By Carlos H. Conde
MANILA (UPDATED: 12:49 PM) – The Cultural Center of the Philippines decided on Tuesday to close its main gallery, citing threats it has received over an allegedly “blasphemous” exhibit.
Karen Flores, head of the CCP’s visual arts department, sent out a text message to artists and colleagues Tuesday, telling them that the CCP board has will announce the closure of the main gallery, where an art installation by artist Mideo Cruz as part of the “Kulo” exhibition of 32 artists from the University of Santo Tomas.
The CCP board had also been threatened with a lawsuit from lay organizations that said a publicly-funded institution should not be used for an exhibit that in their view violated statutes proscribing acts deemed offensive to a race or religion.
Flores said the alleged threats came through text messages, email, as well as broadcast and online media. She did not provide any more details but told Cruz “to be extra careful.” Cruz’s artwork was recently vandalized.
Cruz’s installation, called “Poleteismo,” has been roundly denounced by Filipino conservatives and religious leaders, calling it blasphemous, sacrilegious and deeply offensive to many Filipino Catholics. The most offensive part of the installation, many critics say, are the ones showing Jesus Christ with a penis as well as a cross with a used condom on it.
Cruz has said that his art work, which he began working on in 2002, was a critical depiction of idolatry in the largely Roman Catholic country, but critics said the installation of a wooden penis on the face of Jesus was deeply offensive to both Roman Catholics and other Christian groups.
Flores, of CCP, said in her text message that the CCP board “upholds freedom of artistic expression and is now reviewing its policies to address all matters that emanate from the issue.”
On Monday, former first lady Imelda Marcos visited the gallery and said she was appalled by what she saw. She told reporters later she had talked to the board, adding, “I think I convinced” majority of them to shut down the exhibit.
Below is the statement released by CCP president Raul Sunico and chairperson Emily Abrera:
Due to numerous emails, text messages and other letters sent to various offficers 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. This decision was made amidst controversy and deliberation by the Board as to what steps are necessary to avoid future similar incidents.
In the light of the foregoing developments and recent experience, the CCP management has reviewed its policies and are 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.
KULO’ opened on June 17 at the CCP Main Gallery, a compilation of work by 32 artists, meant to be part of the Center’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of Jose Rizal. Because all the participating artists had a common educational background, all having studied at the UST, they felt it fitting that the theme of Jose Rizal also reflect the heritage and culture represented by the 400-year old university.
Each artist participated with one installation. It was curated by J. Pacena II. 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.
Publicity on the exhibit only happened after a major network covered it in the news. Particular focus had been put on one specific art work, “Politeismo.” By Mideo Cruz. Politeismo has been exhibited since 2002 in such venues as the Ateneo de Manila, UP Vargas Musueum and Kulay Diwa Galleries.
Threats to security became most alarming on Aug. 4 when Security reported that a couple had vandalized the art works and attempted to set fire to the exhibit but had been unsuccessful. Subsequent hate mails and threats to members of the Board intensified following this incident. Following serious discussion, the Board members agreed on the common objective, to nurture freedom of artistic expression, while recognizing the responsibilities that go with it.