By Julie M. Aurelio
MANILA, Philippines – An artists’ coalition, decrying the closure of an exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, is moving to reopen it on what was supposed to have been the “last day” of the exhibition.
Lending their support to artist Mideo Cruz and the fight against censorship and attacks on freedom expression, the Palayain ang Sining (Free the Arts) called on the CCP to reconsider its closure of the “Kulo (Boil)” exhibit.
“We call on the CCP to reopen the exhibition in the spirit of free flow of ideas and cultural expressions,” the coalition of artists, critics and academics said in a statement.
Spokesperson Iggy Gutierrez said they have been planning to reopen the exhibit on Aug. 21, including Cruz’s Poleteismo.
“We call on all artists to join us in our cause and mount a creative protest against censoship,” he said in a press conference at the University of the Philippines on Thursday.
He added that they have also been planning to showcase the “Kulo” exhibit in other venues but declined to give details so as not to preempt it.
The press conference on Thursday, was attended by a broad range of artists’ groups, such as Sining Bugkos, Ugatlahi, the Concerned Artists of the Philippines and Artists Arrest, among others.
The groups threw their support behind Cruz and former CCP visual arts head Karen Flores, who resigned on Wednesday.
Flores, who was also in Thursday’s forum, pointed out that religion should not lead people into hatred, and should instead enlighten people.
“Religion should lead us to practice tolerance amid our differences,” she added as she called on students and teachersto support artists practicing freedom of expression.
While coming from different groups, the artists were one in agreeing that closing down the exhibit would only serve to close down intellectual and critical discussion on the art exhibit.
Religious groups and conservatives had raised a howl over the art work, which featured a representation of Jesus Christ with a phallus attached to his nose.
The CCP had closed down the entire exhibit after religious clerics and politicians found the work to be obscene and offensive. CCP officials, however, said they were responding to security threats arising from the protests to the exhibit and not to the arguments posed by the conservatives.
The exhibit was supposed to have ended on Aug. 21, thus the significance of the date for the exhibit’s planned reopening.
Prof. Cecilia Sta. Maria of the U.P. Arts Studies department said the religious and conservative groups that called for the exhibit’s shutdown could be likened to readers who disliked a page or a chapter of a book but deemed the entire book as offensive.
National artist for literature Bienvenido Lumbera said he found the recent events to be disturbing and feared it would set a precedent.
“The fear is already there for artists, they would consider if anyone would be disturbed by their creations,” he added.
Dr. Nicanor Tiongson, former Movie and Television Review and Classification Board chief, said the issue of censorship has not been limited to the arts but extended to the media as well.
“Both the media and the arts seek the truth – the media through investigation, and the arts through creative expression. The suppresion of one will lead to the suppression of the other,” he explained.
Tiongson was the MTRCB chief when then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration banned the showing of “Live Show” because of excessive nudity.
“Vigilance is needed in fighting censorship, and both art and media should take part,” he said, adding that people should be educated in understanding art.
Musician and high school teacher Cabring Cabrera, the vocalist of Datu’s Tribe, expressed his strong opposition to the idea of censorship.
“It should not just be about commercial fodder, songs should not be just for perpetuating myths and illusions. It seems like PNoy’s ‘matuwid na daan’ (straight path) is turning out to be narrow and not as straight,” he added.
Dancer Myra Beltran recalled that ballet was banned in the 1950s because of an unflattering photograph of a dancer, which was published at that time.
“All movement is neutral. No movement is inherently malicious.. No one has the right to dictate what to do with one’s body,” she said.
During the open forum, actor Pen Medina asked the panelists why a compromise was not reached, such as the removal of Cruz’s work but let the exhibit go on.
“If you want real discourse, you don’t antagonize those you wish to convince,” he said to which Flores said that there was no intention to antagonize anyone.