Monday, August 22, 2011


CCP controversy reaches boiling point (part 1)
Wednesday, 17 August 2011 03:37 PM Ofelia T. Sta. Maria

This is what the Kulo controversy has come to: the exhibit has prematurely closed down, some people concerned have resigned from their posts at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), protests have been held by various religious and art groups, and social networks have been rife with everyone’s two cents on the issue.

The debate is far from over, and beyond the exhibit itself, at the heart of issue is the state of art in the country today. Based on what’s already happened, how much expression can an artist impart to the public now?


Kulo is an art exhibition that opened in June 17 at the CCP main gallery, and was meant to run until August 21.

Celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Philippine National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal, the exhibit featured 32 artists who, like Rizal, studied at the University of Santo Tomas. One of them is Mideo Cruz, whose mixed-media collage entitled "Poleteismo,” has been ruffling feathers over the past month.

The installation appeared like a room filled with calendars, posters, magazine cut-outs, advertisements, and photographs of famous personalities. One specific part of the exhibit—the source of the brouhaha—has the poster of Jesus Christ with a wooden penis glued to his face, a figure of Christ the King painted with make-up that makes it appear like Mickey Mouse, and a crucifix with a condom.

Due to the outrage from various groups, who expressed their staunch disapproval by means of protests and statements, the exhibit was closed down on August 9.

Among the reasons for the closure that the CCP mentioned in its statement is that threats were already being made against those involved in the exhibit. The installation had also been described as something that speaks of "idolatry and the deconstruction of neo-deities,” and that it was “blasphemous” and “sacrilegious.” A retired archbishop said that the persons responsible for the exhibit should see a psychiatrist.

However, the Kulo exhibit in CCP exhibit was not the first time that Cruz’s work has been displayed for public viewing. Since 2002, it had been displayed in venues such as Ateneo de Manila and UP Vargas Museum.

Artists' groups react

The Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) explained that while all those who wanted the exhibit to close had the right to speak against the works, this was not an excuse not to afford the same kind of freedom to Cruz.

As a cry against censorship, Iggy Rodriguez of the group Palayain ang Sinig expressed his support "in the spirit of free flow of ideas and cultural expression, in the spirit of the long tradition of progressive artists who have fought for freedom of expression and against censorship."

National Artist and CAP chair Bienvenido Lumbera rallied behind the CCP, saying, “The bishops and the lay leaders who are pressuring the CCP to close the show are within their right to speak against Kulo. 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 explained.


According to presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, Malacañang Palace is not involved in the decision, and the exhibit has nothing to do with the ongoing issue of the Reproductive Health Bill, another issue which has some members of the Catholic Church up in arms.

The Palace refused to comment on the issue, explaining that the CCP board did not consult them about the exhibit. According to Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte, “any violent reaction should be addressed to the CCP.”

However, President Aquino explained that the CCP is funded by the people's money, and that artists are not supposed to insult beliefs.

"There is no freedom that is absolute. There are limits set as to what you're allowed to do. I made my position very clear to them, and I did stress the idea that you have rights, but if you trample upon the rights of others, I think there is something wrong there," he said.

Other public officials also expressed their opinion on the issue. Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Vicente Sotto III threatened that they will cut the CCP's 2012 budget. Estrada said that the exhibit could have only come from a person who is not in his right mind and a demon surfacing from hell, according to a report from The Philippine Star. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile also condemned Cruz’s works, encouraging the resignation of the CCP board members.

Imelda speaks

On August 8, 2011, CCP founder and former First Lady Imelda Marcos expressed her distaste towards the exhibit, saying that it was "sacrilegious." Marcos contacted Manila Rep. Amando Bagatsing, and said that the exhibit was "not beautiful," highlighting that the CCP was not made to exhibit work that offends people.

On the same day, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales called the exhibit "an abuse of freedom because the use of freedom must respect responsibilities," and added that it is insulting to "right thinking persons." Rosales said that people should rise up in protest.

In line with this, Pro-life Philippines President Eric Manalang said that criminal charges should be filed against Cruz and the CCP. He explained that since the members of the CCP board are government officials, "they are liable for public trust." He added that if nothing is done, they will move to a higher court.

UST, Cruz's alma mater, also showed their support for the case against the artist. According to UST vice rector Pablo Tiong, "The University as an academic community and as a Catholic institution would also like to express that it is denouncing the sacrilegious or religious offensive art works included in the exhibit and all other artwork of similar nature."

Tiong stressed that the artworks exhibited were "religiously offensive" and "unprofessional."

Aftermath, and what’s to come

Karen Ocampo-Flores, Virtual Arts director of the CCP, resigned after the exhibit closed down last week. This was also after religious groups threatened to file criminal charges against her and 11 other people if she didn't resign. She, however, said that her resignation was a personal choice.

In August 15, 2011, artist Emily Abrera reiterated in an Inquirer article that this is not the first time that the exhibit was shown to the public, and it had already been in the CCP "in relative peace" before bits of it (particularly Cruz's work) was featured in a TV feature.

"To take just a small section as representative of the whole is an invalid way of looking at an artist’s work. By the same token, one cannot take a word here and there from a poem and suggest that we get its full meaning from those tidbits," she explained.

Aside from threats of pushing charges, some of the CCP executives also claimed that they received death threats from the people who were offended by the exhibit, which they say is one of the reasons for closing the exhibits down.

Cruz has apologized to the people who were offended by what he has created in the exhibit, saying that he created that installation to try and evoke thinking. “Ang mga ginagawa kong proyekto ay mga bagay na susundutin ng kaunti ang ating mga pag-i-isip (The projects I work on are objects that are meant to poke, albeit slightly, our ways of thinking)," he said in a GMA program. He however, has made it clear that all this commotion will not stop him from expressing what he believes in. He said that he would continue with his beliefs through art.

Through all of this, one thing is clear: by causing blood to boil, and building heat in the issues of censorship and religious conservatism, Kulo has definitely succeeded in living up to its name.

Kulo lives on

Last week, various artist groups asked that the exhibit be reopened on August 21, which is its supposed last day. The Department of Arts Studies of U.P. Diliman has also asked for the same thing, saying that the CCP “should protect its mandate, reclaim and maintain its autonomy.”

Part 2 coming soon.

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