Cordillerans prop up g-stringed sculptor in Europe

Posted: 19-Jun-2011 / 7 years 4 days ago

As it takes one to know one, it was no sweat for Cordillera expatriates to find Igorot carver Gilbert Gano Alberto among the 38 artists at the 10th  International Sculpture Symposium that ends today in Morges, Switzerland.

“We did not have to read the country of origin of our artist but recognized (it) at once upon sighting a “takba” or “sangi”(traditional Igorot rattan backpack) set under a blue-covered pavilion,” e-mailed Julio Monico through

Most of the sculptors were on their lunch break when Monico arrived at the courtyard of the Morges Castle where the symposium was being held. So he moved to the other tents to view other works in progress, then returned to find Alberto chiseling away in his g-string.

“Nagwanesak ta (Philippine) Independence Day tatta (I’m in g-string because it’s Independence Day today),” Alberto said. “Luckily, the weather was warm and sunny that he could traditionally tie his “wanes” that may be an added fascination to spectators,” Monico wrote.

Out of a 50 x 50 x 50 cm. white stone block, Gilbert was fashioning out an old Igorot man sitting and playing a gong. The work and those of the 37 other artists would be subjected to balloting by visitors for the “Audience Award” before the end of the artfest. 

“Wherever this figure (200-300 kg. granite) will be set after the Symposium (in a park or in a museum?), for sure and forever it reflects our global identity and explanation of our traditional instruments and dances as part of our culture,” mused Monico.

“He is the only Asian among the participants,”, noted expat Lolit Hafner, who visited earlier. She egged fellow Cordillerans to go give Gilbert support, advising them to bring rice which he was missing. 

“To those able and interested, we plan to be at the venue on Saturday (June 18) for a sort of group gathering,” she e-mailed the rest. “Gongs will be available and we can also brin g our attire just as the other artist supporters do. We can also potluck picnic at the park nearby. This may be short of time notice,but with a bit of sacrifice we hope we can still make it.”

“It would be (a) nice opportunity as a group to go and give our support and solidarity to a
talented kailian who made it that far to showcase one of our artistic traditions,” she said. “He is (leaving for home) late evening of June 19 so we think he can still use the time prior to his flight for a short trip to see more than (the castle) compound.”

Alberto, who marks his works with “Gano” (his maternal grandfather’s name), caught the attention of Cordillera expatriates in Europe after one of them, Yvonne Belen in the Netherlands, led them to the symposium website and and gilbert’s

“I would have loved driving 560 kilometers last week-end to Morges to meet Gilbert if not for a bout of ‘araytis’ triggered by black beans,” Igorot karate teacher Julian Chees wrote from his base in southern Germany. 

In lieu of his no-show, Chees, a native of Maligcong, Bontoc, Mt. Province, again reconnected to the Cordillera by working out the release of 360 euros from Shoshin Foundation, a humanitarian group founded by his martial arts students, as support to a patient here undergoing regular dialysis treatment for kidney failure.

On this, his second artistic exposure abroad, Alberto narrated to Monico he was late on the first day and took a cab from his assigned lodging, only to learn the symposium venue was near. “Gilbert’s handy number is off because he can not charge due to incompatible charger and apparently he can not buy the adapter since he was not aware of the shops’ opening (and) can only buy it on Tuesday,” Lolit also said.

To have his plane ticket, Alberto sold “Muntobob” (Drummer), a piece he fashioned out of a river stone he fished out below his hut at Twin Peaks, Kennon Rd..The National Commission on Culture and Arts will shoulder the expense after he comes home and submits the ticket. 

An art patron handed him $100 as pocket money while a relative gave him a “pasiking” that he hoped would catch the fancy of souvenir hunters and add to his string budget. 

Gilbert learned woodcarving from his father when he was 13. Aware of the impact of the wood-based craft to forest denudation, he shifted to driftwood and river stone sculpture, “as part of my affair with the ‘drift world’ – materials that seem of no use, yet remain harmless to the environment when fashioned into art pieces, giving them a touch of compassion that would let something within them to come out to celebrate life”.

In transcending the commercialism of the craft, he took in stride comments of his fellow Ifugao woodcarvers: “Artist nga talaga ni kabsat Gilbert ngem awan met makukwarta na (Brother Gilbert is truly an artist but art doesn’t help him improve his financial status).”

He had hoped his participation in Morges would provide him the exposure he needs to  insulate himself from the pull of commercial woodcarving.

“It’s an honor to be in Morges, and an added honor to meet fellow Igorots whose warmth makes you feel you’re home,” he said.

For the Cordillera expats in Europe, Lorena Domanog summed up their feeling:

  “Thanks for coming up with the idea of meeting at (Morges)  on Saturday. Please count me in. This is indeed an opportunity to celebrate our blessedness and uniqueness as a people. It's not everyday that we have a Gilbert to represent us in the international community. See you there.” - Ramon Dacawi.

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