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Ricky Ambagan and the Mummies of Kabayan


BY JAY BAUTISTA | Ricky Ambagan is walking wounded these days. Not just because his meticulously-crafted and detailed mixed media work "Kabayan Showcase" failed to earn top marks at a recent art competition, this University of the Philippines Fine Arts graduate is at a loss on how to go about donating this artwork to the town of Kabayan, Benguet without appearing to have ulterior motives.

Ambagan just wants to give this art piece to the town that inspired him to create it. But he needs help on how to do it.

Kabayan is in the province of Benguet, where the Ibalois are indigenous. Their mummies are found at the sacred caves of Timbak, Bangao, Tenangcol, Naapay and Opdas, all in a farming district called Kabayan.

Although most Filipinos now prefer the common Christian rite of burying the dead, there are still old folks who prefer to be buried in the traditional way. Ambagan’s artwork pays respect to the Ibaloi tradition of mummification.
“Bumili ako ng mga laruang manyika. Hinubaran ko lahat sila at tinanggalan ng buhok. Sumunod ay pinunasan ko sila ng tubig, pinaupo ko sila sa pamamagitan ng pag-init ng kanilang tuhod at siko sa nagbabagang kandila.

Nang sila ay nakaupo na aking nilapirot ang kanilang katawan sa pamamagitan ng nagbabagang longnose at nang makuha ko na ang tamang hubog akin muli silang tinapat sa kandila hanggang maging payat.

Sa simpleng prosesong ito isinasabuhay ko ang proseso ng pagprepreserba ng mga taga-Kabayan. Nilagyan ko ng konting laman sa pamamagitan ng pagmamasilya sa ilang parte nito upang mas lalong makita ang mga kalamnang hindi nabulok."
The Ibaloi practice of mummifying the dead suffered a blow when the Christian colonizers came to the Philippines. Since then, many mummies are said to have been stolen, vandalized, or worse, sold for cash.
"Gumawa ako ng kabaong hubog sa kanilang disenyo. Nilagyan ko ng ilang disenyo ang ilang takip ng ataol (buwaya). Nilapatan ko din ng tattoo ang ilan at gumawa din ako ng palayok at ilang kasangkapan na ginamit ng namayapa.

Ipininta ko din ang mga doctor o albolaryo, pari na karaniwang nasa tabi ng isang taong malapit ng mamatay. Kapansin-pansin din ang mga bakanteng kabaong, bakanteng kweba, nawawalang kasangkapan, nawawalang takip ng kabaong at higit sa lahat nawawalang mummies."
Philippine mixed media has come a long way since David Medalla made his “Bubble Machines” in the late 1950s. Among the great mixed-media artists was the late Santiago Bose who painstakingly used a variety of indigenous materials like animal bones, caked mud, bamboo shoots, volcanic ash, and even human hair. In a similar vein, Ambagan once grew vegetation from the cracks of his paintings.

Bose blended conventional paintings with sculptural devices and tribal motifs to come up with a multi-level narrative. He once said, “In the Philippines we cannot have the luxury of frivolity, but as artists we have to make art that expresses our concerns, needs, and aspirations. Otherwise, part of our deepest self will be irretrievably lost and art itself will become empty of meaning.”

As shown in “Kabayan Showcase,” Philippine mixed media has always been keen on iconography and provides an alternative of take on colonial rule, or even a rejection of classical western images and aesthetics.

As of this writing, the artwork remains at the Ambagan house in Pasig City, gathering dust and attracting insects. He is asking for help on how to donate “Kabayan Showcase” to Kabayan, Benguet.

2 comments:

Tabuena art central said...

Great blog to unite Philippine artists....Mabuhay!

Understand said...

Ang angas bro. Kung hindi man nagwagi sa mapanuring mga mata ang opus na to, e panalo naman ito sa isip at damdamin ng mga taga Kabayan. Mabuhay ka Bay!