On the art and artists, we all have our opinions and stereotypes. And like art itself, these opinions are distilled from our own experience. Our view of the art, and of beauty itself, varies in accordance with the diverse worlds that we come from. A true master will always see art differently from, say, an avid art collector, much more a set of avid wanderers like us who are merely casual lovers of art.
We don’t have any pretension of being immersed in art. We can count, and the fingers in one hand would be more than enough for this purpose, the limited number of Filipino painters we know. That would include Juan Luna, showing the shallowness of our knowledge on this subject. The other painter we’ve heard about goes by the name of BenCab. We previously know nothing of this man other than his name, BenCab, and that he’s one of the recognized masters in this side of the artistic universe.
A trip to the BenCab Museum, and a little research as a result of the interest that it created, revealed that BenCab is a contraction of the artist’s full name, Benedicto Reyes Cabrera, a unilateral device resorted to avoid confusion from any other artist by the name Cabrera (now, wait a minute, if BenCab is a contraction of an artist’s name, and if VisitPinas is a contraction of the slogan “VISIT the Philippines, tell the world what’s beautiful about PINAS,” then we’re in the same…oh, never mind). Even another Pinoy great, Mauro Santos, had to use his mother’s maiden name, which is Malang, most likely because Santos is a very common surname in the Philippines.
Maybe there’s some link between the cold Baguio weather and an artist’s preference to reside there because Baguio surprisingly serves as home to a number of these fiercely independent souls. BenCab calls Baguio a home even if he was born in Manila. We could go on with another resident artist of Baguio, Kidlat Tahimik (Eric de Guia), but we’d rather stop dropping names because we’re exhausting the number of fingers in one hand.
Maybe it has something to do with the relative seclusion of Baguio, although this seclusion is now largely a myth given the onslaught of tourists to this summer capital. Maybe this explains the choice of location for the BenCab Museum — a museum, gallery, souvenir store, restaurant, workshop, garden, paradise and home of the artist, all rolled into one.
The museum houses relics that showcases the culture of the region. There’s an army of bulol, which are rice granary gods venerated by the agricultural Ifugao communities of the Cordilleras. There’s the hipag, which has no reference to a “relative” as used in the Filipino language, but to a diminutive bulol (the irreverent Austin Powers would probably call it a mini-me). There’s the tangungo (Bontoc-Kankanaey closet), tabayag (lime containers) and a whole lot historical artifacts. Of course, there are installations and paintings, although a lot of those paintings are from a host of other artists (we would have known more if only we arranged for a guided tour).
The BenCab Museum is open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. every day, except Mondays, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Entrance fee is P100, with a P20-discount for students and senior citizens.
The BenCab Museum rises far outside the city, in Km. 6 of Asin Road (anyone knows the origin or why it’s called Asin Road?). Km. 6 refers to the fact that the area is 6 kilometers from the center of Baguio City. To be strict about it, the BenCab Museum is technically not located inside Baguio City. It’s located in Brgy. Tadiangan, town of Tuba, province of Benguet. The reference to Baguio City (like what is done with the title of this blog post) is probably meant to make it convenient for travelers/tourists to package one trip revolving around one contagious geographic area.
The trip to the BenCab Museum takes around 20 minutes from the heart of Baguio City (see map and directions from the museum’s website), although this would vary depending on the day, time and season. Baguio is now bursting at the seams. Traffic has sadly grown unbearable in and around the city, especially the roads surrounding SM Baguio. Go there during peak seasons, like Christmas and summer, or in February during the Panagbenga Festival, and you’ll understand how the adjective “unbearable,” referring to the traffic and overall congestion, easily morphs into “unspeakable” (or is “unbearable” worse than “unspeakable”?).The hills inside and surrounding the city, the Mines View Park included, are not alive with the sound of music, but with a deluge of houses and structures that precariously cling to the sides. A few places are spared from this sorry sight. One is Camp John Hay. Still another is the BenCab Museum. It is a haven not only of the arts and relics of the past, the cultural heritage of the people, but a threatened bastion of the memory of how Baguio used to look like. To appreciate that, it hardly matters whether one is an avid wanderer or a casual lover of the arts.