National Artist rues closure of 'blasphemous' art show

Posted at 08/09/2011 8:54 PM | Updated as of 08/10/2011 10:23 AM
"Kulo" art exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

MANILA, Philippines - National Artist for Literature Bien Lumbera on Tuesday said he is disappointed that the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) decided to capitulate to the demands of Catholic groups to shut down the controversial "Kulo" art exhibit, which shows defaced religious images.

"I think that it's an unfortunate move on the part of CCP. That leaves CCP open to pressure anytime something, an art object being displayed, raises the ire of certain sectors," he told ABS-CBN News Channel.

"Once they give in to the pressure exerted on them by certain groups, then the CCP becomes open to every little whim by a certain sector in Philippine society," he added.

Lumbera, leader of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, said the controversy over the "Kulo" exhibit veered away from the discussion that an artist "should be allowed the freedom to create what he thinks is art."

He said, however, that he understood the CCP's decision to shut down the controversial exhibit particularly the art pieces of Mideo Cruz.

"I can see that there is very little ground on which the CCP and the Church can agree on," he said.

Asked if he will protest the CCP's decision, he said: "I don't think I will. I just express regret that the CCP did not put up an argument that would protect the artist and his creation."

CCP officials have come under fire for exhibiting Mideo Cruz's controversial art pieces. The works fanning controversy are images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary which were adorned with objects not related to Christianity -- from a crucifix with a wooden penis to a Christ the King figurine with rabbit ears.

Exhibit closed

On Tuesday, the CCP management decided to close down the exhibit after CCP Board members and the artist received threats.

"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,  the members of the Board of the Cultural Center of the Philippines have decided to close down the Main Gallery where the Kulo Exhibit is on display," the CCP said in a statement.

The CCP said security threats became more alarming after a couple vandalized the controversial art works of Mideo Cruz and attempted to set fire to the exhibit last week.

Catholic groups have condemned the exhibit for being "sacrilegious and blasphemous."

Lawyer Jo Imbong of the St. Thomas More Society of Lawyers said their group will still file charges against the CCP officials and Cruz despite the closure of the exhibit.

"The Christian groups will pursue the charges because a serious offense has been committed and the CCP and the artist are accountable under the law," Imbong said.

Imbong earlier said that the CCP and Cruz are liable for violating Revised Penal Code's (RPC) Article 201 on immoral doctrines, obscene publications, and indecent shows.

For his part, President Benigno Aquino III said he backed the CCP's decision to close the exhibit.

Social realism

Chris Millado, artistic director and head of the CCP Performing Arts Department, said the CCP tried to accommodate many points of view but Cruz's work elicited violent reactions.

He said the "Kulo" artists including Cruz focused on social realism and used their art to address social issues.

"It is not the intention of the artist to desecrate or be sacrilegious but he is using certain images that incited this kind of feeling," Millado told radio dzMM.

Asked why the artist decided to use the images of Jesus and Mary and not the prophet Mohammed, he said: "He made a specific choice. It was not just Christ but several other images. It is a learning thing. Hindi nagkaroon din ng timing o preparation to basically explain or warn the public about what to expect...to see how she or he could view the exhibit so there would be context."

Millado said other religious communities including Christians were not offended by the artwork and were willing to engage the artist in dialogue.

However, he said there are extreme sectors "who do not want to engage anymore but use other forms such as threats and harassment of artist."

Millado said he was also shocked when he first saw Cruz's art pieces but said the work could be used as a mirror to reveal something about society.

"We should appreciate what has happened because the artist is trying to say something, point out something. He is trying to mirror something. I saw it 4 days ago. I was shocked. And then I thought why I was shocked and it became revelatory for me, what things I still value and why I tried to go into the head of the artist and what the artist tried to come up with," he said.

He added that the controversy has become an opportunity for artists to see the limits of expression and to "examine our work as artists in terms of how far you can go to push our message across."