Baguio’s 40 Artists Under 40

Frank Cimatu takes on the massive task of listing 40 of today’s most creative young minds in the artist’s heaven that is Baguio.

May 10, 2016

An aerie among the clouds, Baguio City had always been an artists' haven. But it wasn't until the late 1980s that the rest of the world noticed. It was at that time that National Artist Bencab decided to return from London to Quezon Hill where he became neighbors with Santi Bose. Kidlat Tahimik also came home from a European commune, with wife Katrin de Guia and three sons, aboard a Volkswagen van.

Also returning from abroad was Willy Magtibay. Include Roberto Villanueva, anthropologist Dave Baradas, Baboo Mondonedo, Laida Lim-Perez, Su Llamado, Tommy Hafalla, Rene Aquitania, Peachy Prieto and Brix Santos, Luisa Igloria and others, and you have a creative explosion.

The Baguio Arts Guild was formed and starting in 1988, and the Baguio Arts International Festival was held every year. Baguio became, as Roberto Villanueva termed it, a power spot of the arts.

The second wave of artists was composed of Leonard Aguinaldo, Jordan Mangosan, Jojo Elmeda, Ferdie Balanag, Jo Kapuno, John Frank Sabado, Ged Alangui, Art Tibaldo, Grace Nono, Rishab Tibon, Kigao Rosimo, Chi Balmaceda, Hec Cruz and Boy Garovillo, who held the fort up to the first decade of 2000.

Like the remnants of an explosion, art in Baguio was dispersed to all corners of the city. There is the Tam-awan, VOCAS, and the remnants of BAG, while the rest have gone abroad or to Manila.

But it is not like the creative spirit had died down. Breaking out from the shackles of their elders, the Third Wave has come out of its own.

The problem, at least for my part, is to find them and bring them to you. Without regret or remorse, here is my take of the Forty Under 40.

1) Kawayan de Guia. He was always with his pencil, his mother Katrin noted. And so Kawayan was able to redraw the Baguio art map with his awards and mindbomb works (jukebox transformers, memory aquariums) while helping other artists to break new ground without forgetting where they come from.

2) Padma Perez, PA (poet / anthropologist / party animal), was head of the Baguio Writers Group and is now the overseer of Mt. Cloud Bookshop and keeper of the spoken word.

3) The Rosetes. You don't see them in artsy parties but these quiet five siblings, led by Meong and Christo, are making paintings that will render you speechless.

4) Ubbog means "spring" and is the name of a group of young Baguio writers. They have regular workshops on their own and produced by hand a journal of their works last February. Some of them were even included in the Baguio Writer's Group's two works, "Baguio We Know" and "Baguio Calligraphy." The group, led by Sacha Weygan and Junley Lazaga, also champion Cordillera languages. But more remarkable are that some of them are visual artists like Rocky Cajigan and Florenda Pedro, who just had their two-woman show in VOCAS and Rommel Pidazo who wove found objects into haunting tapestries. Gawani Domogo is a documentor of Baguio artists while doing medico-anthropological treks around the Cordillera. Monica Macansantos was awarded last year a three-year James Michener Fellowship for Creative Writing at the University of Houston. Los Angeles-based Chris Yniguez and Oxford-based Allan Carino also incorporated concrete poetry and conceptual art when they became resident artists of Ubbog.

5) Karlo Altomonte. This son of theater great Gigi Duenas came to Baguio and sought to make a living doing only theater gigs in Baguio. Theater? Baguio? Karlo showed us that all of Baguio is a stage, and throbbing with possibilities.

6) The Mighty Bhutens. Give your broken bottles and tiles to this merry trio (Kabunyan de Guia, Oliver Olivete, and Guiller Lagac) and they will create humorous and otherworldly museum-worthy mosaics.

7) Ingrid Payaket. Because she showed the world that you don't need to be a siomai or taho vendor with a good voice to plead with people to text so you can win contests (in this case, Pilipinas Got Talent). You not only need a good voice, but also good taste in music. The performances of Baguio boys Yvan Lambatan, Kenny Padalla, and of course, the late Marky Cielo in other reality singing shows prove that videoke bars in Baguio are tolerable. Also look for Ivan Cruz, the official serenader of the UP Writers Workshop bigwigs.

8) The Edralins, formerly known as The Spaceflowers, make the '60s so fun and easy with their repertoire of Beatles, Turtles, and other sixties bands, but they can also segue to ska and Eraserheads while you are doing the twist. Also fun to dance to are the Uptown Raskals and Powerpuff Corn. Hardboiledeggz, winner of the Red Horse Musiklaban, is more into metal. There are others out there. As they say, Baguio has more garage bands than garages. Terribly missed is US-based Badjao Wandag with his Rastafarian swagger, acrylics of old Cordillera women, and hand-made lutes.

9) Chris Donaal is the lead singer and guitarist of Daluyon Band which does folk and Cordillera songs. He is also a leader of the Cordillera Global Network, which does environmental advocacies for the region. Other artists into environmental advocacy are Rey Angelo Aurelio (environmental theater) and Shei Datinguinoo (green art). Also include Jojet Mondares who is waging an artistic battle against plastic bags.

10) Young Tam-awan artists worth buying are Jeff Cablog, James Gabito, Arthur Lozano, and the Simsim brothers.

11) Bumbo Villanueva is the nephew of Roberto and son of arts teacher and sculptor Benhur Villanueva who established Arko ng Apo at the foot of Tam-awan. But Bumbo has set a career of his own incorporating metal sculpture, poetry, and interactive art with children.

12) Laydeh Alberto is among those who started ukay-ukay fashion, also known as deconstructed couture. She also added political tarpaulin fashion among her repertoire. Dubai-based Eros Goze and Dan de Lima wowed the international fashionistas with their all-around natural fiber collection while with Narda's.

13) Karen Navarette Anton became a household TV word with her Metamorphosis Dancers. You know, those pretty whirling dervishes? She continues to teach hula and belly dancing even as she has become a champion race driver like husband Carlos Anton.

14) Session Road, the band led by the Romawac siblings, transferred the city's main street onto the alternative music map. Drummer Chavi also moonlights as a mean chef.

15) Jennifer Carino, daughter of Luisa Igloria, is a folk singer, painter, and prizewinning poet, having been the finalist of last year's Holiday Prize of Meritage Press. Also a BWG triple threat is Desiree Caluza.

16) Gilbert Gano Alberto carves huge river boulders along Kennon into Botero-like sculptures. He won the silver prize in the 10th International Symposium on Sculpture in Switzerland last June.

17) Lightning strikes twice. Kidlat de Guia followed his Dad's footsteps, ehem, footage, winning Discovery Channel's First Time Filmmakers Initiative and the Aqua Planet Video Festival Award of Excellence. He is also a photo chronicler of Manila and Baguio's urban blight.

18) Ruel Bimmuyag, Alex Tumapang, and Jason Domling are keeping Cordillera dance alive, giving workshops to teach Cordillera kids the art of pattong and tadek, among others. Bimmuyag is also a photographer-documentarist of Cordillera rituals.

19) Abstract painter Paul Sunggay also owns a dogmeat restaurant in the very dangerous Katipunan St. Together with Kawayan, they have turned his Katipunan Restaurant into a gallery and art happening hotspot.

20) Joey Cobcobo is a painter, carver, and printmaker. His graffiti of the wall at Katipunan St. with Dex Fernandez and Froilan Calayag among others is a must-see for art tourists.

21) Mark Tandoyog painted mostly Cordillera scenes with punk sensibilities until he discovered slogan art. Now he is into silkscreened slogans on art, sex, and rock and roll on canvas

22) Diego Maranan incorporated hybrid technology and dance. His cousin, Architect Diego Raoul Maranan Rimando, won 3rd in bamboo house design contest but Gawad Kalinga's Tony Meloto was smitten with his entry and wanted it reproduced. Another cousin, Dennis Maranan Rimando, is an award-winning classical guitarist.
23) Enrico Subido won the Palanca's Kabataan Essay three years in a row. He has since grown, occasionally writing for magazines and playing in a Manila band called "Basi." He is also a pretty damn good poetry reader.

24) Kalawang, aka Daniel Purizima, does traditional Cordillera tattooing, winning five tattooing competitions in the country. He also does rattan weaving, lamp-making, and silkscreening.

25) DKK or the Dap-ayan ti Kultura ti Kordilyera, led by Alma Dinumlag and Kirol Okubo, had been around since the 1990s, producing activist street plays and musical albums on indigenous people's issues like mining, militarization, and development aggression.

26) Dion Fernandez can see dead people, and has been creating literally haunting photomanipulations of the city creatures and hot "dead" spots in the city.

27) Lester Lebumcifil does tattooing and dreadlocking for hapless Koreans and sculptures using rubber scraps. He and his merry gang also perform cultural hi-jinks during rallies and public shows.

28) Repolyo Republic, headed by Shanti Gamiao and other UP Baguio students, is a free-form percussion band using gangsa, solibao, and Zen drums. Another Baguio percussion group is Drumstart.

29) Gerald Asbucan is a graphic novelist who did a series of comics on Baguio superheroes and volleyball muses. He is organizing the 1st Baguio Comics Convention this July.

30) Baguio-born Gigi Dement is a videographer who won this year's Academy Awards for Best Live Action Short as co-producer of "God of Love."

31) The Three Baguio Tenors (Lloyd Virgo, Lloyd Celzo, and Jeff Coronado) sing on weekends at the John Hay Cultural Park in front of Filling Station during summer and the holiday season.

32) Mary Ann Licudine, or Mall, is an award-winning children's book illustrator.

33) Baguio boy Rob Cham recently graduated from Ateneo and his wonderful and funny illustrations in Tumblr has been gaining fans.

34) Athena Masilungan teaches kindergarten at Sofia School and dance at Le Conservatoire de Danse de Ballet.

35) The walls of Hill Station Restaurant display the collection of Boy Yniguez, including the works of Wig Tysmans, Mannix Santos, Tommy Hafalla, and Ansel Adams. That a photo of Vixienne Calulut is included here, means she, too, must be included in my list.

36) Carlo Villafuerte inherited his sewing skills from his mother and grandmother. Martin Masadao describes Villafuerte's works as "a mélange of polka dots, floral, paisley, op art, madras, tweed, denim, batik, cotton, wool, double knit, et cetera fuse together with metal scraps, buttons, stones, wire, and what-else, in artworks that are well thought out."

37) Among the young Baguio photojournalists who strike me for their composition and compassion are Harley Palangchao and Richard Balonglong.

38) Ethan Ventura is the mild-mannered musical director of Altomonte's Open Space Multimedia Ventures and a mean session guitarist.

39) Girard Moses Villanueva is a principal clarinetist of the American Wind Symphony Orchestra based in Yale University. He graduated Masters in Music summa cum laude at Lynn University in Florida, where he was principal clarinetist of the Florida State Orchestra.Look for the classical trio known as Tre Maestri, composed of Hectur de Saung-Reehal on violin, Genwilma Rojas on cello, and Jennifer Marigsa on piano.

40) Baguio is the country's Nashville, where country music reigns supreme. That said, let the Kinnoboyan band ride us into the sunset.


0) But we end with DJ Mark Zero, Kawayan's musical twin, because he represents what Baguio arts is now, a crazy mix of the old and new, country and classical, polka dots and leftist stripes, sacred and the profane, rock river, and rock and roll.

POSTSCRIPT: AND THEN THERE'S BRUNO MARS. After writing this, a friend told me that Bruno Mars has Baguio blood. Hmmm. Peter Hernandez (Bruno's real name), born in Waikiki, Hawaii, sounds Pinoy but Hernandez is Portuguese. His mom's complete name is Bernadette "Bernie" San Pedro Bayot - Hernandez. The Bayot side is from Cebu City but the San Pedro, as it turns out, may just be the Baguio connection. Sonny San Pedro, my next door neighbor's cousin, was interviewed on Baguio TV saying that Soledad San Pedro, Bruno Mars's maternal Lola, is his sister. So until I play golf again with Manong Sonny, I can not verify that. But talaga ha? Comedian Rob Shneider was seen in a movie wearing a white t-shirt with "Baguio Midland Courier" printed on it. His mom is related to the owners of the said newspaper but Rob is already 47 years old. Also too old for this list are Robin Padilla, Bb. Gandanghari and Martin Nievera. Another Martin, my friend, said that his cousin is a famous porn actor. Would that mean I have to research at all the porn films and actors and look for the Baguio, uhm, roots? Long story there.

Basta Pinas, Napintas!

Frank Cimatu is a Palanca-Award-winning poet and a correspondent for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. His CV lists him as a "poet, blogger, NGO worker, editor, newspaper reporter, art critic and eventologist."