A Meet with BenCab, Philippine National Artist
Even after Big Bang of Filipino diaspora that launched millions of satellites of skilled Filipinos all over this vast economic universe, molten core of Philippine culture still bubbles hot, powered by an almost unending supply of fuel enriched not by physicists but master Filipino artists and writers. Some have even been given prestigious awards of achievement as National Artists by the Philippine government.
Filipinos abroad, like myself, who seem stuck in an asteroid belt of standardized comfort often find themselves warmly irradiated by less stressful economic challenges. However there's still this cold chill of a Filipino cultural vacuum in their adopted lands.
The Philippine Media knows homesickness constantly afflicts Filipinos abroad thus providing vicarious reality, perhaps filling up gap and emptiness. Ergo, music bands and artists from Manila come and go, rarely missing a weekend beat; and with the convenience of the home computer a little window like YouTube's squint screen makes low res out of streaming reality (even if in full-screen, the resolution is terrible). Currently there are available satellite-beamed Filipino shows that may also bring poignant laughter to many; but not unlike a visiting comet it’s quite rare to get zapped by Tesla's lightning bolts from fuel rod of a master Filipino artist. Make that National, and BenCab set foot briefly in Sydney. His energy released a radiation that lit up Ding’s place in French’s
First time I've met Philippine National Artist Dr. Benedicto Cabrera (aka BenCab) although he's familiar with me due to common friends like Pandy Aviado and Krip Yuson. Lucky again for us to get invited to the home of Alfredo “Ding” and Irene Roces, now a traditional artists’ rendezvous. Ding is long-time friend of BenCab and has offered his cosy pad for the night before the guests head off for
After a sumptuous dinner prepared by Irene I gently cornered BenCab for an interview while I sketch him at the same time (I thought I’d just bother people once;-) He agreed. Present around us were other guests like artists Jon Altomonte and Pirio Castaneda, and photography enthusiast Mario Aldeguer. I could have broken the ice with a silly joke..like say.. if there were a National Taxi, would it be Ben's Cab?:)
I started the sketch (which I intended to give him) with quick scribbles while my left hand grappled for the record button of my old and trusty, little iRiver mp3 gizmo.
Marcelo, so quick to draw!)
EA: Salamat po pero tila mas mabilis si Ninong Nonoy. (Thank you but Nonoy is quicker.) He’s sorely missed. Err.. okay maybe for a start… everybody’s looking up to you now as a Philippine National Artist – is it lonely at the top? :-)
Haha – No.. actually, I’m exposed to a lot of things –
Ha-ha..anticipated that. I believe that a very creative person can’t be lonely. Here’s a tricky question. Is there anything wrong with Philippine Art? ;-)
Haha - There’s nothing wrong with Philippine Art – everybody has his own direction, and we’re not limited to… you know – like art now goes in different directions, from painting to installations and performances..
Okay there’s nothing wrong, but doesn’t it make one wonder why Philippine Art is not as big as Western Art; could there be a cultural hype problem there? What do you think?
We’re not as dominant as western art when it comes to pushing our culture with the help of the government – it’s that you’re really on your own – but a lot of our artists have been recognised already.
Would you consider the Philippine jeepney an inappropriate icon for Philippine Art? Rather.. would you consider it kitsch?
It’s quite a – it’s just a novelty although it is very practical in the
Our culture is quite a mixture – so it is the halu-halo (a Philippine ice treat) – everything really. I don’t know why - (it’s so entertaining to watch you draw ha-ha-ha) . Yeah, its been used as an icon – but that boils down to the war – how creative we are in using the GI jeeps – to a practical passenger you know..
He-he sorry to bother you with trivial questions. What’s keeping you busy now after your recent paper prints and pulp painting workshop in
I am setting up a foundation, and putting up a museum, a personal museum, where I have a collection of primitive art – it’s not really primitive art – but the art of the
Who’s helping you with this project – other artists in the midst?
No, not yet. I want to build the building first. And then I need a lot of help, of course – I need a good curator, manager, things like that. It will be a collection of Cordillera art and my collection of contemporary art – young artists, and also, of course my own work.
I see you have a close affinity with the mountains of the
Yes, like I said I admire the art of the
If the Philippine economy is good, would our art scene be good, too?
Oh well, as I notice in
True. Aboriginal art now is expensive – especially in
Yeah – they try to protect their images – which should be – it should not be exploited. The country should be the one to benefit from it.
How may this national artist inspire or help Filipinos?
Well, even before, I’ve set up something like the
Would it compel you to be more creative?
In a sense, I am busier of course, and there is more demand for what I should be doing.
I like your philanthropic approach. Err, why are you here in
To visit Ding Roces and you guys. I have a sister in
Got any words of wisdom for the young Filipino artist anywhere in the world?
Well actually, hard work, discipline and then good networking – networking is very good for – if you want to go out of the confines of the country.
Any latest books about you?
There are no books written about me. I have that coffee table book – I came out with that book about my collection of lamp containers from the North, aside from the bulos and basketries, you know.
I’m busy building my museum so I want to be there. It’s quite big – almost one thousand square meters - part of main galleries with changing shows
Wow! And it’s gonna be mainly
Yes, and contemporary art, too.
No, I call it a collection – not published yet. Oh did you see my book – Rock Session? We did a whole 70 drawings of Pepe Smith, Joey Ayala, Wally Gonzalez and other younger singers. Oh I’m so glad a lot of people helped Pepe get out jail.
Hope to get a copy soon and yeah, I think I saw a dvd of Pepe’s interview by Howie Severino – and I saw you part of an audience watching Pepe at Agung Bar in Baguio. Tsk..tsk.. rocker ka pa rin pala :-) (oh dear, you’re still a rocker). Man I haven’t seen Gyobags (Baguio) for ages. The last time, I was there at Pandy’s place, buhay pa si Nonoy (Nonoy was still alive). Next time, I hope to ride one of those wooden
Ha-ha-ha, of course, museum will be completed in 9 months – it’s an open invitation for you to come. It would also be open for tourists – there will be an entry charge - for maintenance.
Thanks Sir Ben, I’ve finished your sketch and so I should stop the interview now. Salamat po at ako’y inyong pinaunlakan (thanks for the opportunity)
Salamat rin Edd. Thanks for your drawing! I like it!
Some info from the web about Bencab:
“Benedicto Reyes Cabrera --- or BenCab, as he is more popularly known is widely hailed as a master of contemporary Philippine art. He was born in
A painter and printmaker, he has exhibited widely in the
In 2006, he was conferred the Order of National Artist for Visual Arts by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in
His works have been the subject of three books, Ben Cabrera: Etchings (1970-1980) by Cid Reyes; Bencab's Rock Sessions by Eric Caruncho; and BENCAB by Alfred Yuson and Cid Reyes.
The artist lives and works in
Has three children: Elisar (born in 1971), a filmmaker based in
This article is also published in Bayanihan News July 2007
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