Mideo Cruz is the artist behind the controversial artworks being exhibited in the Cultural Center of the Philippines. His works have enraged bishops with their supposedly blasphemous content and have made Pro-Life Philippines take up a moral crusade, threatening to sue the CCP and the artist in an effort to censor Mideo Cruz’s freedom of expression for perceived outrages against their faith. What follows is an email interview with the artist. The interview has been edited for grammar and clarity.
Kenneth Keng: Kindly briefly introduce yourself for the benefit of our readership.
Mideo Cruz: I’m a visual artist who commonly tries to cross borders of discipline in producing my works. The most notable work I’ve created in the past is the “banquet” for which I was awarded the Ateneo Art Awards in 2007. I’ve frequently been invited outside the country for my creative works and was awarded the CCP 13 artists awards in 2003. Actually I feel uncomfortable with this question can I just attach my CV?
Could you describe the piece in question?
Mideo Cruz: A wall collage; I started doing it since 2002 from things that I’ve collected since I’m in high school. The manner was practically inspired by what we see in common houses where people put pictures of celebrities, politicians, etc on the wall of their houses.
Relic (cross) originally titled relic of my nation, done in 2004. The making of the Filipinos after several layers of colonization. Partly inspired by how we got the name of the country in paradigm to the monarchal trend of collecting religious relics.
Poon (chirst the king) deconstructing the sacredness and reconstructing the icon with parallel meanings. Coca cola and mickey mouse as epitome of neo liberalism.
Most of the outcry has been about the phallic object placed on the works. Phalluses have been objects of devotion in many cultures; they use them as amulets, symbolic statues, etc. They might be a symbol of power and patriarchy.
What would you say was the general intention of your piece, and how does it fit into your existing body of work?
Mideo Cruz: I’m exploring a lot about the nature of the deity. How people attributed the sacredness. How symbols evolve from various civilizations, how the worship evolves. But this particular piece is more regional and cultural attributing to our psyche as Filipinos. And also pertaining to our aesthetic perception.
How do you feel about the current threat of lawsuit unless your work is taken down?
Mideo Cruz: As far as I know the CCP is an independent institution. An arena where academic discourse is welcome. The conservative interference may be their means of showing their power over the so called morals very similar to what my motivation was in the work. Phallic symbols may stand for power. It contributes more to the readings of my work.
CCP has already organized a public forum on Friday to discuss the matter, but it seems that the CBCP and Pro-life Philippines then responded with an ultimatum for its takedown by Thursday. Have the CBCP or Pro-Life Philippines responded to any of yours or CCP’s invitations for dialogue?
Mideo Cruz: I don’t really know how it is going with the conversation of CBCP and CCP. And im wondering why they don’t want to wait for the dialogue. From their latest pronouncement it sounds like they are also agitating the administration of UST to go against CCP and the artists involved.
And finally, a follow up question that you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. Are you aware of any other “blasphemous” works in the Philippines? If there are, why do you think they targeted your work?
Mideo Cruz: A lot has been done before using the imagery of the catholic faith. In CCP Jose Legaspi did a Madonna and Child with Mary vomiting to the child Jesus, Paul Piper did a Sto. Nino out of a barbie doll and dressed it with comdoms. Alwin Reamillo did a Mckey Mouse Sto. Nino, Louie Cordero did a painting of Christ the King with a McDonald’s figure
With their criticism of the church, do you think El Filibusterismo and Noli Me Tangere are “blasphemous”?
Mideo Cruz: Blasphemy is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t even think of my work as blasphemy; instead, I think of them as a critque but if you will see it as blasphemy, I might as well consider that Rizal’s work is blaspmemy too.
Thanks for your time.