BenCab and his art

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Saturday, 30 May 2015 - Last Updated on May 27, 2015

SabelBenedicto Reyes Cabrera, more popularly known as BenCab in the world of contemporary Philippine art was awarded National Artist of the Philippines for Visual Arts (Painting) by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in Malacanang Palace in 2006.

BenCab was born in Manila on April 10, 1942. He began his career as a lyrical expressionist during the mid-sixties. He gradually penetrated Manila’s art circles after earning his bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from the University of the Philippines in 1963.

During the Martial Law years in the seventies until the contemporary era, BenCab has shown his passion for figurative expression.

BenCab’s artworks have been exhibited in the Philippines and around Asia. His works have also been showcased in some parts of Europe and the United States.

A part of his citation as National Artist reads, “His solitary figures of scavengers emerging from a dark landscape were piercing stabs at the social conscience of a people long inured to poverty and dereliction.”

BenCab Museum

The BenCab Museum houses the collection of BenCab including his own works, pieces from Filipino masters and works of rising contemporary artists. It is composed of several galleries namely BenCab Gallery, Cordillera Gallery, Philippine Contemporary Art Gallery 1, Philippine Contemporary Art Gallery 2, Maestro Gallery, Erotica Gallery, Print Gallery, Indigo Gallery, Sepia Gallery, Patio Salvador, and Larawan Hall.

The BenCab Museum aims to bring art closer to the people. It is a venue for art shows and exhibitions. The Philippine Contemporary Art Galleries focus on the artist’s collection of paintings, drawings, prints, and sculpture. The smaller exhibition rooms are dedicated to other artworks that BenCab has collected through the years.

The recent exhibition called “Re:View 2014 – BenCab Museum’s Year-End Show” featured 36 artists, including established and emerging artists.

Artists included in Re:View 2014 were Leonardo Aguinaldo, Virgilio Aviado, Max Balatbat, Welbart Bartolome, Zean Cabangis, BenCab, Marina Cruz, Melvin Culaba, Antipas Delotavo, Abi Dionisio, Alfredo Esquillo, Mark Andy Garcia, Nona Garcia, Emmanuel R. Garibay, Kawayan de Guia, Gregory Raymond Halili, Riel Hilario, Winner Jumalon, Pardo de Leon, Luis Lorenzana, Arturo Luz, Jason Montinola, Raffy T. Napay, Leeroy New, Ramon Orlina, Norberto Roldan, John Frank Sabado, Yao Sampana, Kim Jerome Santiago, Luis Santos, Soler Santos, Dexter Sy, Rodel Tapaya, Rishab Tibon, Olan Ventura, and Orley Ypon.

BenCab Museum is located at Km. 6 Asin Road, Tadiangan, Tuba, Benguet. For more information, you can call (074) 442-7165


One of BenCab’s celebrated artworks is the scavenger figure “Sabel.” Bencab describes “Sabel” as “a melancholic symbol of dislocation, despair and isolation–the personification of human dignity threatened by life’s vicissitudes, and the vast inequities of Philippine society.”

“Sabel” is considered as BenCab’s muse. It is inspired by a real-life scavenger which he photographed and sketched back in 1965.

BenCab’s model was a “taong grasa” who was roaming around an area in Makati where he used to live. He would often see her from his window carrying loads of bags. As his interest grew on the subject, BenCab began drawing and taking photos of her; both human and abstract side. He included “Sabel” in his first exhibition. Whenever BenCab was inspired to make transitions and create something new, he found himself working on “Sabel”.

“What I do now is to extend the variations — Sabel as Japanese or Chinese, Sabel as a metal sculpture, or even as totally abstract painting. But people see a lot of things in her,” BenCab said on

“Sabel” as a musical

BenCab’s “Sabel” has been given life on stage in a form of a musical to celebrate the national artist’s 50 years in the world of art.

“Sabel: Love and Passion,” a musical inspired by BenCab’s most iconic subject features Iza Calzado and members of the Philippine Ballet Theatre (PBT). It was staged last April 30, 2015 at The Theatre in Solaire under the music and musical direction by Louie Ocampo and direction, book and lyrics by Freddie Santos. It will be followed by a two-night regular run at the Music Museum in June 2015.

BenCab featured at Lopez Museum

BenCab’s exhibit at Lopez Museum called “Frames of Reference” is special because aside from celebrating his 50 years in the field but it also marks his comeback.  BenCab was the first artist featured at The Gallery when the Museum first transferred to Benpres Building 29 years ago.

“Frames of Reference” is curated by Dannie Alvarez. It includes BenCab’s works which the public has not seen before. The exhibit also showcases his art-books and small scrapbook-like compilations of collages that he accumulated from the 1960s to 1980s. His print folios give the public an idea to the beginnings of some of his series of works including “Sabel”, “Larawan”, and “Japanese Women (ukiyo-e)”.

Lopez Museum and Library is located at the G/F Benpres Bldg., Meralco cor. Exchange Rd., Ortigas Center, Pasig City. It is open from 8am-5pm from Monday to Saturday except Sunday and holidays. The exhibit will run until July 4, 2015. For more information, you can call (02) 631-2417.

List of artworks

The following is a partial list of BenCab’s works. He also has several untitled works.

  • Angelita (1973)
  • Amihan (1996)
  • Anxiety (2010)
  • Brown brother’s burden
  • Carrying a Banga
  • Conquest and Resistance
  • Couple (2006)
  • Crucifixion (1987)
  • Dirt in the eye
  • DRAPES (1976)Edo Gesture (1981)
  • Family (1968)
  • Fish head (1988)
  • Girl Sitting (1994)
  • Habagat
  • Homage to Sabel (2002)
  • Homage to Utamaro
  • Igorot Gentleman / Miss Igorot (2007)
  • Jose Rizal (2011)
  • Leo’s Parisian Winter; Very avant-garde, very David Medalla
  • Lovers
  • Manila Gentleman 1900 (1973)
  • Midnight meeting
  • Mysterious woman
  • Nine Figure Studies
  • Nude at rest
  • Portrait of Caroline (The Artist’s Wife) (1972)
  • Park bench no. 1
  • Precious Child (2011)
  • Portrait of Sabel (1976)
  • Reclining Nude (2012)
  • Reunion (1990)
  • Punk (1981)
  • Sabel 9 (2003)
  • Sabel in San Andres Bukid (1966)
  • Sabel (2002)
  • Sabel in Blue (2006)
  • Sweet Gaze (2013)
  • Recuerdos (2010)The Dancers (2006)
  • The Friar (1973)
  • The Lovers
  • The Oriental Fan (Larawan Series) (1982)
  • The Workers (1989)
  • Triptych on Love (1988)
  • Waiting for the monsoon
  • Woman in red
  • Woman with a Basket (1998)
  • Woman with Basket (2005)
  • Untitled (Precursor of ‘Sabel,’ from the ‘Scavengers’ series) (1969)
  • Urban life
  • Yellow Confetti (1984)
  • Young vendor


Photo c/o Pinterest.

Ma. Rachel Yapchiongco (389 Posts)

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