Carving Heritage: Igorot Earns International Prestige for Filipino Art

We are a people of mixed, often confused, culture. For centuries, we have been colonized by different nations that have left lasting imprints on our cultural identity. While all erstwhile foreign influences (including present Western aspirations brought about by Hollywood and other first-world inspirations) have contributed to our varied traditions, rich language and our “global competency,” they have also alienated generations of our people from what is distinctively Filipino.

Defining what is truly Filipino proves to be daunting to most people these days, but not to someone like Gilbert Bergano Alberto, who has kept a strong affinity to his intrinsic roots. An Igorot sculptor from Hungduan, Ifugao province, Alberto believes that the first step to being proud of who you are is knowing where you came from.

Gilbert Bergano Alberto stands beside his artwork
“It is very important that we do not lose touch of who we are as a people because our culture and our values depend on our true understanding of ourselves,” Alberto explained in Tagalog. “As an artist, my culture is my biggest advantage. It is my tool and inspiration in all my artworks.”

Driven by his unwavering pride for his Ifugao roots, Alberto has earned international recognition for his sculptures. He bagged the Silver Award (Jury Prize) and the Prix du Public (Audience Choice Award) at the 10th International Sculpture Symposium held in Morges, Geneva, Switzerland in 2011 – the first time that a single artwork won in two categories in the international stone sculpture competition.

Alberto was one of 30 artists from 20 different counties who participated in the prestigious event. For eight days throughout the competition, all contestants individually worked on uniform-sized limestone blocks that weighed around 300 kilos each. With barely four carving tools at hand, Alberto finished his “An Old Man with a Gong Playing the Sounds of Wisdom” sculpture, which earned the most jury and audience votes and the top two prizes in the competition.

The Geneva event was not the first time that Alberto’s artworks gained international exposure. He was the Philippine representative in the 2nd Delphic International Sculptors Camp held in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia in 2005. He is now planning a major project in Baguio City, where is presently based, and it is bound to place the Filipino’s outstanding sculpting talent and artistry on world record.

Alberto has always had a penchant for chronicling Philippine history through his artworks. In fact, what stands as an eye-catching masterpiece amidst the lush garden of The Manor in Camp John Hay, Baguio is a result of his month-long labor of carving historical images out of a dead pine tree.

A work of art he now calls “The Rose of No Man’s Land” (after the poetic song of the same title which was dedicated to the gallant Red Cross nurses at the front lines of war), the tree sculpture features the images of former Philippine President Manuel L. Quezon, former American president Abraham Lincoln, figures representing the Fil-Am Friendship and the surrender of Yamashita, a nurse with her patient, and a fighter jet with dropped missiles at the top.

“When The Manor contacted me for the project, they showed me the dead tree and asked me if I could do something with it. They gave me the go when I showed them the sketches I made of the images I planned to carve out of the tree.

“I wanted to honor the brave nurses of war in this art piece because they contributed so much and sacrificed their lives to save battle casualties, but they are hardly mentioned in history. By looking at my tree sculpture, you will see an important chapter in Philippine history.”

Thus is Alberto’s way of encouraging us to look back and recognize our roots as a people. Just as Filipino culture has been shaped by centuries of foreign influences, he does his share of preserving vital history and traditions through his art. By carving what he believes is the Philippine’s true heritage, he showcases the inimitable Filipino identity to the rest of the world.
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