Bagahe: Art as Remittance


Agam-Agam by Chris Inton, Oil on Canvas, 2016.
In 1906, fifteen Filipinos from Ilocos Sur were recruited to work as pineapple pickers in Hawaii starting what would be known as the Philippine diaspora purposely migrating around the world today. Either alone or with family in tow--for family, money, pride, or some as simple as fulfilling a dream of being on an airplane--more than 3,000 of our countrymen depart our airports every day, year after year, for more than hundred years now.
Forming part of the amalgam of 10 million Filipinos sprawling worldwide, sparsely positioned Filipinos work in some of the most difficult, obscure and time consuming industries that test their skills and commitment for other people’s progress and welfare. As doctors, physical therapists, nurses, IT professionals, engineers, architects, technicians, teachers and seafarers whatever complicated, dirty, nitty gritty job for the taking, a kababayan is there. 

Fragile by Oliver Menor, Mixed Media on Canvas
Bagahe is our ongoing collective story in an adapted/adopted land. 

Gathering some of the more promising visual artists in Singapore Bagahe is both call and a reply. At a time when newly induced Philippine pride is spreading around the world emanating from sports, beauty pageants, art biennales and that recent premier episode Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, Bagahe foretells our unkempt and honed tales from this cosmopolitan city—ironies, maladies, and drudgeries. Singapore as a context affects their artistry can both be conflicting and liberating. To imbibe a sense of artistic urge within the confines of strict and contained art practice.

Sayed Alwi by Dario Bunyi Tibay, Oil on Canvas, 2016

The dilemma of the personal and the social ensues and further entangles intertwining at the top of the heads of Filipinos as it dangles like a sword of Damocles awaiting its fateful fall. Agam agam by Chris Inton affirms this predicament: if I leave there would be trouble, and if I stay it would be double. So come on, let me know. As it was then, it is instinct that one leaves the comfortable habitats for greener pastures. Sacrificing one’s self, the promise of a better future for one’s family cannot be resisted. To buy that home for our parents who restlessly rented all their lives; to purchase that land your family have been tilling in the hopes of not paying its lease for our forebears. To send our children to the best education in the fervent wish that they will have their own business for you to return back home. The rope in the canvas exemplifies our strength and resilience, our bondage and our continuing struggle for survival is highlighted in Fragile by Oliver Menora. He adds: separated from our families and our roots, we are fragile in a foreign country. We are like blank canvases hoping for brighter images for our lives.

Outsider by Jasmin Orosa, Mixed Media on Canvas

Residing temporarily in a foreign abode remains the toughest challenge for an OFW as he feels more than an expatriate. Acculturation must draw first blood. Such is the message of Sayed Alwi by Dario Bunyi Tibay. Comparing the OFWs as earth-bound astronauts, they acclimatize themselves and bring their “environment” to where they are.

Bagahe is what one acquires from one’s current stay. Loaded with real experience, all preconceived notions are met with blank wall or canvas in this instance. Outsider by Jasmin Orosa is such. Meticulously done wherein one's forehead is marked by emotions and sentiments. Her right hand ached by labors. Left hand throbs from deflecting blows. Shoulders ready to carry more loads. Although not all are lucky, some comeback shortly after sudden eclipse of homesickness, others will never use the luggage they brought when they departed their hometown.
Mindscapes by Wilfredo Calderon, Watercolor on Paper

Bagahe could well be that one inimitable luxurious artistic baggage. It is what you bring to your point of destination from your point of origin—culture, perspective and memory. Mindscapes (Memories of My Childhood) by Wilfredo Calderon is about memories from his youth. It depicts his childhood and all the things that he loved and how he used to play with nature as my playground. Most of these artworks took as much time as when he first got in Singapore.

Strawberry Road in My Mind by Noel Rosales best captures everyone’s sentiment. Orchard Road is both a representation of the tension for both affluence and conflict. People don’t realize the void of incomes passing just through them—from employers to their loved ones in Manila. It is a struggle to keep sanity and dignity intact. Before you know it, it’s time to go home.

Strawberry Road in My Mind by Noel Rosales, Acrylic on Canvas

Unlike their obliged regular remittances to their mother country, just once this Bagahe is going back to them. 

Bagahe is ongoing at the De Suantio Gallery at Singapore Management University. School of Economics, 90 Stamford Road, Singapore. Exhibit runs until September 16.

Initiated in 2007 SininGapor Art Collective is composed of writers, graphic designers, and artists from the Lion City. Bagahe is their fifth group exhibition.


Becoming BenCab


Epiphany for an artist not only comes when he has finally found his distinct visual style, it could also be the creative fruition of that long and arduous process of studying his purpose and experimentation; of being exposed and imbibing his contemporaries and the contemporariness in interpreting the sheer realities he evolves himself in.

For Benedicto Cabrera there were dual epiphanies. First when he was 22 years old. Seeing from his window a hungry scavenger woman named Sabel coming into their house in Bambang begging for food. The downtrodden would be his muse that would haunt his canvases in the next succeeding years. Second will be five years after when Cabrera was 27 years old living in London. Appropriated Souls seeks to investigate how both artistic approaches evolved for Philippine painter who would one day be a National Artist.

With nationalist sentiments seeping through the economy as reflected by the Filipino First policy by the government, the Sixties was a time when much of Philippine art catered to all that is positive, promising and progressive as well. The trend cascaded bright candy-colored palette that appealed to collectors and the dictates of First Lady Imelda Marcos favoring artists such as Fernando Amorsolo, Carlos Botong Francisco and Vicente Manansala. It was in this temperament that the struggling Cabrera creatively countered his influences by churning out dark and macabre hues depicting his Sabel. To even highlight the moment he would signing his artworks as BenCab so as not to confuse with the other Cabreras who also painted that time.

The earliest Sabels (‘67) in this retrospective were rendered raw and muddy in earth tones, same as the Sabel in the greasy-stained flesh that inspired them. Abandoned by her husband during the war, Sabel would scorch around the streets of Manila in search of love and affection. She would find warmth lying in the warm asphalt and in the artificial embrace of garbage bags that wrapped around her filthy body. Transfiguring her mental state into another even higher realm, Cabrera captured them in hasty, haphazard strokes, layering them in a certain box manner, typical of Cabrera’s future oeuvres.

Cabrera’s early Sabels were protest in composition and rebellion in themes altogether. She seemed ghoulish in her morena skin and her deranged manor relegated her in a corner of his canvas. Cabrera found her beauty by bringing further her chaos and squalor. The transparencies of plastic in induced motion enabled his virtuosity in paints.

Succeeding Sabels would be rendered adept with the often changing and confusing times. As mad woman to geisha, from mother country to commercial model for an international watch company; rendered in its initial brute style to abstract expressionist; from the social realist to the minimalist tendencies to its most recent done in her most abstract form with only gray and red lines dictating her silhouette.

Sabel epitomized our deeper longing for emancipation, as her poverty was our own negligence. Almost unforgiven she seems like the last muse one can immortalize on canvas yet Cabrera has rescued her from oblivion and continues to recast her from memory.

Cabrera would stretch, appropriate, and even reinvent her in whatever homage thereafter. He was as mad to his methods as her. Cabrera jazzes her up from year 2000 onwards as she would eventually be glamourized and commercialized like Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. The abstraction that she was in the early depiction would be lesser gothic but more of the confident in strokes and finer still in meaning as earth hues became red, pink, and black. She will be asked to be painted over and painted off to accommodate her variation. The line is long and the price is high to pay.


The second epiphany came late 60s, in an antiquarian shop in London. Somewhat an exile, one could imagine the long haired and bespectacled Cabrera passing his time in that long stretch of Beauchamp or Portobello Road, wrought in deep nostalgia for home, rummaging 19th century images of our identity in old prints, maps, Spanish colonial Philippines. Reminiscent of one’s roots these early Filipinos were seen as other photographer’s lenses.

It is also in this wing that one rekindles Cabrera’s first major style called Larawan series in the early 70s. He used these images in his unique mixture of photorealism, linear drawing and broad colorful strokes that has become his trademark visual style.

Larawan series appropriates not just old period photos but a reclaiming of our common struggles as a people; of having been perceived differently like being robbed of our identity by foreign authors in the promulgation of the exotic in their books. Cabrera’s appropriated images are like bringing home at a part of ourselves and its reclaimed iconography on the canvas.

Larawan seeks to reclaim what was lost in contracting colonial translation. Cabrera's does further justice by overturning the power relations against our colonial interlude. Mestizas garbed in turn of the century tipos del pais, rustic men clad in Barong, bare footed period vendors. More than documenting the period they are virtual character studies. His men are dignified such as Master Servant and Illustrado.

Cabrera’s women have often been the more potent force in displaying his artistic gravitas. In Woman in Flight 1976 a mist of yellow is violated with dash of red over an image of a sturdy female. Often we would see them as submissive yet Cabrera’s reference of her image he salvages by confidently violating them in a single bold stroke often of contrasting color. Her women and children may just be sitting yet up not down. Such as in Two Mestizas (2000) or Filipinas (2004) they are to choose his favorite word, defiant. His women are abled with fans, some vending clay pots, winnowing baskets, and fruits yet they their stance is dissenting and dignified. 

Appropriate Souls dwells into how an artist has appropriately responded at unexpected moments in his respective time such the spontaneity of Sabel and formalities of Larawan.

Cabrera’s brilliance lies in his war against clichés in art. He fights them in sordid manner, rebelling against any form of formality be it in color or line. At a time when formal genre prevailed you had his images haunting you long after you have seen this show.


Ricky Ambagan: Keeping The Faith


Recent news about this 12-year old Taiwanese school boy accidentally punching a hole on a displayed 17th century Baroque masterpiece by Paulo Porpora went viral. The incident caused uproar both among museum-goers and netizens alike, even the child’s parents initially run aghast.
Visual artist Ricky Ambagan too reacted profusely to the news item. Considering himself with a talent with paints, Ambagan confesses however that painting is the only thing he is good at. The obvious result is what now comprises this exhibition Restored at the Gallery Anna. 
Extending further his disillusionment with whatever is going-on around him Ambagan untangles, entangles and closely draws reactions to what he thought were other bygone privileges of Philippine low life. A realist such as Ambagan, whose broad strokes lean on the downtrodden and suffering many, it is the very task of an artist to evaluate current events and even comment on what seems to be the missing pieces in the good society equation or perishing values in our midst. For Ambagan an occurrence that involves a million dollar masterpiece has never been a mundane activity. It triggered him to create (or recreate) parallel realities as a way of positively reacting that inspires ideal situations.

Secret Garden
Enabling curiosity in the form of a red blanket, each piece has a child peeking behind the scene. Reclaiming his future, he forebodes whatever would be the directions to his visions of the possible. Believer does this and more, it is a performance on canvas. Composed in a theater-like tableau, children are caught up in a stance of claiming what is theirs. Elevated on a labyrinth of confusion and quagmire, truth came in the form of an eagle signifies purity in purpose. In a dark realm with an awaiting ember, a bright lucient approaches them, capturing the favored moment that would and should turn the tide for them.

A recurring theme for Ambagan is his credence in reading for emancipation. His shelves replete with books as settings for learning are obvious with lamps complimenting the uplifting of the spirits. Such as in Secret Garden where flying lanterns abound layering with their connoted meanings. A tiny glimmer of hope could transform and lit up more lives in one’s constant search for the truth. A father of three, Ambagan even uses his children as his models, staking his seriousness to his advocacy to education.

Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee
Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee is reminiscent of his earlier works and a continuation of his evolving visual style. There is always a subtle or subdued pun on most of Ambagan’s pieces. His fixation with flight stems from his being often it is in their endless pursuit for survival. Everything is fleeting as everyone floats in an Ambagan piece though occupied in their own portals unmindful how we are all interrelated and affected by the actions of our neighbors.
As if possessed in gravity, his images happen in a dark realm, emphatic on concise behavior such as in Unsinkable. Some light may glow but none are of the glitzy or artificial kind. Uncommon to other paintings, there seems to be an uncertain sound to his paintings. An eerie feeling wraps the viewer when confronted with his works. 

Fountain of Youth

Obviously the most haunting piece is Fountain of Youth, which is a memento mori to start with. We are all passers-by and impermanent like the butterfly. Done in hauntingly smooth strokes, at one moment you have a full life ahead of you the next one you are beset with nothing. One must know the value of true existence before acquiring or even grasping the essence of life. Ambagan does fine rendering in clearly define composition.

Composed poetically like magic realism, commendable was his artistic technique; how he used the acrylic in the behavior oil paint is remarkable. His colors with mostly of the blue and orange palette are like hues of seeing the dawn. Some canvases even have artificially painted ripped canvas, a constant reminder for Ambagan of the 12-year old Taiwanese who triggered him. 

With more than a decade and a half in his art practice, Ambagan never tires of honing his brushstrokes like a devoted master of the craft. From the muddy distortion to the smooth ethereal, Ambagan professes his faith in painting.

Restored however may not bring back your belief in humanity. It may not even have that messianic feel or grand narrative we look for in an artwork. It will make your world a little brighter, less hopeful but more contemplative.
Ambagan toils as painter like clockwork office job. He still stretches his own canvases and usually in front of them come daybreak in whatever mood he will be. The truth about Ambagan is how he pulls us back to how painting should be. Even with Thomas doubting the resurrection of his Lord, with Restored every piece has now a resuscitated life on its own. Restored not only means “to fix what was broken” but to could be “as real” as where your imagination takes you.


Dondon Jeresano: His Real Estate Business


I believe I was born an activist through art.

--Dondon Jeresano

Estado comes at a time when a fresh mandate has just been handed over by the people, suspending much of our disappointment and illusions in temporarily disbelief from the previous presidential administration on the side. At a period when much of Philippine art being produced these days are from the dictates of auctions or personal emojis, Dondon Jeresano continues his in-depth expositions to the blatant wrongdoings of society by unraveling deeper into that quagmire of what destructs the very root of the system that governs us. Using architectural interiors of the very institutions that commands the governed as loci, Jeresano conforms aesthetically with the whys and not necessary the hows of their contexts to the messaging they seek to impart to its viewers.

When architect Daniel Burnham planned Manila during the Commonwealth period he made sure elegance and permanence as the cornerstones of American legacies following Roman and Greek examples. These institutional buildings of our branches of government—executive, legislative and judiciary--would reflect the sense of dignity and power that emanated from what they represent. The three states of power consist of the visible expressions of governance, laws, and justice as symbols of our acquired democracy in action.

Lost in Paradise
Lost in Paradise is a rowdy depiction of a dysfunctional presidency’s as seen in his sordid representative office at the Old Malacanang. With loss of faith and respect, the aesthetic chaos is best represented by the composition lambasting our leaders prioritizing themselves than others. With the floors creative deconstructed, fluffy cakes speak of the lust for greed; of having it and eating it too. As his signature take, Jeresano prominently floats showing him involved to its solution. Man is inherently lustful for power and fame as Jeresano’s art cascades to find significance to this artistic fixture. He imparts it is in rising from one’s fall, when one learns, his lessons one becomes strongest in every challenge.
The Supreme Court Hall of Justice in An Apple a Day is often venerated as sacred ground breeding equality to the law. However it is often the scene of purges with blood-stained clothes of hapless victims, piling up amounting to delayed justice. A drifting apple embodying the truth blends while headless magistrates abound showing disrespect for the law and order complete the goriness of this picture. How often has this estate been used as the affirmation of a lie well told a thousand times you are even convinced of its reverse falsehood.
An Apple a Day
Main Attraction is a powerful allegory of poverty being neglected by a shanty inside the classic interiors of the Old Senate Session Hall. Disturbing sensibilities social realism has never been pleasing to the eyes. One should train to view how it strains the eyes. Jeresano presents it at it is—right smack to your face. The Old Senate Session Hall was the oldest and longest home of our lawmakers. It has been the last refuge of the those who have less in life. Pillows-abound representing dreams of ordinary people such as a place to sleep on with roof over their head.

Main Attraction
With a background in architecture Jeresano’s realism remains steadfast as a fusion of social commentary and contemporary imagery. It always has strong political contents while his aesthetics revolve around anatomies and allegories of people confronting the dark perils of their lives. Always leaning towards the cause of the multitude have been oppressed, he tackles problems as his luring appeal lies in the composition making sure his symbols freely converse each other. It may not sit well in the proper gallery set up. It may have the formal mechanism of art but it seems comfortable seen outdoors or in the streets.

He usually starts by finding his themes by painstakingly researching for them. He then finds the architectural perspective to go with it, even the choice of exterior or interior is compulsively interesting. Upon finalizing, he then sketches on canvas only to finish with color.

Untold Story 1
Jeresano’s art yearns for something beyond. With architecture backdrop as particulars, a dialogue among iconographic images attempts something critical and profundity emerges. With an antiestablishment pun in presence of barber chairs these tales are what seems to be a consistent influx of sham drudgery and broken dreams. What is not taken seriously leaves bad taste in the mouth and gut as in Untold Stories where small pieces forming triptychs compliment and enrich his main pieces.

Estado doubly reflects the current situation of the prevalent disillusion from the powers-that-be. It is also the governing body that rules at the present in all of us. Jeresano would want us to be vigilant of whatever false hope our government imparts to us. A realist by heart, it is his distinct visual style he has crafted that marvels us to move forward. He is most comfortable with and his audience could best identify. It is the blatant reality we all witness daily, even turn a blind eye to.


Jeresano identifies with the low and downtrodden. He forces himself to paint what they should know in their lives as his desire to let his art pinch the heart of the viewer. As an activist he does not clenches his fist rather he painterly applies his advocacies and issues on his many a canvases. More than this challenges him he wants people to recognize themselves in his paintings; upon revealing only can their emancipation begin.    

 Estado is ongoing at the Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo City.


Mark Lester Espina: Birth Paints


The aha moment for an artist not only comes when he has finally found his distinct visual style, it could also be the creative fruition of that long and arduous process of studying his artistic purpose and various experiments; of being exposed to his contemporaries and imbibing the contemporary in interpreting the sheer realities he evolves himself in.

For Mark Lester Espina (b.1985) it was in a hasty preparation for a group exhibition one fine morning in December, 2014. After bringing his visiting father to the bus station on his way home, it was almost lunchtime with only a few hours to his deadline. Using a dried academy grumbacher what was supposed to be a detailed dress of a woman in Screenshot he spontaneously painted it in textured white acrylic. A dedicated realist Espina prefers raw, rough, and raucous brushstrokes. He weighs heavily his paint brushes distorting white textures in clothes rather than directly representing natural figures.

In these auction-dictated times, when much of the prevalence of virtual is considered real, the demand to devise a new pictorial language seems expected upon serious and sometimes snotty artists. In his first solo exhibition at the SM Art Center, The Birth of Gemini, Espina has step up to the plate and raised his stakes in the art scene.

Placing highly on his artistic processes, Espina commences work by skillfully sketching the lone image of the woman with her elegant face and mandatory poise. Often coming from various sources depending on his mood, he paints them for their beauty and movement. The more demanding parts are the more meticulous strokes of the second coating focusing on the women’s dresses which involves the palette textures in white acrylic done by dry brushing using stencils. Following the curves of women in motion, he finishes by filling the open spaces with vintage clothing pattern to counter the coarseness of the white to the monotony of his grays. Evident in A Ring of Endless Beauty nothing can replace the direct involvement and sensitivity he brings intoan artwork by sensually connecting through this work ethic.

I Have No Eyes, I Must See

When You Are Engulfed in the Lights
With a background in advertising, it comes natural for Espina to alter fixed views or prescribed notions of contrived even cliché interpretations. He dabbles and takes the life out of the experience and rehashes them intuitively. Arresting whatever emotion it depicts, I Have No Eyes, I Must See Perfectly uses perspectives demarked by a fragmentation of a familiar point of view. Espina ensures how an appearance is intently perceived, as it reveals his inner thoughts, such as in When You Are Engulfed in the Lights. Using photography as reference Espina’s women is caught up in the spontaneity of the moment and off-the-cuff captured narrative--nothing formal or staged for him. In The Unbearable Darkness strikes a similar pose as Espina proves that man’s basic need is to be seduced by beauty. In Better is the Night the viewer (most likely the male gaze) becomes uncomfortable observing a reflective woman with her thinking pencil yet she does not want to be bothered or disturbed.

The Sunflowers are Mine
Despite what Espina considers his minimal approach to his pieces, multiple dialogues converge in every canvas. The smooth gray skin tones of his main subjects are amiably violated by the textured white allocation of their clothing. This coursed void of color, whose luminous version in lead was banned for over a centuries, provides a casting of light that only a versed painter like Espina can effectively execute. The ephemeral vintage pattern on the background provides a semblance of decorative order vis-à-vis the imaginative occurrence that concurs upfront.

The evidence of sunflowers on Sunflowers Are Mine and Pull the White Out of Meare Espina’s tribute to Vincent Van Gogh, his main influence. Sunflowers are representations of devotion and loyalty, even as medieval representation of turning to the sun for guidance. Van Gogh made seven versions of Sunflowers to praise his mentor Paul Gauguin who was to join him in Arles to compliment the yellow house they were about to share. A spiritual longing, an emblem of the faithfulness in following God, Espina seeks blessedness by sharing his ministry of painting. He views an art that moves and heals as it has been his passion.

Ballerina Series IX
When American art critic Thomas McEvilley welcomed the rebirth of painting in early '90s from being an exile for more than two decades he cited the death of the grand narrative brought about the futility of history and a more personal feature in this visual art form would emerge. The lack of art movement enables painters like Espina to command their unique individual expressions only they can represent. Espina’s paintings have complicated illustrative categories yet their brilliance is that we clearly see something of ourselves in its eventual depiction. He devises his own forms and formats and puts painting into a new realm while also acknowledging its long history, practice and inherent revisions and innovations. For Espina, the deeper you dwell within yourself the more sluggish your art will be. And he has just been born.


BenCab: The Man and His Museum


BenCab Museum as seen from the forest viewpoint where Ecotrail ends
Nestled in between two mountains with a stream that runs through them lies the BenCab Museum, a transparent piece of architecture made of massive glass curtains that house the personal collection of art, antiques and artifacts of National Artist for Visual Arts Benedicto Reyes Cabrera (b.1942) or BenCab (conferred the Order of National Artist in 2006). The museum located on Km 6 Asin Road, Tuba, Benguet is really a quick 15 minute drive from Baguio City proper. It is a tribute to the spirit of excellence of the Filipino artist and artisan, and honors the unique culture of the indigenous tribes of northern Philippines. It is more than just a cathedral of sorts meant to showcase the best of Philippine art and heritage. It is the only place on earth where one can witness a traditional hagabi sharing equal limelight with an Arturo Luz sculpture.

BenCab relates how his museum started:  “I had been slowly buying some farmland property on Asin Road just outside Baguio and I would visit every afternoon until I decided one day that I would build my studio on the farm so I could move here.”  

Sayaw Sabel as performed by Agnes Locsin
BenCab is a true selfless man whose passion was not only visual art but the search for our common struggles for identity as a people. His wide collection of art from the north is considered the finest in the country. “I have been collecting primitive art from the Cordilleras, as well as Philippine contemporary art for 40 years and have always dreamed of putting up a permanent home for them, to be enjoyed by generations to come.”

The BenCab Museum immediately changes every perspective one has of museums. It has evolved to be more than just repositories of old things. It is an educational center, and is considered a commune for the soul where one can get in touch with art, nature and one’s origins. Bencab explains further: “The vision to build the museum on the same property came at about the same time. I realized how much I had accumulated and that the collection was taking over my home and studio. I was also aware that some of the pieces in my possession were of "museum quality" and it would be best to share them to be enjoyed by others rather than having them end up in museums abroad.

The BenCab Museum is one of BenCab Art Foundation’s main projects. He personally curates and administers the day-to-day operations of the museum, assisted by the museum’s staff. Aside from the master, BenCab Art Foundation is composed of his partner, Annie Sarthou and have as its members some of his closest friends who share his vision. He adds: “We formed the BenCab Art Foundation before the museum was built, with the intention for the foundation to run the museum and ensure that it continue, along with our projects, after I am gone.” 

Of course, a highlight for the visitor is his own art, BenCab Gallery where his famous muse, Sabel, is the main feature. Sabel is the filthy scavenger in Bambang who was Bencab’s inspiration, when he first chanced upon her from the window of his home. Through the years, the image of Sabel eventually marked various phases of his artistic career. Sabel symbolizes the Filipino long abused and downtrodden by a society which represses its people at certain episodes of our history.

Students have been the regular visitors
It is also in this wing that one rekindles Bencab’s first major style called Larawan series in the early 70s. Having lived in London for more than a decade, he was drawn to antiquarian bookstores in search for old prints, maps and photographs of Spanish colonial Philippines. He used these images in his unique mixture of photorealism, linear drawing and broad colorful strokes that has become his trademark visual style.

Another room unique to the Bencab Museum is its Erotica Gallery which features personal sensual paintings and sculptural pieces of Julie Lluch, Macario Vitalis, Justin Nuyda and some of Bencab’s pieces of this genre.

The centerpiece which spans two floors is the Bulol Installation, Bencab’s collection of bul-ul, the rice god or guardian of the granary of the Ifugao. As Bencab has been collecting, the pieces are exquisite and the collection, extensive.  He says of his valuable tribal pieces:” I am touched especially when the compliments are from the ethnic minorities from the Cordillera region who are grateful that their rich heritage is being preserved and are proud that it is being given such importance. It is also heart-warming to get visits from large groups of students from schools nationwide and  find out that, very often, it is the very first time for many of them to visit a museum!”

The Cordillera Gallery which pays tribute to the culture of Cordillera which covers Abra, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, Mountain Province, Apayao, and Baguio. Here more recent bul-ul (granary gods) can be found together with tabayag (lime containers made from bone and deer scrotum) as well as baskets, musical instruments, woodcarving, fabric, and tribal functional pieces like spoons, forks and wood containers.  

Highland 8 Cordillera artists performing during the opening
Like a true artist, BenCab gives important museum space to other artists in the Maestro Gallery which provides a venue for a reunion of fellow national artists like Victorio Edades, Cesar Legaspi, Arturo Luz, Ang Kiukok, and Jose Joya and masters like Fernando Zobel, Roberto Chabet, Lee Aguinaldo, Manuel Rodriguez, Sr., Juvenal Sanso and Salvador Cabrera, the master’s brother.

The Contemporary Philippine Art Galleries house Filipino artists most of whom are Bencab’s friends or those his master’s eye sees as an artist with promise. Aesthetically there seems to be no fixed formula, as Bencab personally chooses and hangs the pieces worthy of his own wall space. There is an interesting dialogue among chosen artists featured here which reads like a who’s who of soon-to-be masters of Philippine art. Consider Ronald Ventura, Elmer Borlongan, Charlie Co, Marina Cruz Garcia, and Emmanuel Garibay just to name a few.  Our very own former ArtPetron winners Joey Cobcobo and Raffy Napay are represented here.

The room is charged with meaning, direction, and the personality of the artists. There is a renewed confidence in the promise of the visual arts as seen in new expressionism, abstraction and mixed media. Bencab shares: “Museum visitors (both local and foreign) have gone out of their way to seek me out and to thank me personally for putting up the BenCab Museum. The words we have heard most often are that it is ‘a world-class museum.’ Many have compared it to the Getty Center in Los Angeles perhaps because of the modern architecture in a garden setting with great views of nature (although in a much smaller scale...)

There is something Asian in BenCab’s approach to museology: art is part of that bigger scheme of things. Spanning a lot that covers 1,700 square meters, the Farm and Garden Level reflects the holistic view of our national artist who loves to till the land as much as he loves to hold a brush. There are plantations of corn, sweet potatoes, ferns, vegetables and herbs. There are mini rice terraces that employ the natural biological engineering of the terraces all over the north. Traditional huts of Kalinga, Ifugao, and Bontoc naturally adorn the landscape.

BenCab with his museum staff

Upon spending an easy half day in this stunning lieu of Filipino creative pride, the BenCab Museum is a living and testimony of one man’s lifelong passion for the arts of his people. Every Filipino must make a pilgrimage to it and leave the place with head up high and his clenched hand on his chest.