Carl C. Taawan
BENGUET, My People art exhibit tells the story of the Ibaloy people in a visually stunning portrayal through the brush strokes of Roland Bay-an. His 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 by 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 he constantly saw when his mother would bring him along to attend occasions. The customs and culture like the kanyaw where he would partake in feasts with neighbors and families; the fields where men and women work harmoniously; the women carrying “kayabang” to sell in the markets or to carry goods from the farms; the coffee and tea served in white tin cans poured from an 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 what drive him passionately to immortalize 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 didn’t even know the meaning of art and the word artist was foreign to him.”
Another pastime of his was to watch movies and he would scour all movie houses each week. When there was 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 worked different jobs around the city but always found time for his passion. He worked the longest at Baguio’s well-known Dainty Cafe where many Baguio folks dropped by then. His talent was eventually discovered by Bayard Aquitania, one of Baguio’s early artists, 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 did not know much about arts and exhibits. Joining the group further ignited his passion and he purchased as many books and magazines to improve his “art,” his newly-discovered word to call his passion.
He started joining art exhibits and was elated to find out that his artworks could also make money. But he said money was never his inspiration to create artworks but rather his passion to express his imagination.
Later on, he met and was further tutored by University of the Philippines (UP Baguio) art professor Darnay Demetillo. With Demetillo, Bay-an helped in the campaign to bring Fine Arts to Baguio. He did not attend the course when it finally came but he gained so much knowledge under Demetillo’s tutelage. Through the years, he developed his 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 16, 2016, he heeded a call for 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.
With the group growing as encouraged by Bay-an, everybody then started fondly calling him “master”, and 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 may be shy in speaking in front of a crowd but he continues to guide the younger ones in improvin their 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 have bought his paintings would ask him to buy them back to make ends meet, especially during the pandemic. He 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 does it.
The Benguet: My People is his 6th solo exhibit. As a veteran artist- so few now , it seem – he says he still prefers to do group exhibits over a solo one.But for this special day – the day celebrating Ibaloys – he consented to stage a solo exhibit as encouraged by the group to do so.
The Ibaloy day celebration commemorates the victory of Mateo Cariño who won his case against the United States of America on February 23, 1908. It 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 went into litigation expenses. Until now, Cariño’s descendants are still fighting for their rights to their lands. The law has probably benefited more people around the world than who it was originally intended for. But it still calls for a celebration- for that simple tribesman who 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.