At his point, any defense or attack of the artwork “Poleteismo” by Mideo Cruz is already moot and academic because it will always be subjective and it runs the danger of keeping our attention away from the more pressing concern at hand. We say this because, as it happens, the debate surrounding the artwork has been focused largely on its artistic and moral merits at the expense of calling our attention to what we think are more disturbing actions: the demand of a certain faction of the Catholic church for the resignation of the CCP officials; the vandalism of the artwork and in effect the CCP gallery in which it is in exhibit; and the decision of the CCP to close the exhibit.
People have come to the extent of calling the CCP an antichrist and Mideo a demon and the forum intended as a discussion about the exhibit turned into a rhetorical riot. But on the brighter side, some people have managed to intelligently either defend the artist’s work or attack it both based on well-placed intentions to serve the people and defend social values they think are in peril. These actions are very much welcome and acceptable. Cruz himself categorically stated that he is welcome to criticisms. And we should encourage these criticisms and discussions if only to come to the most humane and useful appraisal and attitude towards the artwork. But at the moment, there is no reason to actually evict it out of the CCP gallery or, much worse, to destroy it.
That everybody is allowed to his or her opinion is a given in this situation. In the same respect that Cruz exercised his freedom of expression in his artwork which many find sickening and offending, everybody is welcome to express their opposition and even disgust to Cruz’s work up to the extent that it is constitutional and non-violent. At this point, Cruz is in fact already subject to gnashing criticisms by those who find his work offensive and they are very much free to expose or depict it for whatever farce or travesty that they think it is—in writing, through art, or even public assembly. The half-successful attempt of an unidentified man and woman to destroy the artwork of Cruz by defacing it and setting it on fire, albeit failed, however, is beyond acceptable. For one, it already constitutes criminal intent and ramifications not simply because it destroyed Cruz’s private property. Trying to set it on fire could’ve also burned the gallery or even the entire CCP. It is pretty much like “tirang pikon” as we say in Filipino.
Some may take it to the extreme by arguing that the vandalism performed could be also taken as a performance art and it should be granted the same liberty and tolerance given to Cruz. The Inquirer in its editorial on August 8, 2011 even went to somehow sanction the act by saying it is “understandable.” This line of logic is however short sighted because in his work, Cruz did not physically destroy anything. You don’t destroy somebody else’s work if it sickens you as you are free to make your own art that can challenge that or write a scathing review or critique, whichever suits you best. You can even desecrate Cruz and/or his artwork in your dreams.
Now, the closing of the exhibit. That many people including fellow artists and activists like Cruz himself were offended was par for the course. The CCP President Ramon Sunico himself, in fact, expressed in a media interview that he was similarly offended by the artwork. The former first lady Imelda Marcos in the same media report has also somehow managed to find value in making a statement about the artwork and in the process possibly also redeemed herself again, something that her family has so successfully done over the years following their legendary economic and moral plunder of the nation. It would be interesting to note however that while Imelda thinks that the artwork shouldn’t have been given a place at the CCP, the CCP President who admits to have been equally offended, stood by his decision and opinion that the exhibit should be left as it is and resignation of the officials following the demands of a faction of the church is out of the question. That is of course until today when the CCP eventually “temporarily closed” the exhibit allegedly for “security reasons.”
The action of the CCP is discouraging and even disturbing as it displays submission to unfair demands it initially ruled out. Saying the decision was prompted by security concerns sounds rather lame considering that the CCP found closing the exhibit unacceptable even after an actual attack of vandalism took place in the gallery itself. As such, we are deeply concerned about the fact that this decision came following the call of former first lady Imelda Marcos, considered as founder of the CCP and patron of the arts by some people, to close the exhibit which she says is contrary to the founding spirit of the CCP which is to display the good and the beautiful. If this line of argument sounds familiar, it is because this is the same justification espoused by Imelda in the censorship of films and other artworks during Martial Law, and which freedom fighters have valiantly fought so that we may enjoy today the freedom of expression commandeered by the Marcos Dictatorship.
We also find the statement of President Aquino in support to the action of the CCP smack of hypocrisy and dangerous. Aquino establishes his position by saying he sees no element of service in art that “insults the beliefs of most of the people.” Thus, one is tempted to ask Aquino what service does buying a Porsche did to the Filipinos, and why even if many people felt offended by his gesture, which smacks of fetishism, it was not dealt with censorship. No government institution was able to prevent him from driving his toy until he decided that it is not practical to keep. But more to the point, it is deeply alarming to hear the most powerful man in the country make a statement not only defining according to his terms what it is good or bad to say, but also sanctions the silencing of an idea which to other peoples’ mind has no value. And he makes this claim without having actually seen the artwork in question. Thus, his statement is not only carelessly done, it also spells fascism. It might also be good to remind the president that while the artwork offended the sensibilities of some people, it did not steal from them or hurt them in such a way that their basic rights were violated the way the Cojuancos and Hacienda Luisita Massacre, for instance, stole the land of the people and violently claimed the lives of farmers. That act of terror is what should be censored by way of giving back the land to the people and punishing the people behind the massacre.
We, thus, call on the CCP board to rethink its position about the closing of the exhibit for it already constitutes censorship. We also appeal to artists and citizens to see the higher social wager at stake in this situation: our freedom of expression. We join other artists and groups in the action to defend our right to express ourselves.