Sunday, August 21, 2011


Opposing views over “Kulo” exhibit

MANILA – Reacting to public sentiment, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) closed down on August 9th its controversial exhibit, Kulô: more than just blasphemous art, which included defaced religious images in the work by Medeo Cruz, Poleteismo. It opened on June 21, 2011. Not unexpectedly, some artists were not happy.

National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, leader of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, said the closure of the exhibit was “an unfortunate move on the part of CCP,” adding that it only makes the CCP “open to every little whim by a certain sector in Philippine society.”

“That leaves CCP open to pressure anytime something, an art object being displayed, raises the ire of certain sectors,” Lumbera said in a media interview last week.

While the exhibit included the works of several artists, it was Mideo Cruz’s works that sparked the controversy ¬– images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary adorned with objects not related to Christianity such as a crucifix with a wooden penis to a Christ the King figurine with rabbit ears.

Lumbera said he understands that “there is very little ground on which the CCP and the Church can agree on,” but stressed that an artist “should be allowed the freedom to create what he thinks is art.”

“I just regret that the CCP did not put up an argument that would protect the artist and his creation,” he said.

On the same day the CCP closed the controversial art exhibit, the artist group called Palayain ang Sining posted on its FaceBook page a condemnation of the decision urging artists and members of the press to fight against censorship and attacks on freedom of expression.

“To allow the exhibit’s closure based on [the opinion of bishops and religious lay leaders] would set the precedent for all other exhibitions that would follow,” said the group on a Facebook note posted by artist Mideo Cruz, adding that the issue surrounding the exhibit and Cruz’ piece “has gotten out of hand.”

The CCP said that they decided to shut down the gallery because of threats to persons and property. “This decision was made amidst controversy and deliberation by the Board as to what steps are necessary to avoid future similar incidents,” the CCP added.

In the manifesto, the artists’ group urged the public not to be “side-tracked” by the uproar over Cruz’s artwork. Instead, they said, the bigger issue of censorship and repression should be addressed.

“Palayain ang Sining does not merely support Mideo Cruz. We support the fight against censorship, and against attacks on our basic right to freedom of expression.

“The bishops and religious lay leaders pushing for the closure of the exhibit are demanding not only that we persecute one person’s creative expression, but that we hinder any other creative expressions whose concept and presented ideologies they do not agree with,” the group said.

Philippine Inquirercolumnist Conrado de Quiroz also offered his opinion on the controversy. In his There’s the Rub column on Aug. 15, 2011, he wrotes, “The bishops want the officials of the Cultural Center of the Philippines to resign for showing Mideo Cruz’s works in an exhibit. Those works, they say, are obscene, perverse, and indicative of Satanic possession. Not to be outdone, Congress wants the CCP investigated. The CCP, it says, is paid for by taxpayers’ money. The last thing it may do is disparage the faith of the taxpayers who are generally Christians. The public itself has been caught up in the frenzy. The social media are rife with vituperation against the CCP and Cruz. The more impassioned have proposals that range from excommunicating Cruz to sending him into permanent exile, from lynching him to cutting off his balls and stuffing them in his mouth. You wonder: Why can’t we be this incensed about corruption?”

“Not art”

A National Artist for Literature, however, believes that there is no art to speak of as far as the Kulo exhibit is concerned. F. Sionil Jose reiterated that unlike the controversial exhibit, art involves the use of imagination, craftsmanship and originality.

“The exhibit should not have been shown at the CCP. If submitted to my old gallery, I would have rejected it. It is not – I repeat – it is not art! It is an immature and juvenile attempt at caricature,” he wrote in his column in The Philippine Star on Monday.

“If I were to criticize religious faith visually, I would do it much better, more creatively than what this artist has done. The cross alone – I can do so much with it with allegory and symbolism. And this is what is precisely wrong with so many of our visual artists: for all their superb craftsmanship, they lack imagination and they don’t think hard enough.”

Jose said he has not seen the exhibit itself, but stressed that pictures were “enough to convince me of the validity of my conclusion.”

He then wished that Filipino artists “would stop claiming freedom of expression all the time when they are criticized.”

“There is so much anarchy in the world of art today and much of it is due to this dictum that there is ‘a new way of seeing things.’ If I covered the Batasan building – all of it with black cloth – that is not only searing commentary, an achievement – it is also something new. But is it art?” he said.

“To me freedom of expression is not involved with the CCP exhibit. Artistic sensibility and rigid critical values are the norm and they should prevail if our culture is to develop.”

The head of the CCP visual arts department resigned following the closure of the Kulo exhibit. A number of senators as well as several groups asked other officials, including CCP president Raul Sunico, to follow suit.

Sunico, however, maintained “it is not up to me to resign.” The CCP is under the Office of the President.
Pro-Life Philippines through its president Eric Manalang also jumped into the fray. In an interview with ABS-CBN, Manalang said, “as far as the law is concerned, he (artist Mideo Cruz) is supposed to be in jail.”
Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code states that a person should serve in prison if he or she “offends any race or religion.”

He said Cruz already crossed the line when he put up the controversial Poleteismo exhibit, which is part of Kulo. It was the whole Kulo exhibit, which includes other works of artists that was taken down due to the uproar among conservative Catholics.

This alleged violation of the law is already included in the petition filed by several lay groups, represented by lawyer Jo Imbong, on Thursday, August 12, before the Office of the Ombudsman.

The petition named 11 respondents, including CCP Chairman Emily Abrera, President Raul Sunico and newly-resigned visual art director Karen Flores.

The latter’s resignation does not preclude her from assuming liabilities, Imbong had said.

(Sources: ABS-CBN News, GMANews,

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