Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bencab's dream

When Ben Cabrera left for London in 1969,
we his fans thought that that was the last we
were going to see of our icon. He was in pursuit
of Caroline Kennedy, blonde British writer
and hippie,whom he had met at Indios Bravos Café
in Malate.She had gained some notoriety after
a local magazine published her article,
“Filipinos are clumsy lovers”;
yet,she married Bencab.

A journey to the West is really a journey
to the East, a poet once said, so Bencab did
come back in 1986, sans Caroline, settled in
Baguio, continued to paint, exhibit and
travel the world, created the Tam-Awan artists
village. At the same time, he began collecting
and accumulating Cordillera artifacts and
to no one’s surprise, he became National Artist
in 1996.

Bencab is constructing his Cordillera
fantasy in Asin,Benguet. Why Asin? Could it be
because Benedicto Reyes Cabrera (Bencab’s real
name) was born in Malabon and grew up in the
constricted urban hinterlands of Mayhaligue,
Santa Cruz and Bambang, Tondo? Bencab’s private
preserve in Asin is on a superlative
promontory that gives you a stunning glimpse
of the South China Sea. Besides, you are
enthralled by the sound of waterfalls,
brooks and gurgling hot springs; no wonder there
are so many vegetables and flowers with names not
easy to remember—heliconia, anthurium, bromeliad, a
riot of lilies, orchids and azaleas.

Bencab has about seven Cordilleran houses.
His collection boasts of huts from Ifugao and Bontoc
and a rare octagonal one from Kalinga. To him, that
is the only feasible way of saving these inimitable
highland ancestral homes from certain destruction.
Respectful of authenticity, he has fitted them with
modern hot water baths and converted each one into a
into a unique guest house. In heritage parlance, that
is adaptive re-use, an acceptable, if not laudable
method conservation.

Looking back, Bencab must have been stricken
with conservation mania, incurable it seems, while
living in London where he loved to browse at
antiquarian bookstores and stalls. He came across
a lot of prints, maps and old photographs of the
Philippines which probably shocked him, as did the
books of Antonio Morga and sundry European travelers
disquiet Jose Rizal and his fellow Propagandists.

The first spark, according to writer friend Krip
Yuson, was in 1971, when Bencab came across a
fading daguerreotype —Portrait of a Servant Girl—taken
at the end of the 19th century. In his book about
Bencab’s works, Krip Yuson described how Bencab
reproduced the daguerreotype on canvas to blur “the
evident and purposeful servility” and project “the
innate dignity” of the Filipino servant girl.

I might add, just like Jose Rizal’s painstaking
annotations of Antonio Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas
Filipinas. That was the start of Bencab’s
incomparable “ Larawan “ series and his
nationalistic outpouring about the
Philippine-American War--“A page of and Officer's
Diary” and “ Bandit and Gentleman”.

You rock. That's why Blockbuster's offering you one month of

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