become a priest but growing up, I guess, no [that didn’t happen]. My parents were in the creative field so I would see them every night, hustling. It was just all the work and the pay was always so late. So, [initially] I didn’t want to be like that, but then [eventually] I went to this field. Now, I regret saying that as a child, that I didn’t like it, because now I do.


What is the focus genre of your artworks?


When it comes to design, flat or 2D because I’m very keen on branding. [Meanwhile], when it comes to sculpture or art, more of the dark and gritty. I find beauty in chaos since I grew up in Sta.Cruz and Tondo, Manila. That is also the reason why it [my business] became “Raw Manila” (R.M.) which can also mean Miguel Robleza. Like for something dark, there’s always a story behind it. There are so many aspects that we forget to consider when thinking of a subject, like “why it’s so scary” but then, there is beauty within it.


How many years have you been in jewelry making?


In jewelry making, around 6? But it was self-taught. As in, it was a challenge for us that we didn’t learn or study jewelry making, formally. It was really all self-taught, from sculpting to producing, like casting—that’s what you call it for crafting our bijoux, casting because there are different parts to it. There’s smithing and there’s casting. We’re on the casting side--which means melting metals. Yeah, we melt the metals and then pour it into the mold.


We do Filipino-inspired biker rings(bijoux), so, these are big statement rings. But we’re not pro-mining. The metals we use, like silver, are repurposed or upcycled. We don’t buy raw (materials) from mines. They have definitely used materials, meaning they were produced by others then we choose to upcycle.



Do you usually practice your sculpting through jewelry making? Is it more of a personal endeavor or do you have a company you’re working for?


[At first], it was a personal [hobby], that turned into a business. Like, I started it only as a passion project, a challenge for myself to create metal rings on silver and brass. Then apparently, the feedback was okay naman, the reception was okay, so we made it a product-- the two of us, me and my best friend Louie De Guzman.


Who are your biggest influences/inspirations when working on your masterpieces?


Many, actually, most especially my older brothers, because they have been in the [art] scene ever since.


For the artists, Wesley Valenzuela and Auggie Fontanilla. Okay, I’ll also name two of my brothers - Jerik and Paulo Robleza - they are all into arts but different practices. Then, Dino Sarmiento and my KST crew or Katipunan Street Team my group of street artists and vandals :), and lastly my social design collective Katipunan Kreative (Kreative is with a ‘K’) with Dana de Guzman and Earl Diaz

Who are the Katipunan Kreative?


These are different social designers. It’s a collective who engages in the youth sector. We organize exhibits, talks, and such. At times, we are also invited to talk. We used the term “Katipunan” because of [the concept of] pagtitipon not [particularly because of] the area.


How did your influences help you?


Guidance - like, Wes, he pushed me to sculpture, and Auggie, he encouraged me towards street art, Mark Salvatus, which I forgot to mention earlier, taught me to curate works and understand gallery settings, and Dino Sarmiento who opened the doors to many possibilities with my brother because they were best friends.


Can we, therefore, say that as an aspiring artist, there is a need to be proactive and ask questions to experts in the field?


Yes, of course, that’s part of it. It’s very necessary. You need to immerse [yourself]. Like, in Katipunan Kreative, they’re my inspiration when it comes to social design. We immerse ourselves in different communities - from urban poor to rural poor. I open up [myself] to such things through immersion with my peers. Also, I realized the value of personally asking instead of online messaging.


How have you developed your skill? Where did you start? How did you get there?


By challenging myself. Not trying to brag, but it’s more of “I can do that, too” [attitude]. It’s not [always] perfect, but as much as possible, [I stick to the identity that] I know I can do it. For example, in the field of animation, no one taught me how to animate but I became a lead animator of a company in the Netherlands. Sometimes, it’s just your wit and true grit, that’s all. [In truth], I am very introverted, but I feel extroverted when it comes to skill. If I want to know something, I’m going to really dig deep. Like [for example] in teaching, even though, I’m not familiar with all the processes, I’m learning and collecting data from others, because I’m interested.


As an instructor, what would you like your students to learn from you or the lessons as an artist/developer you would like to pass on?


I would probably pass on being a critical thinker, [because of that] I always stress on [to my students] to look at things creatively, since they’re in a creative field. Even with my game development students, [I say] “what they see isn’t always it.” Then, I also stress on the basics and fundamentals. They are really needed because if you don’t have [the knowledge of] the basics and fundamentals, how can you explain a certain work or output? Technical should become second nature to them.


By the way, how did you get into teaching?


It was a “passion project.” I don’t believe in the saying, “When you’re a teacher, you can’t [practice it]?”. So, as a practitioner of the creative field, I want to show that I can teach. [I think], it would be more interesting to the students, since I am a practitioner. Basically, I simply challenged myself to teach, now I’m on my second semester. I just want to break the saying that “teachers can’t do“ because I know many people who did not stop practicing because they wanted to teach.


What do you like about teaching?


Before I used to be pasaway, [but today] I can see that what I experienced I reflect on my students. I can really see that the youth, the learners, they really have the power to change the future. What I can see is that they are the future that can change the ways we did before, becoming more practical, and efficient for the better.


What can we expect from your work or career in the future?


Expect for me to continue to push myself as a lecturer or instructor for the learners. Hopefully, I can change the curriculum as well, to be more progressive instead of classical or traditional learning, while still keeping it practical. That’s what I hope to contribute as a teacher. But, of course, we still have to follow the traditional (way), but how to spice things up, to match with our much more modern youth.


Are there words that you would want readers to remember upon reading this article?


Challenge yourself. Don’t say “I’m too young” or something like that. Find ways to help, even step-by-step for the community para makatulong ka. You can offer [your skills] as a youth.


***


Sir Miguel Robleza is currently teaching Art and Design History, Figure Drawing, Design Theory, Digital Illustration and Materials (Sculpture) at CIIT College of Arts and Technology. During the last term of AY 2018-2019, his students created an amazing diorama of the urban slums in Metro Manila, titled “Buhay sa Pirasong Yero.”


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