IT WAS a hot Saturday in Baguio last week. A 15-minute drive from the heart of the Pines City brought us to the Ben Cab Museum on Km. 6 Asin Road. It was built on a promontory like a scene in “Alice in Wonderland.”
The museum features an awesome view of the nearby garden; farm loaded with organic veggies, flowers, ornamental plant, and floating ducks; hill and mini-forest crowned with verdant leaves, the surrounding mountains, and the South China Sea in the western horizon.
The Ben Cab Museum is owned and managed by National Artist Benedicto Cabrera. It houses Cabrera’s personal collection in several galleries. The other areas are for art shows and exhibitions. The BenCab Gallery showcases his own works that serve as his precious testaments that started 40 years ago. His quest started in Manila in the turbulent 60s; and in the 70s, there was London and other art centers in Europe that sheltered his heirlooms. He went back to his native land in mis-80s and reestablished his anchor in cool Baguio and the abode of his gods in the Cordilleras.
The Cordillera Gallery is a home to the artist’s collection of tribal artifacts and the indigenous crafts of the highlanders - bulol rice granary gods, carved objects that include pieces of furniture, kitchen utensils, assorted baskets, weapons used for headhunting rituals of the numerous tribes. I am reminded of the movie, “Igorota” of Nora Aunor and Christopher de Leon. The Philippine Contemporary Art Galleries highlights the artist’s collection of paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures.
The smaller exhibition room has the collections accumulated by BenCab through the years.
The Maestro Gallery has a selection of works by Aguinaldo, Chabet, Edades, Joya, Legaspi, Luz, Magsaysay-Ho, Sauso, Zobel and other famous masters of Philippine art. I remember Mon Hofileña of Silay who has also a grand collection of paintings, drawings and prints. Most of the guests are staying longer at Erotica Gallery. Girls (and women also) are giggling and boys (grandpas included) become curious on what is the message of the art. The space contains the paintings, drawings, sculpture and other artworks by various artists with an erotic subject or theme.
The objects of art are on sex but they focus on reality and not on something strange. Again, I am reminded by the Rolling Stone Magazine issue on sex-positive feminist camp.
The Print Gallery highlights vintage maps, prints, photographs and postcards on the Philippines, along with contemporary prints and photographs. Gallery Indigo accommodates exhibits of other artists. Patio Salvador is an open terrace adjoining the Gallery Indigo, and is used for receptions and sculpture shows. The same thing holds true with Sepia Gallery, while Larawan Hall serves as function room for art workshops, meetings, seminars, art film showings and other related activities.
Something special caught my attention, the Edison T. Coseting Patio that features BenCab’s 32 “Variations on Sabel,” glaze-painted on Mariwasa tiles. Sabel was a “lukarit” discovered by BenCab in the streets of Manila in the 60s. She was a symbol of hopelessness… tortured by society, abused by time, and humiliated by her fellow homo sapiens. Agnes Locsin staged a ballet on Sabel and performed by the daughter of Tita Jenette Sanchez, Georgette. The Museum Shop sells art books, catalog, postcards, highland crafts, tribal jewelry and other souvenirs.
We ended the tour at Café Isabel. Councilor-elect Solo Locsin treated us to a brewing hot coffee latte and we were told that the beans came from the farms of the Ifugaos. While sipping Ifugao coffee, we fancied on the organic garden below made beautiful by the indigenous architectures of the Ifugao, Kalinga and Bontoc. There were river meanders with cascading waterfalls in the opposite end. Our visit at BenCab Museum was a part of our official cultural interaction with the artists and with nature. We would like to thank the goodness of our lady host for offering her home to us, for sharing fresh veggies, and for supporting the tourism program of Silay.
Our visit ended like a fairytale. “And the dream became a reality, and there was this dream again to serve as fantasy…”