Benedicto — BenCab — Cabrera, the Philippines’ most popular painter, was conferred the Order of National Artist for Visual Arts in 2006. After living in London for 17 years, he decided to return to the Philippines for good in 1986, settling in Baguio. Many years later, he would move to Tuba, Benguet, on a farm on Asin Road. An artist with an intense love for the artistry of life, he assembled his formidable collection of paintings , indigenous artifacts and arts and crafts into the BenCab museum, a unique attraction that has become a highlight of visits to this part of Northern Luzon.
Taste, Travel & Trends(TT&T): When did you start drawing/painting? Who or what has greatly influenced your work? What do you consider to be your crowning achievement as an artist?
BenCab(BC): I was drawing on the pavement of the streets of Tondo when I was seven years old. This was the neighborhood where I grew up. I had an older brother, Salvador, who was an artist and I learned a lot from him. He was 13 years older than me and he brought me along with him so I was exposed to the art scene then.
There is no particular artwork I would consider to be my best. I consider my development as an artist to be my greatest achievement, as this led to the recognition of my talent in the form of the conferment of the Order of National Artist for Visual Arts by our government, and a Doctorate in Humanities, honoris causa, from my alma mater, the University of the Philippines.
TT&T: When did you start to envision the museum and who supported you in this project?
BC: I have been collecting tribal art from the Cordilleras as well as contemporary Philippine art for over 40 years and I have always thought of sharing this with the public as my legacy. The idea of establishing a museum to house this collection had been germinating since the year 2000 when I acquired some farmland in Asin Road in Tuba, Benguet, on the outskirts of Baguio city. I decided to build the museum.
TT&T: Both you and the BenCab Museum are iconic living symbols to the Philippines and Southeast Asian art world. How does this relate to you as an artist and the lifestyle image you have created? As a National Artist and internationally recognized contemporary artist how do you see yourself as a mentor to young artists?
BC: I am blessed to have had the opportunity and the means to establish the BenCab Museum and share with others. We have had visitors not only from Manila but from the rest of the country as well as from all over the world. We have received numerous words of praise and gratitude which is fulfilling and much appreciated. With our changing gallery, Gallery Indigo, we provide a venue for young artists to exhibit their works.
We also formed the BenCab Art Foundation to ensure that our vision and mission continue even after we’re gone. The foundation is composed of friends and collectors whom we trust to protect this legacy. The foundation runs the BenCab Museum and as the current president, I manage the museum’s day-to-day activities and ong-range plans with the help of the other members of the foundation and our museum staff.
TT&T: How do you recruit and train your staff?
BC: We carefully chose our museum staff from recommendations made by friends and art colleagues. Most of them have been with us since we first opened the museum in February of 2009. As our needs have grown over the years, we have also added to the staff.
BenCab’s legacy is not just a fine museum and notable paintings. It is the harmony of reality, humanity and idealism that this consummate conductor of art achieves in life.