Benguet, My People Art exhibit tells the story of the Ibaloy people in a stunning dreamy portrayal through the brush strokes of Roland Bay-an. Bay-an’s 6th solo exhibit is in celebration of Ibaloy Day commemorated in the City of Baguio every 23rd of February.
Bay-an was born and raised in Baguio with a Chinese father and Ibaloy mother. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, the city became his playground. He would go around shining shoes or selling newspapers. He witnessed how Baguio transformed from its post-war recovery to a modern metropolis.
But what was ingrained in his memory are the Ibaloy practices that his mother would bring him to on constant occasions. The customs and culture like the kanyaw where he would partake in feasts with neighbors and families, the fields where men and womenfolks work harmoniously, the women carrying “kayabang” to sell in the markets or to carry goods from the farms, the coffee and tea served on a white tin can and ash-blackened kettle, the wooden huts with cogon grass roofs, the shy mother or father carrying a child with “aban”, etc.
These practices and customs are slowly disappearing with the advent of modernism. These memories are the passion that drives him to be immortalized through his paintings. Many of his paintings depict foggy mountainous landscape backgrounds that are characteristics of Baguio and its environs, the original settlements of his Ibaloy ancestors.
Bay-an started his passion for drawing at an early age. During elementary school days, he would be picked to represent Don Bosco Elementary School in drawing competitions. He said in those days, “he doesn’t even know the meaning of art and the word artist was foreign to him.”
Another of his past times was to watch movies and he would scour all movie houses each week. When there’s a need to illustrate native Americans or cowboys, his help would be sought as he would often practice drawing the movie characters during his spare time.
He would work on different jobs around the city but he will always find time for his passion. He will work the longest at Baguio’s well-known Dainty Cafe where many of Baguio folks would drop. His talent was eventually discovered by one of Baguio’s early artists Bayard Aquitania while sketching during his free time at the cafe. He was then invited to join the Tahong Bundok. In his own words, Bay-an said he had no knowledge of arts and exhibits. Joining the group further ignited his passion that he would purchase as many books and magazines as he can to improve his “art,” his new discovered word to call his passion.
He started joining art exhibits and later on was elated to find out his artworks can also make money. But he said the money was never his inspiration to create artworks but his passion to express his imagination.
Later on, he met and was further tutored by University of the Philippines (UP Baguio) art professor Darnay Demitillo. With Demitillo, Bay-an helped in the campaign to bring Fine Arts to UP Baguio. He did not attend the course when it finally came but he gained so much knowledge from Demitillo’s tutelage. Through the years, he developed his own distinct dreamy impressionism recognizable as his own.
When Tam-awan Arts Village was created, he was invited by Benedicto Cabrera or BenCab to join as one of the village’s artists. When BenCab left to create his own BenCab Museum, Bay-an too left to do other art activities.
In July, 2016, he heeded a call for an art for a cause to help raise funds for dialysis patients by Bookends Bookshop proprietress Maricar Docyogen. Bay-an and other artists donated their time to do sketching that raised funds for the cause. That event was followed by several more and they started to exhibit art for a cause in a backstreet. They called that event the Pasa-Kalye Street Art Exhibit.
As their activities grew with Bay-an everybody fondly calls master, they created their group and adopted the title of their event as their name, the Pasa-Kalye Group of Artists. With Bay-an as the group’s father-figure and Docyogen as their manager, they continue to do philanthropic works as well as livelihood projects for the artists and crafters.
Bay-an said this will probably be his last group as he just wants to paint and bring out his memories through his paintings. Bay-an is maybe shy to speak in front of a crowd but he continues to guide the younger ones to improve in art and is always willing to impart knowledge to those who ask for it. Helping others is part of his nature. On several occasions, people who bought his paintings would ask him to sell them again to make ends meet, especially during the pandemic. He himself would buy them back at higher prices, whether he can sell them again wasn’t important to him. “Basta makatulongak” (as long as I can be of help), he would often answer when asked why he did it.
The Benguet: My People is his 6th solo exhibit. As a veteran artist, that seems so few, but he always prefers to do group exhibits over a solo one. On this special day for the Ibaloys, he consented to the encouragement of the group to do a solo exhibit.
The Ibaloy day celebration commemorates the victory of Mateo Cariño who won his case against the United States of America on February 23, 1908, over his rights to his land that became part of Baguio City’s development. The case was later named the Cariño doctrine that became the blueprint of many laws produced around the world to honor indigenous peoples’ rights.
Cariño never enjoyed the benefit of this law as he died a year before the decision was promulgated and the 50,000-dollar award only went to litigation expenses. Until now, Cariño’s descendants are still fighting for their rights in their own lands. The law has probably benefited more people around the world other than who it was originally intended for. But it still calls for a celebration when a simple tribesman fought for his right against a powerful nation and won.
The Ibaloy culture and heritage are worth fighting for and Bay-an too is fighting for its memories and preservation through his brushes.