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Art in Sagada |

Arts and Culture

Art in Sagada

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson - The Philippine Star
Art in Sagada
Santiago Bose’s reimagined 40-year-old mural
Photo by Paula Lanto

It’s been almost a year since Santiago Bose’s legendary mural, done on the ground-floor facade of St. Mary’s High School in Sagada in the early 1980s, underwent what is now called a re-imagination, rather than a simple restoration.

The school’s construction itself had been sponsored by then Ambassador Alfonso Yuchengco, and it was his oldest son Boy, a friend of Santi’s, who in turn asked him to accomplish the mural that was titled “Kabilbiligan” (Mountains).

But four decades of weathering had nearly obliterated the sundry images and features enshrined in the mural that spanned 50 feet, so that late in 2019, “Boyu” considered having it refreshed.

The task of organizing a team of artists, mostly from Baguio City but some from Sagada plus non-Cordillerans, fell on Kawayan de Guia, who had experienced mentorship and bonding with Santi before the influential artist passed away in 2002.

A full cast and crew of volunteers was assembled. They had to complete what was initially called a restoration in two months, so that it could be unveiled to coincide with the Sos-owa Arts and Music Fest in March 2020.

A tinagtago as scrap-metal version of the bulul

The mural had originally featured Cordillera rice terraces, Sagada’s limestone rock formations, some of which served as burial sites for “hanging coffins,” representative locals and their ritual activities. Collages of photographs and publication clippings were embedded among the painted and sculpted areas of concrete.

It fell into “a crumbling state, with many of the details unrecognizable and in many sections painted over through the years,” reports Rocky Cajigan, who assumed the responsibilities of project management and coordination, design and painting of portraits and foliage.

“The process of establishing how much of the mural ought to be restored resulted in more re-imagining than strict restoration. In the spirit and fervor of the old Baguio Arts Guild that Bose co-founded, the mural involved the addition of work by many artists working in different media that in many ways mirrors Bose’s plethora of symbols found in his body of work. The reimagined mural maintains Bose’s dioramic composition with works by artists who had been his close friends, including Tommy Hafalla (image references, art installation), Leonard Aguinaldo (painting of deer), Jordan Mang-osan (painting of orange tree with figures), John Frank Sabado (installation, decoupage: ink on paper), and younger Cordillera-based artists.”

As executive director, Kawayan teamed up for pre-prod planning with Boyu, Rocky and Nona Garcia. Kawayan also involved himself in the design and rendering of pyrography of people on plywood, clouds, mountain ranges and collages. Nona designed and painted rice terraces and waterfalls.

Other artists who supplied works were Kigao Rosimo (wooden sculpture on a tree branch), Janet Eason (serigraph of a local flower), and Aklay Philippe (watercolor painting of a local bird). Art installations were also rendered by Ged Alangui, Siegrid Bangyay, Tessia Baldo and Jepoy.

Many other volunteers joined in, among them Randy Bulayo (building and painting portraits and objects), Bong Sanchez (building, design and painting of clouds and cement trees), Joey Himmiwat (masonry and carpentry), Arsenio Himmiwat (building), Santos Bayucca (pre-prod design and building), Gemma Mallillin (pre-prod assistance), Chavy Romawac (catering), Marta Lovina (catering assistance), Aggie Villarin (building, catering), and Perry Mamaril (art installation, lighting, catering assistance). Involved in masonry, carpentry, mosaic and varnish were Isidro Gayo, Rommel Beltran, Ernesto Bautista, Wally Bernardino and James Gaongen. Bangyay and Baldo of the Sagada Pottery and Training Center provided the materials for the mosaic, Dapli Gaonhen those for the scaffold, and Gawani Domogo for the text painted above the mural.

Veteran journalist Rica Concepcion and her son Himalaya Navarro were tasked with documentation; so, too, Mary Carling. Rica’s staff included Kimberly dela Cruz and Clang Sison. Boyu’s secretariat included Ijhra de Veyra Perez and Paula Lanto. Former Sagada Mayor Thomas Killip was project coordinator.

Indeed, epic was the creative enterprise. Santi Bose would have been happy, nay, delirious, with the extension of the seminal magic he had wrought.

Upon the mural’s inauguration on March 8 last year, a prayer ritual called the Sos-owa was held, followed by a concert on the meadow between the high school and the church. Among the performers were Lolita Carbon and the reggae bands Aman Sinaya and Weather the Roots.

Creativity goes on in Sagada, thanks in large part to the life-long partnership between artist and art patron Boy Yuchengco and Sagada elder and peacemaker Tom Killip.

On a wide clearing next to a pine forest in Danonoy now stands the Jaime Capuyan Art Gallery, built around an extensively rooted tree.

Dom-an Macagne reports: “Named after the eldest surviving traditional ritual leader of Dap-ay Malingeb, the gallery opened on Dec. 15, 2020. It exhibits the works of local artists and craftsmen. It also displays the works of the first batch of young art enthusiasts who participated in an on-the spot COVID Art painting workshop.

“At the entrance is a large ‘tinagtago’ made out of scrap metal with gold-colored finishing. Among the Kankanaey Igorots, it is a spiritual sculpture that resembles a human image. It is called bulul among the Ifugaos.

Dragon sculpture by Dario Frias, Jr.

“Displayed around the eight-walled gallery are acrylic, oil and watercolor pieces on canvas, wood panels, plywood, paper, scrap woven cloth, felled branches and seasoned tree stumps, reflecting the multilevel capacities and experimental styles among the emergent artists.”

Also of scrap metal are a laughing Buddha and a dragon. On altar pieces are ceramic angels, candles, incense, wine, rice grains and a variety of plants. Filling up the gallery are antique woven baskets and fabric, local earthenware and stoneware, all “well-positioned around the tree that extends through an opening on the roof, allowing sunlight into the plants.”

Among the Sagada artists is 80-year-old Jaime Capuyan, who works on pine wood panels with simple carving tools. Bong Sanchez paints multi-dimensional landscapes and utilizes chipped limestone, broken tiles, scrap fabric and tree branches for installations. James Gabriel Wandag’s paintings of ethnic patterns feature the “ling-ling-o” fertility symbol seen in earrings and pendants. Aklay Philippe documents diverse flora and fauna, rendering colorful birds and wild orchids on parchment paper and found branches. Dapli Gaongen’s wood sculptures complement the tinagtago. Jun Frias, the town blacksmith and farm machines fabricator, initiated the use of scrap metal from his shop, with his modern tinagtago transcending traditionally wooden pieces.

Tom Killip declares:

“It is high time we develop our indigenous arts and local artists. We have not devoted special attention to them because for a long time, arts were intricately woven into our daily lives. These were mostly functional as well as cultural, enriching our way of life as indigenous people.

“We need to re-orient the trend of tourism that has come to a point of degeneration. We need to show something else other than hotels and the growing problems of garbage and traffic. Before Sagada got entangled in mass tourism, it was artists, writers, nature lovers, backpack travelers, adventurers and researchers who visited us.

“Their lives and the way they look at the world were enriched. Some came back as mentors and rendered generous support for the development of the community. With our art spaces, we can invite other artists to help develop artistic and creative potentials in the community.”

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