By Dakila – Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism
Jesus Christ with a penis. A cross with a condom. These indelible images, appearing in Mideo Cruz’s exhibit, “Kulo”, have been in circulation in the Philippine art world since 2002, but only in the past few days have they sparked heated debates about art and the freedom of expression.
Mideo’s exhibit, featuring religious items combined with odd everyday objects, raised a furor in the Catholic Church and other conservative groups when it was installed in the Cultural Center of the Philippines. While branded as “sacrilegious” and “blasphemous”, the artworks were not the only target of intense criticism, as the CCP itself came under fire for using taxpayers’ money for this controversial exhibit and their purported lack of sensitivity to the religious beliefs of Filipinos.
Under wave after wave of threats and intimidation, including several senators’ calls for the resignation of the entire institution’s board, the CCP has been forced to back down. CCP’s board has already temporarily closed Mideo’s exhibit while its Museum and Visual Arts director, Karen Ocampo-Flores, has handed in her resignation.
When an institution whose very logo depicts katotohanan (truth), kagandahan (beauty), and kabutihan (goodness), is forced to close down a controversial exhibit without even so much as a proper dialogue, then it is not only the art community that has a reason to be very afraid. When individuals whose right to freedom of expression is said to be guaranteed by the Constitution are threatened by violent and destructive acts, then it is the Filipino people themselves who are under threat.
Are we bound to compromise anything that offends the hegemony, save that it is the social reality we are facing? Have we come to value censorship so that the ugly truth of what has become of our culture may be hidden behind a beautiful facade of denial and lies?
Truth, above anything else, should come first before beauty and goodness. Without truth, there is no beauty; without truth, there is no goodness. Dakila sees that Cruz’s artwork merely emphasizes one social reality – that despite having pride in being one of the largest Roman Catholic countries in the world, our society has put premium on different “gods” – money, personalities, and yes, sex.
As a group advocating social transformation through the arts, Dakila supports Mideo Cruz in expressing what he deems the true condition of our society today. Dakila believes that art does not exist in a vacuum. It is a way of expressing the inexpressible; a powerful tool in opening the minds of individuals. After his own self, the artist has a responsibility towards the reality that surrounds him.
Truth, being arbitrary and relative, should not be monopolized by anyone– not even religious groups who claim their teachings to be the “truest” in every sense. In a conservative society like the Philippines, where religion clearly has hegemony over everyone and everything else, we need artists like Mideo Cruz brave enough to reveal ugly realities which may sometimes be masked behind our faith and beliefs.
People may not be ready for the truth just yet. But when will we start seeing the real world if not now? After all, if truth can set us free, then why are we so afraid of the raw realities presented to us? If art mirrors life, then might it be because what we see in the mirror are ugly truths made by no one else but ourselves?