MANILA, AUGUST 11, 2011 (STAR) By Delon Porcalla and Rhodina Villanueva (PHOTO - Members of Pro-Life Philippines and other non-government organizations stage a rally at the Cultural Center of the Philippines over a controversial art exhibit. Photo at left, from Filipina lifestyle site, shows CCP Museum and Visual Arts head Karen Flores, who announced her resignation yesterday. EDD GUMBAN)

The head of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Museum and Visual Arts division has resigned a day after several senators called for the resignation of the entire board for allowing the staging of a controversial art exhibit.

The CCP’s Public Relations and Linkages Division confirmed that Visual Arts director Karen Ocampo-Flores has submitted her resignation letter after the center closed the gallery showing the art exhibit “Kulo,” which took flak for being “sacrilegious” and “blasphemous.”

Flores announced her resignation during a forum at the University of the Philippines but did not go into details, saying she had a bad experience with the media.

As to the reported filing of charges against CCP executives, Flores said those who plan to can just push through with it.

Flores is the granddaughter of the late National Artist for Visual Arts Hernando “HR” Ocampo.

The Office of the Ombudsman is expected to officially receive a graft complaint today against the center’s officials and artist Mideo Cruz.

Various religious denominations represented by lawyer Jo Imbong would be filing a criminal case against 12 people that would include Flores, artist Cruz, CCP president Raul Sunico and nine of the 10 members of the CCP board.

Imbong said they dropped CCP board member Arsenio Lizaso from the list of respondents because they were able to get hold of a document saying that he was not in favor of the exhibit.

The anti-graft court said it has jurisdiction over the would-be respondents, most of whom are public officials.

Malacañang, however, said that the Aquino administration is not keen on pressing any charges against Cruz and the CCP executives.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Cruz has the right to express himself through his artworks and giving him sanction might amount to censorship.

“That’s something that we are not prepared to do,” Lacierda said, adding that the President had already conveyed his concern to the CCP board and asked them to be more sensitive to the feelings, or more particularly to the religious beliefs, of the Filipinos in their future exhibits.

“I think what the President said is very clear. He’s not after censorship but it’s also to remind the CCP board that this is not just art for art’s sake. You have to also remember that you’re using taxpayers’ money for this exhibit,” he said, emphasizing that the Palace had nothing to do with the temporary closure of the CCP Main Gallery.

Lacierda also brushed aside suggestions for Aquino to remove all members of the CCP board, saying there was no directive from the President.

“I heard the president of CCP, Raul Sunico, mention that they are going to study their objectives. They have to do some refinements on their rules and guidelines, I understand, so we expect them to review their policies and to avoid a similar situation,” he said.

He added that the Palace is open to providing security to members of the CCP board who continuously get death threats from several sectors, borne out of the allegedly offensive exhibit.

“Yes, if there is any death threat on the members of the board of trustees of the CCP, we will be more than ready to protect them,” Lacierda said, although he found it “unfair” for some people to threaten CCP officials who are just doing their jobs.

“It’s not right to hurl death threats or raise death threats against the members of the board. In their own estimation, they decided on a certain path. Once they’ve realized that their security was at stake, they decided to close down the exhibit,” Lacierda stressed.

Flores: Art for the sake of art

Flores said the exhibits or art works being put on display at the CCP are planned one year ahead and a lot of brainstorming and hard work are put into it.

“Before the Kulo installation art was staged, we had already been planning to put on exhibit an ‘alternative art form’ that is in line with the celebration of UST’s 400 years, and that is also considering Rizal’s 150th birthday,” she explained.

“We were then mulling on coming up with a theme that signifies rage, seething, articulation since we see art as something that may be viewed in different ways and can evoke diverse reactions. So that is how the Kulo artworks came into play,” she added.

Flores said that because of the negative reactions to the art exhibit that were instantly blown out of proportion and resulted to threats to life and property, the CCP management decided to close down the exhibit.

Emily Abrera, chair of the CCP board of trustees, said Flores’ decision to resign was a personal choice but the rest of the board was not resigning.

“She’s a woman of her own. Maybe she had too much pressure on her because she was the one who approved it (exhibit). But as for me, I’m not resigning. I have so much work to do here,” Abrera said, adding that she hasn’t heard of anyone else from the board who’s talking about quitting their jobs.

Sunico, for his part, said in a text message that there was “no reason to resign unless ordered from above...”

“We did not commit any crime,” he added.

The board members of the CCP do not receive any salary, except for an allowance of P3,000 for the chair and P2,000 for trustees when they attend board meetings.

Abrera: Media blew it out of proportion

Abrera said despite the uproar over what some sectors see as “blasphemous” art, they’ve remained advocates of artistic freedom.

“We’ve taken the side of the artist and we are now in a very difficult situation. Those who plan to file charges against us can just go on with it. That would be a better thing to do than just to continuously threaten CCP officials and artists,” Abrera told The STAR in an exclusive phone interview.

“What is happening right now also shows that media play a crucial role on how things and feelings are perceived, and how do they affect public opinion,” she noted.

She said the exhibit was running smoothly for over a month until a television network came to do a documentary. After the story was aired on TV, the uproar started.

“They came and documented certain portions of the installation. It’s not even the full artwork. There seems to be no problem with it because people had been visiting the gallery even before that. After it was televised, people just went hysterical and started calling for our resignation,” Abrera said.

“Poleteismo,” the controversial artwork of Cruz, has been exhibited since 2002 in other venues like the Ateneo de Manila, UP Vargas Museum and Kulay Diwa Galleries.

“The clamor for us to resign is there because they don’t have a full understanding of what an art gallery is and what we do at the CCP. They even sounded a clamor for a resignation without a dialogue… only on the basis of an exhibit,” Abrera said.

She also expressed sadness on the pronouncement of a particular senator to cut the CCP’s budget, saying they have always been hard-pressed to defend their budget every time they are called to a hearing.

“But what concerns us most is when a senator says, ‘Pahirapan natin sila’ (Let’s make it hard for them),” she said, emphasizing that the budget does not go to the pockets of the officials but to the improvement of the country’s culture and arts.

“Some people just doesn’t understand what we are doing here. I think we can all work together to uphold artistic freedom and appreciation of art’s place in a democratic society,” Abrera said.

Curtailment of freedom of art

Cruz, the artist who is currently at the center of the controversy, said he is okay despite the growing rage over his art works.

“My only concern is the issue of safety and security since we don’t know really what these can do,” he said.

The CCP management said it is already reviewing its policies and is now “taking steps to enable its officers and staff to make more informed decisions in the future.”

“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 in a statement released the other day.

The exhibit’s curator, Jaime Pacena II, said in a statement that the closure of the exhibit will set a bad precedent. He added that the decision was a form of curtailment of freedom of expression.

“The latest pronouncement of the CCP board sets a bad precedent. Our rights to freely express ourselves were curtailed,” Pacena said.

The board temporarily closed down the gallery Tuesday “due to numerous emails, text messages and other letters sent to various officers of the CCP, and to the artists themselves, with an increasing number of threats to persons and property.”

Police deployed at CCP

Meanwhile, the Pasay City police deployed more personnel at the CCP in anticipation of mass action that would be held by groups who have been reportedly offended by the controversial artwork.

Senior Superintendent Napoleon Cuaton, Pasay police chief, said they have received reports that demonstrations will be held in the CCP complex by still unidentified groups.

“We are coordinating with CCP for the implementation of additional security measure in the area,” Cuaton said.

Abrera said the most alarming threat at the gallery happened on Aug. 4 when security personnel reported that a couple vandalized the artwork and attempted to set fire to the exhibit.

“Subsequent hate mails and threats to the members of the board intensified following this incident,” CCP said. – With Michael Punongbayan, Evelyn Macairan, Raymund Catindig, Perseus Echeminada, AP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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