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Ram Mallari: Father of steampunk art

When you recycle something in a way that the resulting product is perceived to be of higher value than the original item, it’s called upcycling. But what of metal scraps turned into steampunk art? It’s called Ram Mallari.

Once you’ve seen one of his works, you’ll certainly be wanting more. You might even want to see how he does his masterpieces — how iron and metal parts from industrial pipes, iron gears from dismantled bicycles or even heavy machinery, steel bolts and rods saved from vehicles are turned into metal sculptures such as watchtowers, clocks, steam and motor vehicles, zeppelins, ships, and reimagined animals and pop icons. His small household pieces, like lamp shades and wall clocks, are great to design any room. If you want bonsai but do not have a green thumb, he has one made of metal. His steampunk chess set would interest even those who don’t play chess.

Ram’s personal life is as interesting as his art works. He grew up in a depressed area in Quezon City and was exposed to smithing early in life as some of his family members worked as metalsmiths. When he was a teenager, he worked as a utility boy in a construction firm. He was able to finish his secondary studies through a grant and took up Architecture in college but had to drop out to make ends meet. He worked as a time-keeper and warehouse checker in a construction firm, then as a graphic designer, then eventually, as a draftsman in the Middle East. But who would have known that he would discover his true calling at the age of 45?

He started with a six-inch long and four-inch high chopper motorbike, inspired by his love for motorbikes. Since then, he has done hundreds, and even creates life-size metal sculptures like Ironman and Batman, who served as “sentinels” during the Manila Art 2020 at the SMX Aura Convention Center.

“The Last Tree”, an artwork that depicts a man planting a seedling, measures 10 feet in height and stands as a permanent public installation in Nuvali, Laguna.

He also created a life-size metal sculpture of Lapu-Lapu made from discarded and demilitarized gun parts of unserviceable firearms. The sculpture proudly stands at the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City and was unveiled last April in commemoration of the Quincentennial Anniversary of the Battle of Mactan where the first Filipino hero drove away Spanish colonizers.

When he started in 2011, Ram was only turning his childhood fantasies like military tanks, planes, battleships, as well as favorite past times — motorbike riding, shooting, playing the guitar — into metal sculptures. Eventually, his works included those other things that interest him — Samurai warriors, animals like birds, cougar, elephants, and horses. He also has works that highlight his advocacies, such as a steel replica of butaan, an endangered giant monitor lizard, which underlines his campaign for the protection of endangered species in the Philippines.

Ram, who is considered a proponent of steampunk art, has earned a reputation as a great innovator in the field of “reclaimed sculpture.” His distinct style has received international acclaim. His works have been featured in international media such as Thompson Reuters, Washington Post, NBC News TV, and BBC News, to name a few.

What makes his art different is that many of these are mundane, yet the reimagining is amusing, even whimsical; and one would really spend time thinking about his retrofuturistic works and the intricate metalwork techniques he employs. Probably, the most important part of his work is that he’s able to give value to things that for others are mere junk and useless. It’s upcyling at its finest — the Ram Mallari kind of way.

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