By Ina Alleco R. Silverio
MANILA — A new formation of Filipino artists and civil rights defenders calling themselves Palayain ang Sining (Set Art Free) have taken up cudgels in defense of beleaguered artist Mideo Cruz.
In a manifesto, the group said the whole controversy surrounding the Kulô exhibit at the CCP — particularly the furor over Cruz’s Poleteismo, has “gotten out of hand.” It said there were other, more important issues that have risen as a result of the controversy that should be addressed.
“Focusing our attention and ire on one person has made us overlook the larger underlying issue, which affects not only Mideo Cruz but all of us as creators of art and as members of the viewing public: that of censorship and repression,” it said.
The formation said the bishops and religious lay leaders who are pushing for the closure of the exhibit are also persecuting one person’s creative expression. It also said these individuals were hindering other creative expressions whose concept present ideologies they do not agree with.
“To allow the exhibit’s closure based on such would set the precedent for all other exhibitions that would follow. Palayain ang Sining is direct in what it stands for: the fight for freedom in our creative expression; the fight against censorship and repression,” it said.
The artist formation called on artists from all fields — visual arts, cinema, theater, dance and music to unite against what it said was an attempt to censor and control what are shown to the public. It also appealed to members of the media to be vigilant in upholding the constitutional right to freedom of speech, expression, and of the press.
“Palayain ang Sining does not merely support Mideo Cruz. We support the fight against censorship, and against attacks on our basic right to freedom of expression,” it said.
CCP closes Kulo exhibit
The Cultural Center of the Philippines announced Tuesday, August 9 that it was closing down the CCP’s main gallery where the Kulo exhibit was on display. This, the CCP went on to explain, was because of the 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.
“This decision was made amidst controversy and deliberation by the Board as to what steps are necessary to avoid future similar incidents,” it said. The statement was signed by Raul Sunico and Emily Abrera, CCP’s president and chairwoman respectively.
In the meantime, Senator Jinggoy Estrada delivered a privileged speech calling for the resignation of the officials of the CCP. He condemned the exhibit and said that those behind it should be sanctioned. He labelled the exhibition “an outrageous abuse of artistry and freedom of expression.”
“These ugly, insulting, blasphemous images achieve nothing, enrich no one, and debase instead of uplift,” he said.
According to reports, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile also expressed support to calls for the resignation of the CCP’s board of directors.
Earlier this week, former First Lady and wife of ousted ex-dictator Ferdinand Marcos visited the exhibit and said that she was shocked by it. She called the exhibit “shameful.”
“We built that to be the sanctuary of the Filipino soul and a monument to the Filipino spirit. “
Marcos said the exhibit was not only ugly, it was “not true and not at all beautiful.”
A sad day for artists
Reacting to announcements of the exhibit’s closure, various artists expressed sentiments ranging from sadness to outrage.
Singer and University of the Philippines Diliman professor Roselle Pineda said it was “a sad day for artists and guardians of freedom of artistic expression… but it has always been the people that asserted and won this right whenever it is threatened and curtailed… all rights, including the right to express is something we assert and claim, it is not, unfortunately, given by institutions, and so, as artists and cultural workers, we must be vigilant in guarding our rights. we must be united and mobilize to stand and uphold freedom of expression! Artists unite!
Dean of the UP College of Mass Communications and writer Rolando Tolentino Tweeted his sentiments in Filipino.
“Imelda is a hypocrite and her tastes when it comes to truth/goodness/beauty. This was a dictatorship, or has she forgotten?”
“If you don’t want to see or hear things against your beliefs, do not go to where the debates are unless you want to be a victim even if you orchestrated your own victimization.”
“Censorship is a blow against all artists. The state has the capability to repress those it believes to be offensive to its own interests.”
Artist and former dean of the UP College of Fine Arts Leonilo Doloricon in the meantime said, “Those holier than thou crusaders against Mideo Cruz’ should stay in the church everyday not in museums and galleries.”
PinoyWeekly editor Kenneth Guda in the meantime said journalists should be up in arms over this attack on free expression.
“To paraphrase that Niemoller quote: ‘First they came for the artists but we did not speak because we were not artists. Then they came for the journalists and nobody was left to speak for us,’” he said.
Award-winning writer and painter Jun Cruz Reyes also expressed commiseration with Cruz.
“Poor Mideo M. Cruz, misunderstood all over again. Let me borrow a quote for you: “Brilliant ideas are always getting violent opposition from mediocre minds” — Albert Einstein. Brace yourself Mideo. In the end, your art will see you through. I salute you.”
Yet another group, Artists ARREST (Artists’ Response to the Call for Social Change and Transformation) slammed President Benigno Aquino III for supporting the CCP’s decision to close down the exhibit, saying that Aquino’s move “smacked of hypocrisy.”
“Aquino establishes his position by saying he sees no element of service in art that ‘insults the beliefs of most of the people.’ One is then tempted to ask Aquino what service did buying a Porsche do for Filipinos.Many people felt offended by what he did, but no one called for censorship against what amounted to his fetishism for expensive, luxury cars. No government institution was able to prevent him from driving his toy until he decided that it is not practical to keep.”
The group also pointed out that it was “deeply alarming to hear the most powerful man in the country make a statement not only defining according to his own 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.”
Aquino, the group said, made his claim without having actually seen the artwork in question.
Artist Arrest said the CCP board should rethink its position. “Closing the exhibit 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. ”
Objectivity in the face of controversy
The issue has sparked countless debates over social networking sites, prompting opinions on art, religion and freedom of expression.
An activist poet, Stum Casia, said however that the public should not focus on the narrow issues of religious beliefs or the lack thereof when it comes to the controversy.
” To be able to lay down an objective opinion, it would be better to look at the issue from all sides and not be convinced merely by various television reports, pictures and a few descriptions. It’s important that the matter be seen in its entirety, including the subtle and unspoken implications and messages of the issue,” he said.
Casia is an official of the poet collective Kilometer 64 and posted the note in his Facebook account.
Owing to the call that the exhibition be closed down, however, Casia regrets that he will no longer have the opportunity to see Cruz’ work for himself.
“But this I can say — Cruz has courage. He has dared to tackle the issue of idolatry which many others shy from discussing. I am a Christian and an officer in my church. I read the bible. I pray whether it concerns a simple cold or the cancer that affects the country. I beg the forgiveness of Catholics, but I believe that the graven images and statues are false gods. And it’s said in the bible that to worship false idols is to worship the god who has been created by men.”
“My Jesus Christ in not made of wood or stone. He does not have long hair nor does he bear a mustache and a beard. Not a poster that can be framed. Not a gold pendant. Cannot be a tattooed image. He is the Living Christ. I will use the life He has leant me wisely. ”
According to reports, the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) said it will hold a discussion on issues of censorship, freedom and expression and the responsibility of artists this coming Thursday in the the College of Mass Communication in UP Diliman.