BenCab's Top 10 Favorite Works

The National Artist shares his  favorite works from the BenCab Museum, Farm, and Garden in Baguio.

1. Bulol Installation
It was the first thing I installed in the BenCab Museum. Bulols are the granary guardians of the Ifugao, and are used for their tribal rituals to ensure abundant harvests and protection against natural calamities.  They are traditionally passed from one generation to another. I have been collecting them, among other artifacts  om the Cordilleras, for many years now, although I don’t use them for their original purpose. Bulols have primitive qualities, but they look like modern sculptures at the same time. I was so glad to have found the perfect spot for them: under a skylight.

Bulol Installation

2. Hagabi Bench
Carved from a single piece of hardwood, this long bench is a symbol of wealth and social prestige among the Ifugao. There are four of these in the different levels of the museum. Visitors can rest on them.

Hagabi Bench

3. Ifugao foot massage chair in the Erotica Gallery
This gallery is one of my favorite areas in the museum, which must be the only one in the country to have a gallery dedicated to erotica. This hand-carved seat is used for dagdagay or kulkulis, a tradition where the younger Ifugao males massage the soles of the feet of the elder males using two short sticks, in order to relax them after a long day’s hard work.

Ifugao Foot Massage chair

4. Thirty-two variations on Sabel
I was fascinated by Sabel, a vagrant woman in my neighborhood in the 1960s. I would watch, photograph, and sketch her from afar. I was drawn to her mystery and the sculptural quality that the folds of her drapery and plastic sheets created—she used these to shield herself from the elements. A caption in the BenCab Gallery states what I thought of her: “In her plainness, he saw beauty; in her anonymity, he saw an individual person who chose to live as she saw fit; in her weakness, he saw her native wit and strength.” Having evolved and transformed through the years, she has been my iconic muse. So for the museum’s outdoor patio, I decided to do an all-weather tile mural of her on each of the 32 ceramic tiles while I was in the Mariwasa tile factory in Batangas. The area is named Patio Edison T. Co Seteng, after one of the founders of Mariwasa. It is also a favorite spot among museum visitors; they usually have their group photos taken there.


Ben and his 32 Variations of Sabel

5. Yakal Street Rooftops
Located in the BenCab Gallery of the museum, this is one of my earliest paintings, which shows the roofs in the very congested Yakal Street, Sta. Cruz, where I lived as a young boy. My friends and I used to fly kites from those rooftops. I painted this piece when I was still a fine arts student at the University of the Philippines, and entered it at the time in an art competition. I was not aware that a colleague of mine from U.P. had it for safekeeping while I was in London. So I was surprised when he turned it over to me 40 years later, when he learned that I had put up a museum.

Yakal Street Rooftops

6. Gaze
I have been doing metal sculptures lately, and this is one of my favorites. I enjoyed creating it, and I was also very pleased with the outcome. I like how, with a nickel finish, it reflects on itself the colors of the surrounding paintings.

The nickel work Gaze

7. Grotto ng Kapangyarihan, by Jose "Bogie" Tence Ruiz
I have also been collecting works of other artists, and this painting was one of the first major paintings I have ever bought. Bogie, a talented and intellectually gifted artist, has been a friend for many years. When I visited him at his home, I saw Grotto and was immediately attracted to it for its strong elements. I liked it so much, it was not dificult to decide to buy it once I found out it was available.


Grotto ng Kapangyarihan

8. Danum Falls
When I bought this land, I was not aware that there was a waterfall at the end of the property. I named it “Danum,” which means water. I like sitting on the stone seats by the falls when I want some peace and quiet. It is a place for contemplation.

Danum Falls

9. Ione Bridge
There was a hanging bridge over the Sallipan River. It was old and rickety, so I built a new one and named it after my granddaughter, Ione, shortly after she was born. It is part of the EcoTrail tour, which takes visitors to a viewpoint on the forested hillside across from the museum, where one can have a wonderful view of the entire property.

BenCab on the Ione Bridge

10. Cafe Sabel
My favorite spot here overlooks the farm and garden. I like to sit and enjoy a nice cup of BenCab’s Brew while relishing the view. I don’t tire of looking at the forest and the trees I’ve planted with the help of the Ifugao farmers. Their growth fascinates me.

Interiors of Cafe Sabel
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