MANILA: Make your way up a windy road lined with makeshift market shops, take a sharp turn into a village and then head down a sharp hill towards a rickety wooden door.
Open that door and step away from the cacophony of tricycle and jeepney horns, throngs of people and dusty roads of Manila, and enter a world where art fuses with nature, where the mountain breeze provides natural air-conditioning and where the art work changes with the light from the movement of the sun.
Pinto Art Museum is the pet project of Dr Joven Cuanang, the former director of St Lukes Medical Center, one of the biggest private hospitals in the Philippines.
An avid art lover, Dr Cuanang believes in the importance of art and culture shaping a country’s identity, and in healing. He also worries about the lack of appreciation for the arts in the Philippines.
He poured his personal wealth into the museum and sees this gallery not as a business but as a civic duty in promoting contemporary and indigenous art.
The gallery started off as a small plot of land bought cheaply in the 1970s. It took 10 years to create and become the tranquil oasis it is today.
When it was being built, Dr Cuanang only had three instructions to the architect: Don’t cut down the trees, respect the terrain of the land and make sure it’s environmentally friendly.
The design draws on a number of influences, including the Filipino ancestral house, Spanish colonial churches, American pueblo and mission architecture, Greek and Balearic houses.
Pinto means door in Tagalog and it is through a series of mismatched doors that visitors go on a visual journey through Filipino social and political consciousness.
Pinto Art Museum is not one but a set of white-washed buildings that spread across 1.2 hectares of hills in Antipolo, North of Manila. It’s also one of the best private collections of Philippine art on display.
Dotting the grounds, sculptures reach out, stare, contort and hide in hanging wire cages. Day beds have been strategically placed in secluded leafy nooks and parrots hum from their assorted cages.
The art galleries themselves are a series of bright rooms circling verdant courtyards. Airy hallways, crooked windows and small rooms buried into the seams of the buildings offer a day of exploration.
Hidden in one corner is a darkened forest room where large rocks are suspended over small pools of water. The silence and darkness make for a contemplative mood.
In another gallery is Alab Pagarigan’s The Hollow Man, which features a man built out of wire and topped with a resin face that sits on a swing.
New additions include a museum for indigenous art; if you want to wear the mark of the infamous Kalinga head hunting tribe, a traditional tattoo artist is available to help you if you come at the right time.
The gallery also houses the Pinto Academy, a school for the visual arts, dance, theater and literature.
Drawing inspiration from the museums grounds, students have a chance to develop their skills in these fields through classes, lectures and residencies.
“If you can build a place where people can relate to an idea, things start to happen. I feel that with the state society is in, we need something like this where people can ask themselves: What constitutes a well-lived life? That’s a philosophical question you can answer only if you explore art, science and the humanities,” Dr Cuanang once said.
While Pinto is primarily a museum, it is also a bastion for the arts and nature. It’s an educational and well as art journey that can be appreciated by all ages and nationalities.
Pinto Art Museum is open from Tuesdays-Sundays at 9am-6pm. Free guided tours are available and run about 2 hours. They start at 9am, 12 noon, 2pm and 4:30pm.