Since she discovered the calming effect of painting five years ago, Baboo Mondoñedo has chalked up eight solo exhibitions, the latest being “Mind’s Eye,” a collection of 30 watercolor paintings at Alliance Française in Makati City.
She calls this show her first in a real, commercial gallery (the past ones were held at restaurants, hotel rooms and other alternative venues).
She may have seen and done it all as a fashion model in the ’60s along with the late Maita Gomez, as an activist, an environmental crusader, and a media practitioner in Baguio, until painting and becoming a grandmother gave her a sense of well-being and deeper inner peace.
She says: “Painting has given me new eyes to look at my environment. Now I get drawn to light and shadow, texture and colors. I notice cloud formations, the colors of sunset. I see faces in rocks, details in bamboos, the shape of leaves.”
Cherry on cake
Painting is the cherry atop the cake of grandparenthood. She calls being a lola to the three children of only child Tootsy as “one of the best roles, if not the best, in life. I didn’t think I was the type to go gaga over my grandchildren, but it turns out I am. Being a lola is a far cry from being a mother. As a mother, you just do what you must. It is a duty. Mothers hardly think of ‘enjoying’ their children in the same way that a lola enjoys their grandchildren. For a lola, there is no pressure, no duties, just pleasure! From the moment Manolo, Ines and Javier were born, there was an instant bond, a strong link to them. I was conscious that my blood ran through their veins. I claimed them.”
What is unusual is the casual way she prefers to be called by the three grandkids, i.e., her nickname “Baboo.” Mondoñedo explains: “I wanted to be equals with them, to remove the gap between young and old. That way, I had to be at their level, which sometimes meant being on the floor. I engage in pillow fights, games in the pool, and rough play with them. It is tiring but a good form of exercise.”
Since their parents are busy with their work, Mondoñedo sees her role as filling in the gaps when she’s able to—watching Manolo’s tennis game or Ines at a ballet recital, or taking Javier to toddlers’ gym.
When reminded of the years when she walked the fashion ramp before European royalty, there is a slight wince. She calls those years “just a brief period in my life, yet the past catches up with me. My life has taken several turns, but it is being a model that I am known for up to this day. I guess it is because our photographs of that period find its way in the newspapers 45 years after.”
She acknowledges the wide coverage her group received when they went with couturier Pitoy Moreno on a tour to Europe: “That was the high point of my modeling days for we wowed Europe and put the Philippines on the map. We were described as ‘exotica’ and were regarded highly. I was so young then and unaffected by the glitz around me. It was my first trip to Europe, and I was thrilled to be in the old world meeting new people, including royals.”
She says her talent scout was her Tita Nang, Lina Sevilla, a society writer of the pre-martial law Manila Times who suggested to Pitoy to invite me to join the fashion tour to Europe where she also served as their companion and chaperone.
Mondoñedo soon tired of spending time putting on makeup and attending rehearsals and fittings, even coming out in shows. She distanced herself from that scene, declined invitations to join shows, and concentrated on college work.
Pull of the mountains
When she worked as a journalist, her sociopolitical issues grew. That turn in her life she calls “doing what had to be done, and sometimes this led me to marching in the streets and taking on environmental and political causes. I am an activist at heart. One never stops to be. Today we Baguio people have many reasons to be up in arms by how the city has become. We have to stand up against bullies who think nothing of destroying our environment, killing our dwindling number of trees.”
She has called Baguio home for 28 years and often speaks of the pull of the mountains. Mondoñedo would rather be known as Baguio, not glam, girl because life there has given her “a perspective from the mountains, different from the perspective from Manila. It has given me a sense of community, of belonging to a place. It has widened my view of the world and opened doors to a new way of life and looking at things. My experience working in the Cordillera has given me valuable knowledge, learning and insights that I could not have picked up in school.”
She thinks that living in Manila makes people self-centered. She explains: “When we think of far-flung communities in the Cordillera, we are aware that there are far-flung communities in Mindanao and other parts of the Philippines, too. Living outside Manila has made me appreciative of other peoples and parts of the Philippines. Living in Baguio in a forest has inspired me to paint what is around me—nature. I keep going back to painting bamboos as bamboo clusters are all around the house. I like painting scenes for my travels. I have also done a series on women.”
Middle of forest
The only downside of painting in the middle of the forest is that molds attack sheets of watercolor paper so she brings down her finished works to Manila for storage and sprays fixative.
Now that she has a surer painting hand, she has imagined possibilities of one day working in a different environment, perhaps in Egypt, France or England where aquarelle first began. (She is founding member of the Baguio Aquarelle Society that has an ongoing show at the Forest Lodge, Camp John Hay.)
Another dream within grasp is a collection of personal essays which she hopes will give birth to a book.
Mondoñedo’s journey seems to be a lithe hop from one stepping stone ascending to another. She says, “I hope to better my craft in both writing and art, and explore courses in these two fields. There is still a lot to do for the remaining years I have on this planet.”