At first I was inclined to dismiss the debate as a tempest in a teapot. But when my favorite daily read (www.artdaily.com) carried the story of the furor over Mideo Cruz’s piece, Poleteismo, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, I thought I had better make time to see for myself what the fuss was about. I admit, I had no plans to drive down to view Kulô, a group exhibit of UST alumni, during the show’s run. From photos I had seen of its opening night, I figured that majority of the artists who participated in the show chose to submit old works, most of them I had already seen before. But with the issue of blasphemy vs. artistic freedom dominating the headlines and television news programs, how can any observer of the Manila art scene not take a stand?
As has been said elsewhere, the merits and demerits of the piece, whether it can be classified as “good” art or not is beside the point (Frankly, I find Mideo’s performances more interesting). Other Filipino contemporary artists have expressed their disdain for the Catholic Church’s local hierarchy in stronger, more provocative terms. Although I personally did not find the piece offensive, I acknowledge that this may not be true for others (an understatement given the passions that have been ignited). But the artist deserves the right to express his views, especially one consistent with the exhibit’s concept. Calling his work illegal and immoral, and subjecting Mideo to harassment, should not be tolerated. It smacks of the Inquisition!
If it’s any consolation to Mideo, he stands in good company. One of Sandro Botticelli’s paintings served as kindle to Savonarola’s Bonfire of the Vanities in Renaissance Florence. The Taliban dynamited the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001 because they considered these ancient stone carvings as idols. Ignorance and mass hysteria have gone hand in hand before. The CCP has at least stood firm against any attempts to close the exhibit, and has chosen to encourage dialogue and debate instead. In that, they’ve done better than the Smithsonian. Late last year, the museum’s director caved in to pressure and removed a piece by artist David Wojnarowicz that had proved too controversial.
What a pity that this whole brouhaha has taken the attention away from Kulô. Despite my earlier reservations, I found that I enjoyed the show.
For more on the exhibit and Mideo’s piece, check out Sam Marcelo of Businessworld:
The photo that appears on this post is taken from http://www.filipinofreethinkers.org
Postscript: I suppose it was too much to expect a government institution to stand steadfast against a bloodthirsty mob. The CCP Board decided to close the exhibit down five days after I originally posted this. Worse, all the politicians now think they can weigh in with their pompous opinions. How depressing that censorship and intolerance have prevailed.