MANILA, AUGUST 10, 2011 (STAR) By Delon Porcalla (The exhibit includes a statue of Jesus Christ with Mickey Mouse ears and a clown nose. Edd Gumban)

The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) yesterday closed down the gallery showing a controversial art exhibit, part of which reaped a firestorm for being “sacrilegious” and “blasphemous.”

The CCP refused to elaborate on whether they were instructed by the President to shut down the art exhibit “Kulo,” but board members decided to temporarily close it because of the “increasing number of threats to persons and property,” vandalism and claims of blasphemy.

“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,” the President said.

A source told The STAR that Aquino had a closed-door meeting with CCP officials on Monday.

“There seems to be no categorical statement coming from the President that the CCP close down the exhibit. But knowing him, you should read between the lines, and I think the Board understood what the President had in mind,” the source said.

In an interview with reporters during his visit to the Malampaya Deep Water Gas-to-Power Project Onshore Gas Plant in Batangas yesterday, Aquino said he reminded CCP officials that the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country where 85 percent are Christians.

“There was a depiction of Christ which is not acceptable to anyone and the CCP is funded by public money. It should be of service to the people, but when you insult the beliefs of most of the people, I don’t see where that is of service,” Aquino pointed out.

He clarified though that he is not after censorship.

“Art is supposed to be ennobling and when you stoke conflict, that is not an ennobling activity,” he said, adding that trampling on one’s rights is definitely a violation of the laws of the land.

At the Palace, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda doused cold water on insinuations made by some members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) that the controversial mixed media installation, “Poleteismo” by Mideo Cruz, is related to the government’s push for the reproductive health (RH) bill that they are opposing.

“The Church would say that the exhibit was being used against their stand in the RH bill. But as far as the Palace is concerned, we were not involved in the CCP decision. The CCP board decided on this matter independent of Malacañang,” he stressed.

“I think we should not be involved in a matter that is purely a decision made by CCP and this is about art,” the spokesman explained. “To those who are saying that this administration is a clerico-fascist, that’s not true.”

While members of the CCP board are presidential appointees, Lacierda pointed out that they are expected to perform tasks that are within their competence and no longer need presidential approval.

“I think the controversy is purely on the question of freedom of expression and also on violation of the sensibilities of the Christian faith. I don’t think there is, in any way, any involvement of the President. So that can be resolved purely on those levels,” Lacierda said.

Defining the limits of art

The controversial Kulo exhibit opened on June 17 at the CCP Main Gallery and was slated to run up to Aug. 21.

It was a compilation of works by 32 artists, which was meant to be part of the CCP’s celebration of Dr. Jose Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary.

The participating artists had a common educational background, all having studied at UST like the national hero, and the CCP felt that the theme reflected the heritage and culture represented by the 400-year-old university.

J. Pacena II was exhibit curator.

“In keeping with previous practice to evaluate merits of art works on the basis of established parameters, the CCP Visual Arts Division, headed by Karen Ocampo-Flores, approved the proposal to exhibit on the basis of an evaluation of their proposal as well as the background qualifications of the participating artists,” a CCP statement said.

The exhibit went on smoothly until a major television network covered it, particularly focusing on Cruz’s work. Poleteismo has been exhibited since 2002 in other venues like the Ateneo de Manila, UP Vargas Museum and Kulay Diwa Galleries.

An introduction to Cruz’s work explains that it “speaks of idolatry and the deconstruction of neo-deities.”

It describes the cross and the image of Christ as representative of Filipinos’ cultural past because Spain and conservative Catholic friars have ruled the country for almost four centuries.

It said the artwork seeks to depict “the transformation of the deity... to an epitome of neo-liberal economy.”

A wall collage opposite the cross is made up of posters of local celebrities, NBA stars, Jesus Christ, Barack Obama, Coca-Cola and the Teletubbies, characters from a children’s TV show. Unfurled condoms, wooden rosaries and wooden penises adorn the wall.

A figure of Christ the King painted with red make-up depicting Mickey Mouse and a poster of Jesus Christ with a wooden penis glued to his face were among the fixtures that irritated many Catholics who trooped to the venue.

In recent interviews, Cruz called himself “a visual artist who commonly tries to cross borders of discipline in producing my works.”

CCP chair Emily Abrera was quoted as saying last week that it was part of the artists’ duty to challenge prevailing beliefs.

“It is part of our culture to question, to seek answers, to look behind the surface and try to dig out what our real values are,” she said.

Bigotry or freedom of expression?

But Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales said Cruz and his supporters may have abused their freedom of expression.

He told church-run Radio Veritas on Monday that freedom entails “the responsibility not to attack cultures and the responsibility not to destroy the values of people.”

Several Catholic lay groups have threatened to file charges against Cruz and the exhibition organizers, and a group called Pro-life Philippines has written a letter to the CCP demanding that the exhibit be taken down.

However, Bienvenido Lumbera, National Artist for Literature and chair of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, said the Philippine Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the demand “to suppress the show smacks of religious fascism.”

Yesterday, after a thorough deliberation, the Board decided to close down the gallery.

“The CCP shall continue to act as catalyst for free expression of Filipino artists. It thanks all those who have, in one way or another, contributed to the dialogue about art and the different ways it affects society today,” the CCP said,

Catholics on CCP and Cruz: Crucify them

However, the closure of the contentious exhibit would not stop different Christian groups from filing criminal charges against Cruz and the CCP.

Lawyer Jo Imbong told CBCPNews they would still file cases in relation to Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) that covers provisions on immoral doctrines, obscene publications and indecent shows, because the “Christian nation has been offended.”

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, a devout Catholic, said the CCP officials could be held criminally liable.

A group of devotees of Jesus the Nazarene picketed the CCP yesterday to denounce the desecration of the image of the Christ.

Pro-Life Philippines president Eric Manalang said they will proceed with their plans to hold a protest rally outside the CCP today even if the showing of the exhibit has been terminated.

Pampanga Auxiliary Bishop Pablo Virgilio David said Cruz knows vandalizing religious icons and symbols is one of the surest ways of hurting people’s sensibilities and “an effective way of provoking violent reactions from people he labels as fanatics.”

He said Cruz enjoys all the media attention he’s getting for his “mediocre and fetishist installations he calls art.”

David also described the people at the CCP as “more seriously pathetic” because they are supposed to be “art connoisseurs but who cannot even see the difference between art and plain vandalism, and who allow themselves to be taken for a ride by a sick man posing as an artist.”

Even former first lady and art patron Imelda Marcos denounced the exhibit, saying the work was “a desecration and no longer represents art.”

The flamboyant widow of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos was the founder of the CCP.

“To desecrate some kind of a symbol for what some religions hold sacred, it is no longer right,” she told reporters.

Senate threatens to cut CCP budget

Senate President Pro-Tempore Jinggoy Estrada and majority leader Vicente Sotto III also joined calls to remove the art piece and threatened to slash the CCP’s 2012 budget.

Sotto said the budget for CCP employees can be retained so that they will not be losing their jobs.

While he respects the right of Cruz to exercise freedom of expression, Sotto said it was another issue when he placed the exhibit at the CCP which promotes art and culture, and the fact that the center is funded by the government.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile also echoed his colleagues’ concern and called for the resignation of the members of the board led by chairman Abrera and CCP president Raul Sunico.

“While we respect freedom of expression, the right of the artist to express himself, he must equally respect the sensibilities of the people around him,” Enrile said, referring to Cruz.

Estrada said the “art” piece could only be done by a person who was out of his mind and a demon who surfaced from hell.

In his interpellation with Estrada, Sen. Joker Arroyo criticized Cruz for defending his art piece as part of his artistic expression.

“We should understand that the defense of the artist was not freedom of expression but artistic expression... We cannot apply every American style to our system because we have a different country. This is the CCP, not everything American and not everything decided by the United States must be followed by the Philippines,” Arroyo said. – Perseus Echeminada, Evelyn Macairan, Christina Mendez, AP


CCP execs, personnel losing jobs over ‘blasphemous’ exhibit By Angie M. Rosales 08/10/2011

The management of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) is now in hot water and is in peril of losing jobs as they stand to earn a “zero” budget for their office next year in the light of the controversy stirred by what most critics described as blasphemous art exhibit.

Senate leaders are now out to get the head of CCP executives as they are in unison in dipping their fingers into the art exhibit “Kulo.”

Although CCP closed down the main gallery where the said exhibit has been on display, this did not stop Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada from bringing up the matter anew on the floor during their afternoon plenary session.

Minority Leader Vicente Sotto III was first to condemn the said exhibit, calling it a sacrilegious and an affront to the sensibilities of Filipinos as some groups are claiming these form of art as part of freedom of expression.

Estrada, joined Sotto’s view as he expressed belief that it was an “outrageous abuse of artistry and freedom of expression.”

“These ugly, insulting, blasphemous images achieve nothing, enrich no one, and debase instead of uplift.

“What does it serve a viewer’s mind and soul to see the images of Christianity’s bedrock, Jesus Christ, his mother the Virgin Mary, and of the Cross that symbolizes the supreme sacrifice offered by Christ to redeem mankind, treated so insultingly and with such shocking disrespect by a group of people who believe they have the absolute artistic license to do so?” asked Estrada in his previlege speech.

The upper chamber leader said this should not be continued to be tolerated especially since it’s a disrespect and insult to Catholics.

Even if it was reported to have been closed down by the management of CCP, this should not be allowed to happen again, Estrada said.

“I ask that, because of the failure of the Board of Directors of the CCP to thoroughly scrutinize artists who want to put up an exhibit with them, they should all resign from their positions starting today,” the senator added.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile lost no time in ordering the conduct of a probe, prompted by Estrada’s speech.

Enrile shared the contention of Estrada on the issue of CCP management being negligent in screening the said art exhibit before allowing it to be put on public display.

“As a Christian nation, we revered, it’s a part of our culture to revere Jesus Christ. We believe for those of us who belong in the Catholic and Christian Church believed that he is the Savior of mankind and for anyone to assault that faith, I think, has to deal the anger of the people who entertain this thing,” Enrile said during the plenary session.

The upper chamber chief said it is indeed “precisely against the faith for the majority of and I think assault to the culture of this country.”

“While we respect the freedom of expression, in respecting the right of an artist to express his thoughts, his feelings, his concept of life, nevertheless, he must equally respect the sensitibilities of the people around him. And if wanted to make an expression or statement, he is free to do it, but the CCP is not the venue to express this.

“I agree that the governing body, the administrator, have failed their mission in guarding the culture of this country and they opt to resign or be fired from their jobs. That kind of an exhibit was never envisioned by those who created the Cultural Center of the Philippines,” he said.

Sotto supported the move and even called on the Senate Finance Committee to take up the budget of the CCP during budget hearings at the chamber.

Sotto pointed out to other lawmakers that the CCP is supported by public money, thus part of the General Appropriations Act (GAA).

“The CCP is under the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) but the budget is under the Office of the President,” Sotto said.

The matter had been referred to the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture chaired by Sen. Edgardo Angara.


On Noy’s proddding, CCP closes exhibit

The Cultural Center of the Philippines yesterday closed its main gallery where an exhibit seen as mocking Catholic beliefs was on view.

The reason given was security concerns. Protesters apparently had vandalized the exhibit, presented as "A Gathering of Artists of the University of Santo Tomas," causing also damage to CCP property in the wake of expressions of outrage by lay and religious groups.

But it could have been more than that.

President Aquino said he is pleased that the exhibit was closed after a talk with the CCP board.

Aquino said he told several CCP board members Monday that no right, even freedom of artistic expression, is absolute.

He said he reminded the CCP officials that 85 percent of the 96-million Philippine population is Christians, so Christ should not be depicted in any form that is not acceptable to anyone.

Aquino also reminded the CCP executives that their office is funded by the people’s money.

"It (CCP) should be in the service of the people. So when you insult the beliefs of most of the people, I don’t see where that is of service," he added.

Among the exhibits are an image of Jesus Christ adorned by a male genital that is draped with the rosary and is directly over the face of the image; another image of Christ with the eyes darkened by black ink that appears to flow out from the eyes; a crucifix and cross draped with a pink, stretched condom; various religious images closely surrounded by pictures of women that are scantily-clad; and a statue of a seated Jesus, with red ears and a nose adorned with a red ball, resembling Disney’s Mickey Mouse icon.

The exhibit opened last June 17 and was originally scheduled to run until August 21. "Kulo" by Mideo Cruz was a segment of the exhibit.

The UST administration disowned the exhibit. UST Vice Rector Fr. Pablo Tiong said the university denounced the "offensive" exhibit of Cruz, describing it as a work of an "unprofessional artist."

Tiong said Cruz is an undergraduate of the Espana-based school.

The UST official also said they are supporting plans of lay organizations to press charges against Cruz for violation of the penal code making it a crime to "offend a race or religion."

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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