The Museum Shop at BenCab’s is a great place to get gifts and souvenirs, as we happily discovered.
Enamored still with Baguio: Art on high
Dorothy Delgado Novicio (The Philippine Star) - November 10, 2019 - 12:00am

Pre-GPS time, it could have been quite a challenge to find BenCab’s Museum along Asin Road. Since one of us is a techie and a conscientious navigator, traversing through steep, narrow and tricky roads, finding BenCab was a breeze. In our Baguio menu, the day at BenCab’s was to be the piéce de résistance.

We savored our time at the museum, first by satisfying our gustatory cravings with a hearty lunch of tomato basil pasta, chicken paprika and healthful fresh fruit drinks at the al fresco Café Sabel. Dessert was the irresistible suman sa latik and turon a la mode with a potful of tarragon tea.

Bustling with life on a cheerful Sunday, the eponymous art place is home to a significant collection of BenCab’s art. An enshrined ground for art patrons and lovers, students and curious tourists, the museum celebrates decades of works by then budding artist Benedicto Reyes Cabrera until his sketches, drawings and paintings made him more renowned as BenCab, here at home and around the world.

BenCab’s masterpieces are not limited to canvas but extend to sculptures and other art forms. His museum doesn’t only showcase his works but likewise reflects his generosity of spirit as an eminent artist. Two of the galleries feature works of Filipino contemporary artists (I spotted an Orlina glass sculpture and eyed a striking piece of mixed media, most likely an opus of a promising painter or a protégé).

The Maestro gallery highlights timeless works of equally distinguished artists such as National Artist Arturo Luz, Juvenal Sanzo, Anita Magsaysay Ho, et al. Displayed at the Erotica gallery are arresting paintings and sculptures of several artists, centering on the sensual theme, while the Cordillera gallery houses BenCab’s vast collection of indigenous artifacts from the uplands. The bulol, or carved wooden figure, which the Ifugaos regard as guardian of their crops, is an omnipresent icon in the entire museum.

A walk back through our past socio-political landscape or a peek to what is current is one way to appreciate BenCab’s art. The character Sabel, said to be his iconic creation, brought to life on canvas, personifies the dichotomies of our society and whose transformations likewise mirror the transitions of the National Artist’s obras through the years. 

We told ourselves that at this point, owning a BenCab is just a dream. His sketch, the size of a bond paper, could command a five-figure price tag. So I told my friends, I’m happy to have two Sabel-designed tops (from the National Artist series of a local designer brand), which I wear with pride to events that call for casual Filipiniana theme.

Scouring the Museum Shop before heading home, we each got identical black “My Sad Republic” limited edition shirts (probably Sabel draped in a Philippine flag), which we meaningfully wore in one of our group photos. I also bought boxes of all-occasions cards featuring BenCab’s Madonna and Child and Larawan series plus a red and white jute bag with the National Artist’s portraiture of our national hero Jose Rizal and the love of his life, Maria Clara. These mementos may be the closest I could get to owning a BenCab, but having them exude a precious whiff of the National Artist’s touch, while the cards serve their purpose for my heartfelt handwritten notes to friends and loved ones on very special occasions. 

There was so much art to appreciate and it was delightful to see spectators from all walks of life scrutinizing the pieces. It was my first time in the Museum and it will surely be in my list of must see, recommended places for friends from the international community or relatives visiting from overseas.

Tam-awan Village is another artists’ haven and a one-stop place where the Cordillera culture is largely celebrated. Visitors who do not have the luxury of time to extend their trip to Ifugao or Kalinga can have a taste of highland culture by exploring Tam-awan and staying in one of the huts available for lodging. Being in the village setting allows guests to see and stay in a typical Cordillera hut, watch young dancers perform traditional dances or have their photo taken while donning woven wrap around skirts or tapis for women or the wanno or g-string for men.

Tam-awan galleries feature works of established Cordillera artists. I couldn’t get my eyes off and couldn’t help but have a photo taken beside the larger than life portrait of the very attractive, wrinkly and smiling Apo Whang-od, who is now considered a living treasure, being the last and oldest traditional Kalinga tattoo artist. In this anti-ageing, let-not-your-age-define-your-looks era, by my yardstick, Apo Whang-od typifies how it is to be genuinely and exquisitely beautiful.

Another stunning work of art that intrigued me was that of Jordan Mang-osan, who applies solar drawing techniques or channeling the heat of the sun with the aid of a magnifying glass to wonderfully create a piece. It’s a meticulous process that results in dramatic, monochromatic drawings. 

After devoting one whole day exploring Baguio’s art scene, we revisited the city’s touristy spots. But not before a filling breakfast at Bai’s Café and shopping for elegant weaves at Narda’s. The late Narda Capuyan, a renowned Bontoc weaver, elevated ikat or traditional Cordillera weave as a proudly Philippine-made fabric in one of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings. Her hand-woven fabrics and designs likewise found their place in shops overseas and have been proudly worn and promoted by famous personalities. We bought stylish scarves and colorful ponchos for ourselves and for gifts and sets of placemats and runners with Christmas motifs.

Narda Capuyan passed away a few years ago but her legacy lives on through her fabrics and designs that truly reflect the Cordillera’s unique, indigenous culture. Beyond her chic designs, it was Narda’s pioneering spirit of empowering women of her generation to discover their skills through weaving which remains as her enduring legacy. This is what she is most remembered for – as a purveyor of art and culture and as an entrepreneur.



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