Get to Know Your Neighborhood: National Artist BenCab
The artist’s timeline and biography below are courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, in conjunction with their on-going BenCab retrospective, “BenCab: The Filipino Artist,” which runs until the 27th of February 2016. The artworks featured on this page are on display at the exhibition.
For more information about the exhibition, please visit this page.
In this week’s “Get to Know Your Neighborhood”–or in today’s case, your “neighbor,” we profile one of its most illustrious artists: BenCab. He needs no introduction, and even a simple biography and timeline can feel deficient in describing his life and body of work.
This year marks his 50th year as an artist, and eight museums this year have and will honor this milestone by exhibiting curated shows on the artist’s career. The Art Report highly recommends visits to these exhibitions, especially the current one at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, which has on display over 100 pieces of BenCab’s work in various media and, more significantly, works from various times in the artist’s fascinating and astounding career.
Artist’s Biography: Benedicto “Bencab” Cabrera, b. April 10, 1942
Benedicto Cabrera, more popularly known as “BenCab” is one of the most respected figures in Philippine contemporary art. He is known for his works as a painter and printmaker, but is proficient in a broader diversity of art forms that include figure drawing, photography and sculpture. BenCab is identified with certain images – notably the intriguing Sabel and the nostalgic Larawan portraits – which he elevates from mere signature motifs to creative grounds of artistic experimentation and engaging visuals for social critique.
BenCab’s artistic talent was apparent at a very young age. He painted on readily available surfaces of pavements and walls, made extra money by doing his classmates’ illustration assignments, and won student art contests. He enrolled at the University of the Philippines’ College of Fine Arts where he also had the opportunity to work with one of his professors, Jose Joya.
Growing up in the eclectic hub of Manila in the 1960s, BenCab became exposed to surroundings rife with material and people that influenced his bohemian lifestyle. He left school to work as an illustrator and layout artist for a magazine. Early in his career, he began to develop his technique in form and figuration. His most popular subject, Sabel, emerged from the raw, corporeal depiction of poverty. BenCab’s artistic representation of the bedraggled scavenger wandering the streets of Bambang, Santa Cruz wearing scraps of plastic stimulated an emotional charge with the viewers and facilitated his trajectory from commercial arts to painting. In 1965, he participated in his first group show at the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP), marking the start of his career as a professional artist.
In the late 1960s, BenCab’s personal life brought him to London. He took printmaking classes and participated in gallery shows. At the Chelsea antique shops, he rediscovered colonial Filipino photographs, which became the visual anchor of his Larawan series. In spite of the social and political tensions, BenCab returned to the country in 1972. At the Luz Gallery, he exhibited his Larawan series for the first time. It generated strong public interest for its visual familiarity and resonant social commentary.
In late 1985, BenCab came back to the Philippines for good. He settled to the more relaxed environs of Baguio where he co-founded the Baguio Arts Guild (BAG) with other artists such as Kidlat Tahimik, Santiago Bose, and Roberto Villanueva. It sparked a dynamic and vibrant art scene in the Cordilleras. In 1993, he chaired the ten-day Baguio Arts Festival participated by international artists.
As a major figure in Philippine art, BenCab expands from his milieu of art-making to draw attention to his social advocacies. Through the BenCab Art Foundation, Inc. that supports activities related to the arts and the environment, the BenCab Museum in Baguio was opened in 2009.
The long list of accolades given to BenCab attest to his solid and enduring contribution to Philippine contemporary art. He received the Thirteen Artists Award in 1970; Kalinangan Award for Painting from the City of Manila in 1988; Gawad CCP Para Sa Sining Biswal in 1992; ASEAN Achievement Award for Visual and Performing Arts as well as the Outstanding Citizen of Baguio Award for Arts in 1997.
In 2006, he was conferred the Order of National Artist for Visual Arts. In 2009, BenCab was conferred the distinction of Doctor of Humanities, Honoris Causa by the University of the Philippines, College of Fine Arts. In July 2015, the Congress of the Philippines, House of Representatives recognized BenCab on the occasion of his 50th year as a professional artist.
Born April 10 in Malabon, Manila, the youngest of nine children.
Starts painting as influenced by his older brother, Salvador Cabrera.
Wins his first art contest in Balagtas Elementary School.
Enrolls at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts.
Leaves school to work as an illustrator and layout artist for a magazine.
Observes and sketches Sabel, the street scavenger. Adopts the contraction BenCab.
Holds his first group exhibition at the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP). Ventures into photography and sketching sessions and becomes part of a growing circle of artists.
Holds his first solo exhibition at Gallery Indigo in Mabini, Manila.
Represents the Philippines at the Tokyo biennale. Is featured at the Young Artists exhibit at Luz Gallery.
Participates at the Paris biennale.
Lives in London. Studies printmaking at the Chelsea School of Arts. Exhibits in various galleries abroad.
Receives an award as one of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ (CCP) Thirteen Artists.
Moves back to the Philippines and settles in Baguio. Co-establishes the Baguio Arts Guild (BAG) with other artists.
Receives the Kalinangan Cultural Award For Painting from the City of Manila
Participates in the BAG art fundraising for the Luzon Earthquake victims. Increasingly uses his art to draw attention to his social advocacies.
Receives the Gawad CCP Para Sa Sining Biswal.
Chairs the 4th Baguio Arts Festival participated by international artists.
Creates a stir when he exhibits a portrait of Flor Contemplacion at the 10th Asian International Art Exhibition in Singapore. The painting is later donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.
Receives the ASEAN Achievement Award for Visual and Performing Arts. In the same year, is recognized as Outstanding Citizen of Baguio.
Exhibits Homage to Sabel at The Luz Gallery on his 60th birthday.
Does his artist residency at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI).
BenCab is awarded the Order of National Artist for Visual Arts. Establishes the BenCab Art Foundation, Inc. that supports activities related to the arts and environment.
Establishes the BenCab museum in Baguio. Is conferred with Doctor of Humanities, Honoris Causa by the University of the Philippines.
BenCab receives a citation from the Congress of the Philippines, House of Representatives, on the occasion of his 50th year as a professional artist.