April 20, 2024
EXPLORING ENCHANTED FOREST — The artwork of nine individuals in the autism spectrum are on display at The Manor at Camp John Hay following the unveiling of the Enchanted Holidays that was highlighted with the presentation of an 8 feet by 8 feet painting on canvass, a diptych titled Ëlkat: An Enchanted Forest, by the nine individuals who are Baguio beneficiaries of the Fashion Arts Autism Benefit. — Contributed photo

All roads lead to Camp John Hay in Baguio City this weekend as the Manor at Camp John Hay unveils its theme for the Christmas season, “Enchanted Holidays”, with a benefit dinner for the Fashion Arts Autism Benefit (FAAB), a project of Autism Hearts Foundation (AHF) in partnership with the Camp John Hay Development Corporation (CJHDevCo).
The project is aimed at using arts as a therapy to improve behavior, general functioning and socialization skills, and also serves as springboard for self-sufficiency of individuals in the autism spectrum.
Highlighting the launch is a presentation of an 8 x 8 feet painting on canvass, a diptych titled Ëlkat: An Enchanted Forest, by nine individuals in the autism spectrum who are Baguio beneficiaries of the FAAB project.
Under the guidance of SPED teacher and artist-mentor Yvone Almazan-Malaga, the artists worked six weekends to complete the masterpiece, their first major collaboration.
The nine artists are products of art therapy sessions that began in 2018 in a building that used to house the former Lonestar Steakhouse inside Camp John Hay, with the help of volunteer artists including Robert Joaquin, Gladys Ann Labsan, and Ged Alangui and the sustained support of Lissa Sobrepena, chair of the FAAB project and an active member of the AHF Board of Directors.
The two-year art therapy program for FAAB Baguio beneficiaries should have culminated with the observance of World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) at the United Nations headquarters in New York in 2020, in an event that was supposed to showcase the artists’ outputs from the art sessions, but got stalled because of the pandemic.
Despite this, the artists continued to hone their skills with the encouragement of their parents and the help, albeit online, of Alangui and Almazan-Malaga.
In April, two of the Baguio FAAB artists, Justin Zambrano and Emarnel Pasana, along with a parent and counterparts from FAAB Kalibo, represented their peers to the World Autism Awareness celebration in New York City’s Guggenheim Museum and the Philippine Consulate Office with a fashion show and art exhibit of FAAB Philippines’ works of art.
Dr. Erlinda Borromeo, AHF founder and chairperson of the AHF Board of Directors, said the partnership with the Sobrepeñas dates back as early as 2016 when they first established the FAAB Project in Manila, then later on in Kalibo, Aklan, and Baguio in 2018.
At the height of the pandemic, AHF added FAAB Quezon City to their list of beneficiaries.
AHF’s founder is a Filipina grandmother of a child with autism based in the U.S.  
Since the diagnosis of his grandson, it has been her commitment to spread awareness on autism and help others in the spectrum to be able to live in a more inclusive community, especially in the Philippines.       
The Manor at Camp John Hay General Manager Ramon Cabrera expressed hope and optimism that the benefit dinner will be well patronized, not only to broaden awareness on autism but more importantly to be able to sustain the project and help more individuals in the spectrum become productive citizens of the community.
The 8 by 8 canvass diptych depicts the artists’ imagination of an enchanted forest in the cold Baguio evenings.
It features flora endemic to Baguio City, whose first settlers are the Ibaloys; a stream flowing through the forest that reflects light from the moon and illuminates the entire woods, which in turn reveals the mysterious gentle creatures that live in the forest.
The presence of a unicorn symbolizing rarity and value in the woods proves that the forest is thriving and in perfect balanced condition, with the help of Cordillera deities like Bunag (Gaddang, god of the earth, depicted in the trunk of the tree) and Bibiy’o (Ifugao, fairy gods that dwell in trees and rocks).
The painting also features Pinading (mermaid-looking guardian of nature said to live on rocks) and Lampong (elf-looking guardian of animals), mythical creatures inspired by the comic book Gayang, Igorot myths and legends.
The nine artists are known for incorporating Cordillera ethnic touches to their masterpieces. In this diptych, they used various Cordillera designs in the clothing of the Lampongs and Pinading and included lizards.
Dr. Jimmy Fong, dean of the College of Arts and Communication at UP Baguio and also an Ibaloy, said the painting somehow spells nostalgia for what Baguio can be if the greeneries or nature are sustained.
The artists are Ian Jones Almazan, 19; Talek Jose Ilagan, 21; Andrei Nisperos, 17; Emarnel Pasana, 22; Leila Michelle Reyes, 20; Paulo Brent Ricardo, 22; Keefe-Everett Sebio, 21; Jhomir Shontogan, 21; and Justin Raymond Zambrano, 19. – Press release