The legacy of Santi Bose endures in this restored Sagada mural

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The idea for the restoration project came from Bose’s good friend Boy Yuchengco, whose family commissioned the mural forty years prior. Photo by KIMBERLY DELA CRUZ/Courtesy of ATENEO ART GALLERY

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Painted on the facade of St. Mary’s School of Sagada, the late Cordillera-bred painter Santiago Bose’s mural “Kabilbiligan” (1981) — which means hillside in Kankanaey — depicts detailed scenes from Sagada and stills of its people. With drawings of mountainous landscapes, native warriors, and Sagadan ritual objects, it is his perception of the town. But exposed to natural elements, the 40-year-old mural began to look weathered and washed. Parts of the mural were colorless, and the details, like the outlines of the Sagadans, were no longer sharp or distinct.

There were small-scale restorations to address the weathering, but the art materials used did not fit the project, mentioned Rica Concepcion in a recent webinar by the Ateneo Art Gallery. When the rains came, their work went with it, returning the mural to its previous state.

But early this year, a group of artists from the region restored it, if restored is the right word.

In many art restoration projects, conservators work to bring art back to its original state. But in the case of Bose’s 40 year old mural, the artists working on the restoration — sculptors, installation artists and multimedia artists from the Baguio Arts Guild — were free to incorporate their personal touches into the mural. In three weeks, they collaborated to restore all 50 feet of its width, leaning into their own roots and practices. Light designer Perry Mamaril installed lights, installation artist Bong Sanchez painted branches on the ceiling, and contemporary artist Leonard Aguinaldo installed some art on the school’s doors. The artists even pieced together tiles from a Sagada pottery for mosaics, covering the pillars framing the mural. Led by the artist known for the bi-annual festival AX(iS) Art Project, Kawayan de Guia, the project became just as much of a reimagination as it was a restoration.

Bose himself was a nonconformist. In his biodata submission for the 1976 CCP Thirteen Artists Award, he referred to himself as both a painter and magician. He was curious, says his daughter and writer Lilledeshan Bose. His love for synergizing and learning led him to establish, along with prominent Baguio-based artists such as painter BenCab and filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik, the Baguio Arts Guild (BAG) in the late 1980s. Meant as a platform to collaborate and engage, it helped in establishing artists in the scene, and led to Bose mentoring Perry Mamaril, Jordan Mang-oSan, and Kawayan de Guia.

De Guia said, “In a way, [the founding members of the Baguio Arts Guild] became ambassadors to that path, in connecting to these old ways and saying, let’s value this.”

As it stands today, the mural is a representation of the past and present Sagada — the generational work of a community in collaboration with Bose.

Below are close ups of the mural.