Saturday, August 6, 2011


Artist Mideo Cruz wants to provoke critical thought, gets death threats instead
Published on August 5, 2011

Off with his head!

Or at least boycott his exhibit.

Artist Mideo Cruz is now at the eye of one of the biggest controversies in the Philippine visual arts scene. His latest work “Poleteismo” is being vilified left and right by various religious groups and influential leaders, and an ABS-CBN reporter has even come out with a column suggesting that he, Cruz, should be forced to drink muriatic acid.

Cruz’ “Poleteismo” is part of the exhibit “KULÔ”, group exhibition at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Main Gallery showing until August 21, 2011. It was launched on June 17 on the occasion of CCP’s celebration of Jose Rizal’s 150th birthday.

TV Patrol’s Mark Logan in his column in the tabloid Abante said many were incensed when they saw the TV Patrol report on Cruz and his exhibition. Logan suggested that those who were angered by how Cruz put together his installation art and murals depicting – among many other concepts — religious icons should kill Cruz.

“Don’t you have pity for this person? Just because he put black tears on the face of Jesus Christ. Will you beat him up when you see him? Stab him, strangle him or push him into a creek? But before this, will you make him drink muriatic acid and then have him shot by a motorcycle-riding tandem? It’s too much! Don’t you have any respect for someone like him who’s an ‘artist’?”

“Maybe as you’re taking a walk you might get beat up by those you offended to the extreme. With today’s technology, news travels fast! You see buddy, if you say that you have rights, what about the rights of Catholics and other sects who believe that Jesus is God? ”

Logan went on to seemingly address Cruz: “If you’re an atheist or if you believe in no god, don’t violate the beliefs of others! This is a predominantly Catholic country, my boy…”

The reporter went on to say that Cruz’ work was the sort that only a pig would believe to be “art.” His parting shot was to say that Cruz shouldn’t ask the media for help because the media doesn’t have the ability to protect him from being lynched.

Cruz’ Facebook page in the last two weeks has also been bombarded with insults and threats, with many accusing him of, among other things, being a veritable henchman of Satan himself defiling Christ and His Holy Family.

Around 11:30 am on August 4, guards of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CPP) were surprised to discover that Cruz’ work had been vandalized. A Facebook account under the name “CPP Visual Artists” released a statement saying that the security aides were unable to apprehend the vandals, but the CPP has already taken steps to avert further damage to the exhibits.

“We request the arts and culture community to keep vigilant but let us maintain a dignified stance about this. We will not be equal to the rage and extremism of other entities. As you may recall, the CCP has always maintained that freedom of expression extends to all; not just to artists but to those who wish to speak up for their religious and spiritual beliefs within proper means and venues,” it said.

Among the messages the vandals scrawled across various parts of Cruz work was “Emedeo Cruz (I.N.C.) Sumpain ka, Bakla” and “Bakla Parusahan Ka” (Curse You, Homosexual, Homosexual you should be punished).

CCP Visual Arts called for sobriety in the wake of angry pronouncements both in mainstream media and social networks in the internet against Cruz’ “Poleteismo. ”
Archbishop Oscar Cruz , former president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, has called for a boycott of the exhibit.

The group Pro-Life Philippines, in the meantime, has threatened to file charges against the CCP and called the exhibition “sacrilegious and blasphemous. ” Pro-Life President Eric Manalang has been quoted on CBCP News as saying that if the CCP does not stop the exhibit, and make amends, it will proceed with the charges.

“Stopping it is not enough. The damage has been done,” Manalang told CBCP News. He did not say what kind of damage had been wrought and against whom.

CCP Visual Arts said these reactions and courses of action are all valid as moral and legal resorts of those who feel offended by art.

“And though art is representation and does not pretend to be anything more than art, we would like to remind anyone else who are considering violent and destructive acts against art, artists and art institutions that such acts are clearly criminal. Let us all be proper, respectful and tolerant despite our different views. Not all of us are Catholics, not all of us are artists, yet we are all deserving of honor and dignity,” it said.

Critics against “Poleteismo” seem to be ignorant of the fact that it has been exhibited since 2002 in venues such as the Loyola School of Theology in Ateneo de Manila University, UP Vargas Museum, Kulay Diwa in Paranaque City, and was also featured in the music video of Anghel sa Lupa by Stonefree. Cruz has recreated the piece every time it was presented for exhibition.

As for the other “culprit,” the CCP explained that it accepted the exhibition proposal and the artworks based on the determination of the premise that these are legitimate art expressions by artists who have already established reputable track records through national and global awards, grants and expositions.

To provoke critical thinking

As for the potential lynch-mob victim, Cruz is somewhat bewildered and a little sad over the violent reactions. A self-effacing man who avoids direct questions about how he interprets his own art, Cruz said he never expected the negative reactions coming from various quarters.?

“I never go out of my way to offend; but I do like to provoke debates and critical thinking. Art is a way of expressing one’s views about the world, culture and history, and this is what I do in my work. The audience is free to make their own conclusions and interpretations about the images I create, but I must confess I didn’t expect for anyone to react so violently against ‘Poleteismo.’ The worse that I would’ve expected is for no one to come to the CCP and see my work or those of the my colleagues in this exhibition,” he said.

There are those who might say that Cruz is being a bit too naive when he said how surprised he was by the outrage generated by his work. He put up pictures of Jesus Christ and Mother Mary alongside condoms; he got plastic piggy banks and put them inside a glass display case, the sort that’s commonly found in churches; he hung crucifixes and rosaries next to wooden phalluses. Like reporter Logan said, “the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic Country,” so the reaction of some quarters could not have been such a shock.

“I wanted to provoke people into thinking. I titled my work ‘Poleteismo’ which loosely translates into ‘many beliefs’ or ‘many deities.’ Throughout history, humanity has grown to create new gods and these are not always religious figures but concepts and objects. Some have taken to worshipping money; some see politicians as godsend. People create idols and these idols whether or not they’re deserving of idolatry or worship affect our lives and how we function and see the world,” he said.

“Poleteismo” is actually three walls entirely covered with various images and papers — calendars, bus tickets, old school certificates, photographs, political posters, postcards, advertisements and other printed materials. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are not the only images featured, but Robert Jaworski endorsing Dr. J. rubbing alcohol; Alma Concepcion smiling over Champion cigarettes; two Thai actors selling Coca-cola, and US President Barack Obama.

In the meantime, on one free-standing wall hangs a life-size crucifix festooned with scapulars and rosaries, as well as a red phallus.

Cruz shrugs off the outrage over the phalluses.

“It’s symbolic for patriarchy, a symbol of power. There are those who worship power, who put their faith in men who wield power even if the power is used against women, or against the whole of society. The fight for sexual and gender equality continues, doesn’t it? But the balance continues to be tipped in favor of the phallus. Is this good or bad? You decide,” he said.

(For some, the phalluses could very well represent the leadership of the Catholic Church in the Philippines – a group of grown men deciding on how women in the country do not have the right to control their own reproduction process, much less their sexuality. Currently the Catholic Church is hard at work campaigning against proposals for a reproductive health law. It has also come to a head against calls of the Lesbian, Gay ,Bisexual and Transsexual or LGBT community to allow same-sex marriages in the country — writer)

The former student of the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) is not new to the art scene at all and is in fact well known not only in local art circles, but internationally as well, having opened exhibits in Switzerland, Italy and the United States. He was also recipient of the Ateneo Art Awards in 2007 and awarded the CCP 13 artists awards in 2003.

The man is widely travelled, and has taken time to read up on the cultural history of religious iconography and the origins of religious symbolism.

“Everything around us can be considered as symbols, some are actually only symbols more than anything else. How we understand these symbols, how we use them is what gives them power and meaning,” he said.

Among activist circles, in the meantime, Cruz is known as a performance artist acting out pieces dealing with political issues like the interference of the United States on global affairs; human rights; and militarization. He is also a founding member of the artist group Ugat-Lahi. Ugat-Lahi is credited for the effigies presented and then burned during rallies led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN).

Far from accusations that Cruz is only trying to generate controversy to be noticed, Cruz sheepishly admits that “Poleteismo” is actually the product of house cleaning. Apparently, the man is a pack-rat and for the last two decades he has been collecting various scraps of paper and whatnot with the general intention of some day putting them to use.

“We were cleaning the house and we discovered all this,” he said, pointing to the walls with their thousands of colorful, conflicting images like those from a series of MTV videos from various genres looped together. He and partner, artist and singer Raquel de Loyala usually spend two to three days pasting and putting together the massive collage that has sent religious groups seething.

Close Your Eyes and Think

Cruz frequently tries to shy away from questions that seek his own opinion on his work, but when pressed, he answers even if reluctantly.

“This is how I see the Filipino way of life — colorful, varied, full of conflicting beliefs and values. Can’t you just see these same images pasted on the walls of houses in the urban poor communities? And Filipino society, its racked with economic and political turmoil, and then there’s religion which frequently involves itself in the entire conglomeration of issues and developments,” he said.

Sure enough, if one does as Cruz advises — close your eyes after seeing the images, breathe and think– the walls begin to speak about the Filipino condition.

There’s the carton poster on the alphabet with “A” standing for “Apple” when apples are not grown in the Philippines and “J” is for Jeep and not for “jeepney.”

There’s the calendar where former First Lady Imelda Marcos smiles beatifically at her beholder.
Then there are the liquor bottles that used to contain expensive alcohol that could very well symbolize the corruption of the country because of the profligacy of its so-called leaders in government.

“I don’t like telling people what I mean when I paint something or what I want to say when I include an image in an installation. I would much rather that people talk about the work and think about they’ve seen,” Cruz said.

If only people would first think instead of being judgmental. In defense of religion and religious beliefs, some quarters have already taken to maliciously attributing Cruz’ controversial work to a “twisted sexuality.”

Freedom of Expression

The artist community has thrown its support behind Cruz and the CPP, saying that ‘Poleteismo’ protected by the provision of freedom of expression of the 1987 Constitution.

The Artists and cultural workers from the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) in a statement said that they support the CCP, specially its Visual Arts unit headed by Karen Flores, and the organizers of KULO for upholding freedom of expression.

Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera, National Artist for Literature and current Chairperson of CAP said that Article 3 section 4 of the country’s constitution states that “no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

“The bishops and the lay leaders who are pressuring the CCP to close the show are within their right to speak against KULO, and they are free to admonish the Catholic faithful regarding what they find objectionable in Mideo’s artwork. We believe, however, that this demand to suppress the show smacks of the religious fascism of the friars of Rizal’s time and certainly unacceptable in the 21st century,” he said.

Lumbera went on to say that CAP welcomes the CCP’s call for a dialogue on the exhibit, believing that criticism of artists’ work is part of the artistic process and contributes to the growth of the artist.

” We caution critics, however, not to resort to intimidation and defamation that threaten the artist’s freedom of expression,” said CAP Secretary-General Prof. Neil Doloricon of the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts.

“We call on artists and cultural workers from the different fields of art and humanities to stand steadfast against the curtailment of the Constitutional guarantee of free artistic expression that founding CAP Chairperson Lino Brocka persuaded the Convention to insert in the 1987 Constitution. When he advocated support for works “that will hurt…that will not make you rest…For the times are really bad, and given times like this, it is a crime to rest.”

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