Thursday, August 25, 2011


Art and Polytheisms
Posted by Brando Dimagiba on 08/22/2011 04:02 PM

Never has the cultural value of art been more evident than when it creates controversy. Art, as it should, inspires joy and sadness, fear and anger, trust and disgust, and surprise and anticipation. Not necessarily at the same time nor for the same piece, but the whole gamut of emotions can be derived from what we perceive. Art is what the artist makes of it and we take away what we draw from it. It invokes the human emotion, and this is what makes it powerful. Especially if there are religious overtones and most especially if there are overt religious themes.

In September 1999, New York City's Brooklyn Museum opened a show entitled "Sensation," featuring works by British artists under the age of 40. The show had several pieces that generated immediate controversy and outrage.

One such piece was Damien Hirst's "This Little Piggy Went to Market, This Little Piggy Stayed Home," which featured a pig split in half and preserved in formaldehyde. Another, and was the most controversial, was the "Holy Virgin Mary." It was a painting by Nigerian-born artist Chris Ofili, which depicted the Madonna adorned with elephant dung and pictures of women's genitalia cut out from pornographic magazines.

Protests erupted from religious groups, political activists, and even from the city's Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani. He threatened to cut off city funding, attempted to fire the Museum's Board of Trustees, and announced plans to evict the Museum from its building.

The show's supporters reacted with equal bluster, accusing the Mayor of censorship and having no sense of the exhibit's quality. The Museum's Director defended the exhibit by saying that the show was "a defining exhibition of a decade of the most creative energy that's come out of Great Britain in a very long time."

The museum sought and won a legal restraining order against the Mayor's actions. Public outcry disappeared when the exhibit moved on to its next location and the City dropped its action against the museum after six months.

In June 2011, the Cultural Center of the Philippines launched "Kulo," an exhibit featuring 32 artists from the University of Santo Tomas. The show was in line with the 150th birth anniversary of Jose Rizal and in conjunction, if loosely, with UST's quadricentennial.

The exhibit featured Alfredo Esquillo’s painting, “Mama Kinley II,” a rework of the Madonna and child with President William McKinley suckling a young Emilio Aguinaldo.

Buen Calubayan's "Vanishing Point" paintings were shown in enlarged digital prints on tarpaulin. Pocholo Gotia's exhibit essay, "Hundreds and Hundreds of Years;" Jose Tence Ruiz's “CSI (Chimoy Si Imbisibol), a monochrome on print work with acrylic on canvas. Leobensant Marquez's "Dogmatik Automatik," in which a confessional box contains video footage of what appear to be images of folk Catholicism.

But the most controversial piece was Mideo Cruz's art installation "Politeismo," which featured a collage of religious images and pictures of Christ, Madonna, saints, and the rosary surrounded by pictures of women who seem to be models and a wooden cross draped with a pink, stretched condom.

The piece by Mideo Cruz has been shown in a number of exhibit venues including the UP Vargas Museum, Ateneo de Manila and Kulay Diwa Galleries since 2002.

Protests erupted from religious groups, political activists, and even from the country's senators. Jinggoy Estrada called for the removal of the artworks and threatened to slash the Cultural Center of the Philippines' 2012 budget. Tito Sotto announced plans to shut down the cultural center if its officials fail to explain how profanity was allowed to be shown. Juan Ponce Enrile stated that the directors ought to be fired.

The show's supporters planned protest actions against the "attacks on freedom of expression."

The CCP board decided to close down the entire exhibit, bowing to pressure from religious conservatives and after a call from President Aquino. The exhibit was supposed to have ended on Aug. 21.

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