The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) closed down on Tuesday the main gallery where the controversial “Kulo” art exhibit is on display.
In a statement, the CCP said threats to persons and property influenced the management’s decision to close down the gallery.
One of the artworks displayed in the gallery — artist Mideo Cruz’s piece, a mixed-media collage called “Poleteismo” — was criticized as “blasphemous” and then vandalized last week.
“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,” the CCP said.
“This decision was made amidst controversy and deliberation by the Board as to what steps are necessary to avoid future similar incidents,” the CCP added.
“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,” it said.
Reached by GMA News Online, Cruz refused to issue any comment on the development.
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Pursuing plan to sue
On Tuesday, after the CCP closed down its main gallery, the Catholic group Pro-Life Philippines said it will continue with its plan to sue CCP officials and those behind the exhibit.
Radio dzBB quoted lawyer Jo Aurea Imbong as saying that they have drafted the complaint to be filed before the Ombudsman, and may file it within this week.
Last weekend, Imbong had said she may file a criminal complaint against those behind the exhibit before the Pasay City Prosecutor’s Office.
Imbong, executive director of the St. Thomas More Society (STMS), an association of Catholic lawyers, said the organizers are liable for violating Revised Penal Code’s (RPC) Article 201 on immoral doctrines, obscene publications, and indecent shows.
In a statement last week, Imbong said the public display of the collage is in violation of the mandate of the CCP, the country’s premier institution for culture and the arts.
The CCP is a public agency so “the exhibition and hosting of an exhibit hostile to the very mandate of that agency — on public property and by a public agency — is an abuse of public authority and a breach of public trust,” she stressed.
“It does no public service except to subvert the common good, appealing as it does to the baser instinct rather than to higher and more edifying dispositions of the human person,” she added.
Heated debated on “Kulo”
Kulo, a compilation of work by 32 artists, opened on June 17 at the CCP Main Gallery. The exhibit was supposed to run until August 21.
All 32 artists are former students at the University of Santo Tomas, hitherto known as a bastion of conservative Catholic teaching.
The exhibit was meant to be part of the Center’s celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Philippine national hero Dr. 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,” the CCP said.
Amid the heated discussions on the controversial ‘Kulo’ exhibit, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III asked the board of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) to be careful in their future exhibits.
“I made my position very clear to them, and I did stress the idea kung may karapatan ka, pero pag naapakan yung karapatan ng iba naman may mali na dun,” Aquino said in an interview with reporters in Batangas City on Tuesday morning.
No absolute freedom
The President said he spoke with several members of the CCP board on Monday and reminded them that freedom of expression is not absolute.
“Nagremind tayo dyan there is no freedom that’s absolute, there are limits set as to what you’re allowed to do,” he said.
He told the CCP board to consider the belief of the people because the CCP is funded by the people’s money.
“Politeismo” on exhibit since 2002
The CCP explained that the controversial artwork “‘Poleteismo” has been exhibited since 2002 in such venues as the Ateneo de Manila, UP Vargas Musueum and Kulay Diwa Galleries.
The CCP noted that “publicity on the exhibit only happened after a major network covered it in the news,” and focused on “Poleteismo.”
According the CCP, the decision to put up the “Kulo” exhibit was “in keeping with previous practice to evaluate merits of art works on the basis of established parameters.”
It noted that “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.”
“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,” the CCP said.
“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,” the CCP added.
Making a mockery of religion
Lay groups, however, said the exhibit mocks the Catholic religion because “Poleteismo” illustrates:
- a religious image of Jesus Christ. Attached to the religious image is a wooden replica of the male genital protruding toward His face. The male genital replica is draped with the Rosary, hanging by the base and top of the replica. To a crucifix is attached a red male organ.
- a similar religious image of Christ, where His eyes are darkened by black ink which appears to flow out from the eyes.
- a crucifix and cross draped with a pink, stretched-out condom.
- various religious images and pictures of Christ, Mary the Mother of Christ, Holy Family, saints, and the rosary — all closely surrounded and placed beside pictures of women who appear to be modeling for underwear or a skin product.
- a picture of Christ’s disciples surrounding a dark silhouette of Christ in the middle. Right above the facial portion of the dark silhouette of Jesus Christ is a drawing resembling the icon of Disney’s Mickey Mouse.
- a religious statue of Christ seated. Attached to the tip of His nose is a red ball. Above His head is an imposed pair of red ears the same as Mickey Mouse icon.
‘Stop exhibit or face consequences’
On August 2, some UST alumni visited the CCP, urging the cultural center “to stop the exhibit in 48 hours or face legal consequences.”
Also on August 2, Pro-Life Philippines sent a letter to the CCP and the artists who claimed to be from the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and demanded that the exhibit “Kulo” be stopped by August 4.
On August 4, unidentified vandals defaced a controversial art exhibit at the CCP.
Among the art pieces affected by the attack was Cruz’s “Poleteismo.”
On August 5, at the “Dakdakan” forum at the CCP, opposing sides clashed on the issues of freedom of expression and religious sensibilities.
The organizers said the exhibit was borne out of “discourses of the pen and the sword, education and revolution that continue to implicate Filipino artists and thinkers.”
“The CCP has always maintained that freedom of expression extends to all; not just to artists but to those who wish to speak up for their religious and spiritual beliefs within proper means and venues,” wrote Karen Flores in a statement posted on the CCP Visual Arts’ Facebook account, after the exhibit was vandalized.
“It’s not a debate about art, it’s not a debate about religion: it’s about imposing their power on the CCP,” wrote Flores in her Facebook note “This is Not a Church?” reflecting on Dakdakan.
On August 7, former First Lady and incumbent Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos visited the exhibit and was appalled, asking CCP officials to withdraw the exhibit. She said officials agreed to do so, but the CCP has not confirmed this as of posting time.
“This was not at all right. This was ugly as it was only a desecration of a sacred symbol,” said Marcos during Monday’s plenary session at the House of Representatives.
It is unclear whether the former First Lady’s request was the reason for the meeting at the CCP earlier in the day. – Carmela Lapeña, Jesse Edep, VVP/RSJ/HS, GMA News