Hella Ganda: ChiChai’s Art Travel to Baguio

– by ChiChai@Empire –

Being high up in mountains, the Cordillera region of the Philippines was inaccessible to Spanish and American imperialists. And, because the Cordillera region is less exposed to the country’s colonized past, Cordillera cultures continue to thrive today.

Despite being a major city, Baguio stays true to its Cordillera spirit.  For instance, Baguio’s Mayor Mauricio Domogan prioritizes the preservation of the region’s culture. He stated“Our culture and heritage are the identity we have as people of the Cordillera region. With the influence of outside factors in these modern times, if we do not preserve our culture and heritage, these will be lost.”  

You can see the preservation efforts throughout Baguio. And it is beautiful.

Last month I wrote about how I fell in love with Baguio partly because of the food. This time, I’ll share with you the other side of Baguio I fell in love with: its art.

My friends Karen, Monica and I spent most day one roaming around Tam-Awan village and most of day two in the Ben Cab Museum. I believe these photos will explain why we dedicated that much time in only two places…

Tam-Awan Village

Clouds swirled around us as we explored Tam-Awan village.

It felt as though we were admiring an art gallery in a forest that floated in the sky. Tam-awan, after all, translates to vantage point.

Tam-awan Village in Pinsao Proper, Baguio City uniquely blends indigenous aesthetics and exquisite Cordilleran craftsmanship with an artist’s concept for a village adapting to Baguio setting.
– tam-awanvillage.com
In keeping with the spirit in which the village was originally conceived, Tam-awan Village has become a venue for art exhibits and workshops envisioned to foster a deeper understanding, respect and pride in the cultural heritage of the Cordillera people.
– tam-awanvillage.com

Tam-Awan Village, staying true to its Baguio setting, is steep.
You climb one set of sharply angled stairs and you’re surrounded by a large array of artwork.

You continue to climb, you are suddenly immersed into a garden…

… then deep into a forest.

As we climbed higher and higher,  more and more variations of plants greeted us.

Visiting Tam-Awan village was — to simply put it– enchanting and…

… truly a vantage point.

BenCab Museum

Contemporary artist Benedicto Reyes Cabrera — aka BenCab– may not originally be from Baguio but this renowned Philippine artist chose it as his home and source of inspiration since the 1980’s. His museum is now a must-see destination for tourists.  The BenCab museum not only provides a home for BenCab’s artwork but also the artwork of indigenous peoples and up and coming contemporary artists today.

The exhibiting contemporary artists shared work that ranged from critiquing society to embracing human sexuality.

The galleries of indigenous peoples showed the BenCab visitors how beautiful and important it is to preserve these cultures.

BenCab’s own exhibits display his work from his 50 years active as an artist.

Through BenCab’s paintings and sculptures, you can see how he explores what it means to be Filipinx in its infinite complexity and diversity.

He even dove into the Filipinx-American dream and its harsh realities of American racism.

Art expands beyond the museum’s walls…

…and into its surrounding mountainsides.

The Farm & Garden below the museum showcase organic farm produce and the typical indigenous architecture of the Ifugao, Kalinga and Bontoc. A river meanders through the property, with cascading waterfalls on one end. The hill and mini forest across, which features an eco trail, is also the source of fresh spring water used in the museum and farm. The artist, assisted by native coworkers, grows seasonal vegetables, herbs, strawberries, sweet potatoes, coffee and ornamentals.
– bencabmuseum.org

Throughout Baguio

Although Baguio is a major city, the regions’ indigenous cultures continue to shine but in more modern ways.

For example, as I mentioned in the “Hella Sarap” post, a brewery’s draft beer handles were inspired by Cordillera-styled wood carvings:

Also,  the Farmer’s Daughter created a nipa hut for its restaurant.

You can find more indigenous-inspired craftsmanship roaming around the streets of Baguio on the city’s jeepneys. Jeepneys are already known to be the most colorful means of public transportation throughout the Philippines but never have I seen any as vibrant as the ones in Baguio.

Not only did some have the signature brightness, some also had paintings celebrating those who continue practicing the region’s traditions.


I was so inspired by Baguio’s art scene, I wanted to create my own piece.

I noticed that while we drove up and down its mountains, sunflowers speckled yellow across the greenery. It turns out that wild sunflowers bloom after November’s storms. If you know me well, you’d know that sunflowers are my favorite. Thus, of course, these lovelies would be part of the piece I was brewing up.

I also wanted to capture how the homes loomed up and down and across the city.

And, lastly, I wanted to give a bit of a shout-out to BenCab. Never have I ever gotten so stunned and in awe by a painting until I encountered BenCab’s “Sabel.”

Using Sabel’s positioning and intermixing the city’s landscape, I created my interpretation of Baguio’s spirit:


I can’t wait to share with you more of my travels and how my travels influenced my art. Up next on ChiChai’s travels: taking it back to Osaka and Kyoto. Stay tuned.

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