Kidlat Tahimik once made special mention of his name in an interview, saying he’s one of Ifugao’s talented weavers whose works the acclaimed filmmaker showcased in his series of epic art exhibitions, including the one in the Palacio de Cristal in El Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain.
In an interview with Manila Bulletin in 2022, the National Artist for Film lauded the man’s incredible gift. “Ang ganda ng imagination niya kasi hindi siya nakakakita,” he said. Indeed, Rogelio Guinnanoy is not just any talented weaver. He’s a visual artist. And unlike most visual artists, the Ifugao weaver and sculptor is blind.
At Kidlat’s exhibition in Cinematheque Centre Manila last year, Rogelio created a camera made of bamboo. The weaver’s rattan works were also some of the eye-catching elements in the old man and his son Kawayan de Guia’s art installations currently on show at the National Museum of Anthropology, an offshoot of Kidlat’s Madrid show called “Magellan, Marilyn, Mickey and Fray Damaso: 500 Years of Rock Star Conquerors.”
A few of Rogelio’s animal sculptures and wooden boxes can be seen in a new exhibition in Baguio City’s VOCAS. Called "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil," the show gathers three of the North’s “outsider artists” in one venue—and by “outsiders” it only means they work outside the traditional commercial gallery system. The show is ongoing until July 16, and also features the works of Clemente Delim and Eddie De Guzman.
Losing his vision
It is a Wednesday morning in June and ANCX is speaking to Rogelio via Facebook Messenger—with the help of another Ifugao sculptor, Santos Bayucca, who made the two-hour drive from Baguio to his friend’s home in Solano, Nueva Vizcaya. Santos serves as our interpreter during the interview. Rogelio mostly speaks Tuwali, the native language of Ifugaos, and Ilocano.
It’s difficult to tell how old Rogelio really is. He tells us he’s 48 but according to an Inquirer story, he was already 48 in 2015. Meanwhile, there’s a website that says he was born in 1967, which means he’s already 56.
On the laptop screen, we see Rogelio seated right outside his humble, yet to be painted concrete home in Solano. He’s wearing his work clothes of shirt and faded jeans, weaving the rattan skin with his adroit hands while responding to our questions.
According to Rogelio, he lost his eyesight at the age of three due to chicken pox complications. But this did not stop him, he says, from enjoying his childhood. “Palagi akong sinasama ng mga kapatid ko papuntang bukid o saan man sila magpunta.”
Using an improvised stick, he would walk around his childhood neighborhood of Barangay Ducligan, Banaue, Ifugao. “Natatantiya ko na ang laki ng paligid ko gamit ang baston bilang panukat,” he says.
But life in the mountains was not easy, according to Rogelio. “Mahirap ang pagkain doon, palaging kamote,” he recalls, smiling. Weaving nitu, a type of vine, was a common source of livelihood in their area, so by age 10, Rogelio found himself having the inclination to learn the craft. “Yung mga rejects ibinibigay sa akin, kakapain ko ang hubog, at yun ang paglalaruan ko para matuto ako,” he says.
It was at age 12 when he started to take weaving seriously and make money out of it. Initially, he was only making functional handicrafts such as rice containers and the traditional Ifugao chicken coop. But later on, he learned to make whatever clients request. Because of the suggestion of fellow weavers, he later switched to rattan, which is more durable than nitu.
In the mid 90s, Gregorio Sabado Handicrafts would order products from him, like rattan stools. Rogelio would also sell his wares in Baguio, which was how Kidlat first encountered him.
“Umorder kami ng kalabaw [figurines] sa kanya,” recalls Santos. “Hindi alam ni Rogelio ang itsura ng kalabaw kaya ang ginawa niya ay kinapa niya ang hugis ng isang totoong kalabaw.” Rogelio has since made all sorts of animal figures as well as life-sized human statues, says Santos, who would often pick up the crafts from Rogelio’s Nueva Vizcaya home.
What Rogelio is working on while he answers our questions, it turns out, is a life-sized statue of Kidlat’s grandson, which would be part of a future exhibition. And just like in the kalabaw, “Kinapa niya ang apo ni Kidlat para makuha ang hubog,” says Santos.
In recent years, Rogelio has also tried his hand at making wooden sculptures. Two of his pieces for the VOCAS show are ritual boxes used by shamans for the kintim ritual. “Ako mismo namamangha,” says Santos of his friend’s works. “Ang ginawa niya, yung buong kahoy, binutas niya at nilagyan ng takip.”
Rogelio says carving is indeed tricky because the tools are very sharp. “Dalawang bagay ang pwedeng mangyari—masugatan ang kamay mo o masira ang kahoy,” he says.
It’s the same thing with weaving rattan. Among the most crucial tasks is preparing the rattan—and one has to make sure they’re of the same size and thickness. A sharp knife is used for this purpose. “Mahirap siya dahil kapag nagkamali ka, maaaring masusugatan ang kamay mo,” the weaver says.
Hardwork pays off
Despite its inherent difficulties, Rogelio says he’ll choose weaving and carving any given day. He’s worked as a masseur—in Project 4, Quezon City, in Baguio, and Gapan Nueva Ecija—but he found himself always going back to weaving. “Nag-try ako patatlo-tatlong buwan. Wala naman akong naiipon doon,” he laments. There was even a time his employer refused to give him his salary.
So he’s thankful to people like Kidlat and Kawayan who have helped provide him a source of livelihood. “Pag gumawa ako ng item at ibebenta sa labas, binabarat lang ang presyo. Pero sina Kidlat, dahil alam nila ang hirap sa paggawa, alam nila presyuhan,” says Rogelio.
Kawayan once described Rogelio as an amazing person. “Well I think amazing is an understatement,” says the artist. “Imagine we people who have sight constantly complain about our daily problems. Eh etong si Rogelio.. is not only creating great works of art but he’s constantly innovating his work! And aside from that, he’s taking care of his 80-year-old aunt.”
Rogelio usually starts his day at 3AM and ends it at 11 in the evening. Why does he work for long hours? “Nasanay na,” he replies, smiling. He only works per consignment now. That way, he’s guaranteed payment for the effort he puts in.
He proudly shares that he built his home in Solano with his hard-earned money, and with the assistance of some people. Both his parents have passed on and he now lives with his aunt. He’s had two girlfriends, he says, “Pero iniwan ako. Kaya single pa ako hanggang ngayon.”
When he’s not busy weaving or sculpting, he enjoys doing some cleaning and riprapping duties. He’s also fond of listening to music. “Noong una, nakikinig ako sa cassette player pero nasira na, kaya radyo na lang,” he says, flashing another smile. If it’s not obvious yet, the guy smiles a lot. It’s like it never leaves his face.
Santos says he’s been friends with Rogelio since 2006 and he’s always had a happy disposition. “Masayahin siya. Sobrang madaldal. Kaya pag nagkikita kami, masaya palagi ang usapan. Pag humalakhak siya, parang walang kaproble-problema.” Maybe the things worth seeing are beyond what we can actually see.