With five National Artists supporting Vice President Leni Robredo’s presidential bid in the May elections, it should likely come as no surprise that the legendary visual artist BenCab has dedicated his famed masterpiece in Robredo’s honor: the masterpiece Sabel.
BenCab, full name Benedicto Cabrera, presented the vice president a version of his world-renowned muse, “lighter and basked in a rosy glow.”
“Before he stood (virtually) with four other national artists to endorse me, BenCab visited me at the office to show me a very special Sabel piece—lighter and basking in a rosy glow,” Robredo wrote on Facebook.
“In the most turbulent times, we have counted on the arts to show us what is and what can be—and BenCab’s piece is just one of the many that speak volumes of the hope that ignites our fight. Since October, we have been at the receiving end of the generosity and overflowing talents of our Filipino visual artists.”
“Some of our best are helping through various collective efforts—iba’t ibang mga likha na nagpapakita ng pag-asang dala ng kulay rosas na bukas (different creations that showcase the hope that pink is the color of tomorrow). Many of them have also allowed our supporters to use their artworks in campaign materials. Minsan nakikita na lang namin na mural na pala ng volunteer centers natin, o ‘di kaya poster, tarp, o shirt design. (Sometimes, we just come across volunteer centers’ murals, posters, tarps, or shirt designs.)”
“Maraming, maraming salamat ulit, Sir BenCab, and to our Pinoy visual arts community. Truly an honor to have your support and trust.”
Sabel is widely regarded as BenCab’s muse, a major subject that has figured throughout his decades of work and is inspired by a real-life scavenger roaming the streets of Tondo while swathed in plastic.
“In BenCab’s mind, Sabel was a symbol of dislocation, despair, and isolation — the personification of human dignity threatened by circumstance,” Salcedo Auctions gallery wrote about Sabel.
In 2015, BenCab’s largest Sabel artwork, a 2003 oil-on-canvas painting, sold for PHP46.7 million (nearly US$1 million).
BenCab was awarded the National Artist of the Philippines for Visual Arts in 2006.