By Carmela Lapeña
Lamenting over the closure of the art exhibit Kulô, artists at a forum at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City, on Thursday called for unity against censorship.
“Napakalungkot para sa kalagayan ng sining sa pilipinas,” said National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera at the press conference dubbed “Palayain ang Sining” held Thursday morning at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication auditorium.
“Sa pagsuko ng CCP [Cultural Center of the Philippines] board sa mga dinedemanda ng mga tutol sa exhibition, naganap ang pagsuko hindi lang ng institusyon, kung di pagsuko ng mga indibidwal na artista,” said Lumbera, who also heads the Concerned Artists of the Philippines.
At the forum, artists from various fields expressed their dismay at the exhibit’s “censorship.”
“Sa susunod na panahon, nandoon ang posibilidad na bawat artista na may lilikhaing sayaw, pelikula, akda ay ‘di lamang mag-iisip kung dapat ba niyang ituloy ang tunay niyang niloloob sa paglikha ng sining dahil nandoon yung takot o pangamba na mayroong mga taong gagawa ng pagtutol sa kanyang nilikha,” said Lumbera.
Lumbera said CCP’s decision to close the main gallery where the exhibit was put up opens the door to further opposition from the powers that be.
“Kaya maaasahan natin sa mga susunod na okasyon na magkakaroon ng paggamit ng sining upang ipakita ang pagsalungat ng mga artista o ng isang artista sa umiiral na kalagayan sa lipunan, maaasahan natin na ang mga obispo, ang mga pinuno ng mga reaksyonaryong artista, mga tagapagmasid sa lipunan ay pauulit-ulit na maghaharap ng pagtutol tungkol sa ginagawa para sa sining ng CCP,” he said, referring to former First Lady Imelda Marcos’ authority to judge an artwork.
On August 7, the Mrs. Marcos arrived at the CCP to see the exhibit and called for it’s closure, saying it was “only a desecration of a sacred symbol.”
The CCP Board of Directors decided to close the exhibit on August 8, but clarified it was not due to pressure from anyone but to ensure the safety of the involved artists and CCP officials, who claimed to have been receiving threats. See story: CCP closes down gallery with controversial Kulô exhibit.
“Kung may mangyari hindi ko yata kayang patawarin ang sarili ko. I thought it was perhaps the wiser thing to close it down. I thought this is going to be a very bad thing for artists in general, pero naisip ko baka ma-diffuse lang, magkalma lang, para magkarinigan ang bawat panig,” said CCP chairperson Emily Abrera at an academic forum held at the UP Claro M. Recto hall Wednesday afternoon.
“I received a text message saying I should enjoy my birthday because it may be my last,” she also said.
Mideo Cruz, whose mixed media installation “Poleteismo” became controversial after being “taken out of context,” said he, too, “had received threats.”
“Ang nakakatakot lang yung security, di natin alam kung paano pa mag-e-escalate. Sa mga blogs yata meron. Actually noon hindi ko pa pinapalitan yung Facebook ko, mayroon. Hindi ko alam kung seryoso yun,” said Cruz.
Cruz made the claim at Wednesday’s forum on the history and nature of offensive images, as well as the role of the media and the legal aspect of the issue.
UP Department of Art Studies chairperson Cecilia Sta. Maria-Dela Paz stressed that there is a need for visual literacy, and the artwork should have been viewed as part of a whole.
“Ang isang exhibit ay parang isang libro… Ang nangyari dito sa exhibit na ito ay nag-focus lang [ang mga kritiko] sa isang page na iyon… na na-photocopy at naging basehan ng public opinion,” said Dela Cruz.
“Education is desperately needed. Not just visual literacy but true critical education. Aside from teaching the elements and medium of artistic expression, the philosophies and functions of art must also be explained,” said former MTRCB [Movie and Television Review and Classification Board] Chief Nicanor Tiongson, who briefly discussed censorship in film from the 1950s to the present.
He added, “Art is not just pretty Amorsolo landscapes to decorate our wall. More importantly, art is a constant affirmation of the truth as seen by the individual artist. And that expression is always subversive because artists see through the falsities and pretensions of the establishment, and dream of worlds better than the one we have.”
Unity vs censorship
The artists present at the forum called for unity against censorship and for upholding freedom of expression, even as the exhibit Kulô can no longer be viewed.
“Galit na galit kami sa censorship. It prevents. It blocks. It doesn’t allow us to get our message across. That is a very, very dangerous thing… whether my stage is inside the classroom or at the Sunken Garden [in UP Diliman campus]. The ultimate goal is, mabuksan ang isipan ng mga audience na nanonood, at ang mga bata na tinuturuan ko,” said teacher and Datus Tribe vocalist Cabring Cabrera.
“As a musician, as an artist, we also endeavor to provoke reactions, to stir emotions, to challenge conventions and more importantly, to inspire positive action sa mga nililikha naming mga kanta. Otherwise ang lalabas lang ay, the usual commercial fodder. It will be good only for perpetuating myths, illusions, escapist fantasies… na hindi gustong ma-wrack yung sensibilidad ng status quo,” he said.
“No movement is inherently malicious. It is the intention and context that gives it malice… In order to dance one must have possession of one’s body. No one has the right to dictate to you what to do with it. I would like to have the freedom to speak about the entire range of human experience even if it is ugly,” said dancer Myra Beltran.
For his part, Palayain ang Sining spokesperson Iggy Rodriguez said that on August 21, the exhibit Kulô will be opened to the public.
“Sa darating na August 21, supposedly closing ng exhibit, balak naming ibukas ito uli para sa huling araw ng exhibit sa CCP. Ini-invite namin ang mga artist na pumunta at makibahagi sa isang mapaglikhang pamamaraan para ipahayag ang kanilang mga nararamdaman,” said Rodriguez.
According to him, artists are mulling a dialogue with the CCP Board of Directors, adding that negotiations are being made to hold the exhibit elsewhere.
Meanwhile, filmmaker Pepe Diokno proposed that a 360-degree view of the exhibit be posted up online.
“We have to keep standing up for our artistic rights… Why don’t we post the exhibit online, like a 360-degree view of the exhibit,” he said, volunteering to do the task.
The artists at the forum also called on the media to contribute to the fight against censorship. Lumbera, among others, pointed out that the media had a big part to play in the issue.
“May malaking kinalaman ang media. Napadala sa argumento ng mga tutol sa Kulô, sa halip na ang media ay mag-focus sa kabuuan ng exhibit at ang pinag-usapan ay ang freedom of expression. Ang Media ay nawalan ng distance sa opinion ng mga religious org, mga bishops na tumututol sa Kulô,” he said.
Representing the CCP Visual Arts Department, Karen Flores recalled how a reporter framed the exhibit in the context of the controversial Reproductive Health (RH) bill, even if she did not mention the bill during the interview with her.
“We never talked about the RH bill… With those details, the religious images, the representations of genitalia, framed against the introduction of the RH bill which was never part of the Kulô statement anywhere,” said Flores, who resigned as head of the Visual Arts Department.
The Philippine bishops oppose the RH bill because it seeks to allow the use of artificial methods in family planning.
“Media has been less than cooperative in clarifying the real issues at hand. May perception po na na-sensationalize yung issue kung kaya’t di na makita kung ano ba talaga ang mahalagang prinsipyo na involved sa kasong ito,” said former MTRCB chief Tiongson.
During the conference, two members of artist group Karatula performed. Bound in masking tape, their shouts to free the arts were muffled.
Artists painted the message “uphold freedom of expression” on the road outside the forum venue. Also, some artists wrote messages of support on the tarpaulin that read “Uphold Artistic Freedom of Expression. No to censorship.” — LBG, GMA News