Tag Archive | "art"

FF Podcast (Audio) 007: Lady Gaga vs Bigots and Fundies


Filipino Freethinkers Podcast #7

Our newest podcast (that’s also a video) is up! Here, Marge, Ria and Red discuss the current protest of some Christian groups against the Lady Gaga concert, the difficulties of satire in a country where the news reads like stories out of The Onion, and how beauty queen Miriam Quiambao’s courage in defiance of popular opinion has contributed to the awareness of LGBT rights.



What are your thoughts on these topics? Please comment on this page.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, Media, Politics, Religion, Secularism, SocietyComments (0)

God Goes to a Freedom of Expression Rally


To the protesters of the artwork “Poleteismo,”

The universe is composed of millions and millions of galaxies. Inside a single galaxy are millions and millions of solar systems. In one solar system, among millions, there is a star Earthlings call the sun. Around that sun are several planets. One of those planets is called Earth. The planet Earth has around 6.94 billion people.

The planet Earth has several continents. One of those continents is called Asia. Somewhere in Southeast Asia you can find a country called the Philippines. The Philippines has 7,107 islands. Sometimes it has 7,108, depending on the tide or depending on my mood. Those islands are divided into three areas – Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

In Luzon, there is a city called Manila. In that city, there was an exhibit. In that exhibit, one artist displayed an artwork that was blasphemous.

So fucking what?

Gentlemen, I run the universe. Do you really think I’d give a fuck about one artwork, by one artist, in one exhibit, in one city, in one country, in one continent, in one planet, in one solar system, when I have billions of galaxies to worry about?

I’m God, dude. Like I told you in my last letter to mankind, I don’t sweat the small stuff because I have important things to do: plagues, diseases, earthquakes, epic, shock-and-awe, apocalyptic, God stuff.

Imagine a droplet of pee hanging at the edge of the rim of a random toilet bowl. Now, imagine that in that droplet of pee are millions of tiny little germs. Now, imagine that one germ from those million germs makes an artwork you do not appreciate. Are you going to go there and punish that germ?

You wouldn’t, right? Because the germ is so amazingly irrelevant, inconsequential, insignificant and unimportant to your existence that you would be embarrassed to even think of considering feeling even slightly bothered about some germ.

You know how you feel about the germ’s art? That’s how I feel about the “blasphemous” exhibit.

I am not offended.

In fact, I don’t care at all.

So, stop praying about how I should send fireballs from the sky and blow up some art because some dude put my image in vain. I told you, praying doesn’t work. I have a divine plan and my plan is divine so it’s better than your plan, so shut up.

I mean, seriously, do you think that the creator of the universe and a million galaxies would be “offended” by an artwork?

Just to show you how annoyed I am at these assumptions, I went out of my way and descended from heaven to attend the “free speech” rally myself.

I was there.

When I first got there, I was told that the march might not push through because of the rain. So, I was like, “Nah! I’ll handle that.” So, that’s me stopping the rain:

I was also introduced to Mideo Cruz. He was like, “I’m sorry if you were offended Jesus, there was a statement I wanted to make so I had to use your image in vain.” I was like, “Don’t worry about it, dude. Blasphemy is a human right.” So, that’s me forgiving Mideo Cruz:

That’s me NOT being offended:

That’s me being handsome:

That’s me having a little chat with Kenneth Keng. He’s like, “Hey Jesus, I’m a Christian.” I’m like, “Awesome, man. We’ll hang out later.” That guy on my left is Red Tani. He doesn’t talk to me. We will not “hang out” later:

I’m just kidding, people. I’m not really God.

I’m just some dude dressed up like this guy:

I seriously wanted to dress up like God, unfortunately, I didn’t know what God looked like. I’ve never seen Him before. Have you? See, when you accuse someone of using God’s image in vain, the premise has to be that you know what God’s image looks like, right?

So, tell me, what does God look like?

Posted in Humor, Religion, SocietyComments (6)

Filipino Freethinkers March in Solidarity with Palayain ang Sining


 

(August 21, 2011) Cultural Center of the Philippines, Pasay City – The Filipino Freethinkers marched with Palayain ang Sining to commemorate Kulo’s now-thwarted closing day, and to show solidarity with our country’s fearless and passionate artistic community. Filipino Freethinkers brought placards that, among other things, said the following:

One man’s belief is another man’s blasphemy.
“I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire
Censorship is so 12th century.
Censorship is offensive.
Censorship: protecting you from reality.
Blasphemy is a human right – United Nations
One freethinker marched in a Jesus costume and held a sign that said, “I am not offended.”

“The issue has definitely riled up individuals both in and out of the artistic community,” said Kenneth Keng, spokesperson of Filipino Freethinkers.

“It’s a reminder of our intrinsic right to freedom of expression,” said Keng. “In light of the UN’s affirmation that blasphemy is indeed a human right, it couldn’t have come at a more poignant time.”

Garrick Bercero of Filipino Freethinkers expounded on UN’s affirmation, at the same time reminding enemies of free speech of the resolution’s importance:

“It is encouraging that more enlightened bodies such as the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has released General Comment No. 34, which affirms the superiority of the right to free speech over the so-called right against blasphemy. Sorry, Atty. Imbong. General Comment No. 34 was put out by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which the Philippines is a member. As a signatory and ratifier, the Philippines is legally bound by international law to follow GC34.

“Members of the ICCPR are required ‘to guarantee the right to freedom of expression… This right includes… political discourse, commentary on one’s own and on public affairs, canvassing, discussion of human rights, journalism, cultural and artistic expression, teaching, and religious discourse. It may also include commercial advertising.’ The comment instructs members to embrace ‘even expression that may be regarded as deeply offensive….’”

For news coverage of the event, click here.

Image courtesy of GMA News

Posted in Press ReleasesComments (2)

Palayain ang Sining! A Solidarity March for Freedom of Expression


Calling all Freethinkers!

August 21, Sunday, was supposed to be the last day of the Kulo Exhibit, but due to all the furor surrounding Mideo Cruz’s Poleteismo,it has been regrettably shut down. The issue has definitely riled up individuals both in and out of the artistic community, reminding them of our intrinsic right to freedom of speech and expression. And in light of the UN’s affirmation that blasphemy is indeed a human right(http://filipinofreethinkers.org/2011/08/14/un-affirms-blasphemy-as-a-human-right/), it couldn’t have come at a more poignant time.

In commemoration of Kulo’s now-thwarted closing day, and to show our solidarity with our country’s fearless and passionate artistic community, a march for freedom of expression will take place on the afternoon of the 21st.

Marchers will congregate at the side entrance of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (across the Harbor Square-side parking lot) at 1 PM, and will march up the center’s main ramp. Bring banners, placards, small artworks, and your own unique way of supporting the freedom of expression, and rejecting censorship and persecution. Please wear white.

For coordination, you can text Kenneth Keng at 09179681387.

We’ll see you there!

Posted in AnnouncementsComments (0)

EPIC Meetup Recap: The One with Karen Ocampo Flores, Mideo Cruz, and Carlitos Siguion-Reyna


 

The man on the left is visual artist Mideo Cruz, he of the hotly contested Poleteismo, and to his right is FF President Red Tani, he of the hipster glasses obviously stolen from the other dude. This photo was taken during the very epic FF meetup held last Saturday, wherein all three hours were consumed discussing the hoopla surrounding Cruz’s work, how people have been reacting to it, and what should be done to progress properly in light of the issue.

 

The mere mention of the CCP debacle on our meetup invite apparently piqued a lot of people’s interest. The entire second floor of Starbucks Ansons was packed. There were roughly 50 people in attendance, and the crowd was a great mix of regulars, newbies, and oldies back from the dead. Nowhere did we announce that Mideo and other folks involved more intimately in the issue would be present, so it was very heartening to see so many faces there purely out of the desire for discourse.

 

Nevertheless, we were extremely honored that several persons key to the issue were there to share their thoughts. As mentioned, the artist himself was there, and he disclosed to us the extent of the hateful threats he has received since the whole controversy began, as well as his insights into art-making and putting his pieces out for public consumption. Fortunately, he was quite adamant in standing by Poleteismo. 

 

Also present was Karen Ocampo Flores, the former Museum and Visual Arts Director of the CCP who resigned from her post due to this whole debacle (and whose reaction to the Dakdakan forum can be read here). A very important point she raised during the meetup was the media’s accountability in the issue. She said that the media’s oversimplification and sensationalism were quite detrimental to the whole debate, and drove home the point that Filipinos need to be better educated on the value of art and art appreciation in order for them to think for themselves.

 

Another very special surprise that day was the presence of renowned film director Carlitos Siguion-Reyna. Carlitos is currently working on a project greatly significant to the entire Poleteismo issue — the passage of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB)/Freedom of Expression Bill (you can join the FB group here), which aims to pry the Philippines away from the Dark Ages and better classify which films have true value and are fit for public consumption, and which films do not.

 

Working with Carlitos on the bill’s passage is Dino Manrique, who was also present. A familiar face in the local literary scene, Dino shared his thoughts on educating the masses regarding art, and how art critics could have had a more public voice in the matter to lend everyone a richer perspective.

 

Most of the meetup was thus a very engaging discussion on how art ought to be digested. Should artists be obligated to explain their work? To what extent are people responsible for informing themselves regarding the arts?  Suffice it to say that the topic was very refreshing and made for passionate discussion.

Again, we were thrilled that so many people took it upon themselves to come and participate in our latest meetup. We’d like to think that is a taste of things to come. Since the very first meetup in February 2009, the FF meetups have been venues for richer and richer discussions amongst an increasingly diverse group of people, and we look forward to seeing more of you in the next one.

Photos courtesy of Patrick Charles Rigonan 

Posted in Meetup, Politics, Recap, SocietyComments (5)

Comment on “Freedom from Offense is Offensive to Human Rights”


Why should the CCP be compelled to shut down an art exhibit simply because Mideo Cruz’s iconoclastic works are deemed by some religious quarters to be blasphemous and obscene? Why should religious beliefs be exempt from satirical criticism and be deemed worthier of respect than freedom of inquiry and expression, which is the lifeblood of democracy? The problem with the state’s accommodation of religious prejudices is that it dignifies a mindset that claims immunity from criticism and any obligation to prove its ideas to be true and thus worthy of respect. When the state indulges sectarian sensibilities to the extent of censoring criticism of sectarian prejudices out of fear that criticism might incite religious unrest, it reinforces religious fanatics’ sense of entitlement and emboldens them to engage in acts or threats of violence that would have incurred legal recrimination had they not been committed in the name of god and faith.

Who is the offended party in the case of a painting of a long-haired and bearded man, with a wooden penis attached to his face where his nose should be? Does the figure represent any real person, living or dead, which warrants the flak that Mideo Cruz received? Knowledgeable scholars such as archaeologist Israel Finkelstein and bible experts Robert Price and Bart Ehrman have produced volumes of evidence that cast doubt on the historical authenticity of biblical figures such as Abraham, Moses, and even Jesus of Nazareth. The fact that Jesus has been portrayed in varied and often conflicting ways with cherry-picked bible verses – as a preacher of prosperity by dollar-waving evangelists, as a Che Guevara-like revolutionary by liberation theologians, as a miracle-working mystic by Pentecostals, and as a pleasure-hating moralist by conservatives, etc. – should prompt Christians of all sects to critically examine their faith and to observe prudence when their most cherished beliefs are challenged. The “blasphemous” works of Mideo Cruz are no more an excuse for a faith-driven riot by Christian fanatics than the portrayal of Batman and Robin as gay lovers are an excuse for superhero fans to lynch the spoof-makers.

Am I trivializing the anger and pain felt by those offended by the “blasphemous” exhibit? Let it be so! Had I the talent of a Michelangelo, I would have done a wall painting of the 4th century C.E. Alexandrian philosopher Hypatia, a heroine for the cause of reason and secularism. Hypatia was murdered by a mob of Christian fanatics who, at the agitation of Bishop Cyril of Alexandria, dragged her from her chariot, and repeatedly stabbed and cut her up with oyster shells, for her criticism of religious dogmatism and advocacy of separation of secular and religious authority. There would be two images of Hypatia – one at the bottom featuring her mutilated body, over which her murderers gloat and brandish the symbols of their faith, and the other one on center top, with the transfigured body of the resurrected Hypatia being surrounded by historical figures known for their advocacy of freedom, reason, justice and universal fellowship such as Giordano Bruno, Rosa Luxemburg, Emma Goldman, Helen Keller and the like. The heroes of the painting would be set against the background of varied images suggesting humankind’s struggle for progress in science, economy, politics and ethics, reminiscent of Diego Rivera’s wall painting. Hypatia’s torturers would resemble John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Mother Teresa, Aloysius Stepinac, Escriva de Balaguer, Pat Robertson, Osama Bin Laden, Ayatollah Khomeini and other modern-day theocrats. Though the theocrats would be set against the background of a pit with fire and brimstone, they would be unaware their infernal predicament and would even appear to be reveling in it. The principal villains will be surrounded by a supporting cast of cheerleaders that includes Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Tito Soto, Manoling Morato and other religious hypocrites attired in miniskirts and with matching pompoms. The victims of theocracy will be depicted at various phases of their emancipation – some enduring torture, others discarding their burqas or breaking their chain-like rosaries, and the rest of them climbing out of the infernal pit to take part in the ascent of human progress.

Image taken from womanastronomer.com

Posted in Politics, SocietyComments (3)

Censorship: Why Should You Care?


As the war between the CCP and the CBCP reached fever pitch during the past few days, culminating in the eventual closure of an artist’s exhibit deemed ‘blasphemous‘,  it has effectively polarized those involved into two camps: those who say that freedom of artistic expression should supersede religious sacred cows or vice-versa. If you were an artist, then you’d support the freedom to express yourself. If you were the conservative type, then you’d prefer that religious symbolism be given special immunity against the more radical artistic interpretations.

But what about those of us on the outside – the regular Juan (or Maria…or anyone in between, for that matter) who doesn’t go to artsy-fartsy art museums and discuss the merits of an artist’s work all day? Why should it even matter to us? Shouldn’t it be left to the art connoisseurs and bishops to duke it out till their lungs explode?

 The reason is simple: because art (and artistic expression) is not only limited to painting and sculptures.

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Censorship in Music.

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Early this year, while the rest of the world celebrated the launch of Lady Gaga’s newest pop anthem ‘Born This Way’, a song about acceptance and embracing diversity, Malaysian authorities decided to ban it on the grounds of possibly offending religious feelings.

 

Sounds familiar?

Never mind the fact that not everyone in Malaysia is Muslim, or even if you were Muslim but were open-minded enough not to be offended by the sentiments of the song, the ruling applied to everyone. Public access to the song was banned for everyone, regardless of belief.

That’s the problem with censorship. It’s a blanket restriction that applies to everyone. You don’t the get the choice of watching or not watching, listening or not listening, buying or not buying it because you can’t. You don’t get a choice in the matter, you simply can’t.

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Can’t, can’t, can’t.    Period.

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Somebody else makes the decision of what you can or can’t watch. Even if you’ve read the reviews, heard a clip, or watched the trailer then felt that you won’t be offended by it, you still can’t. It’s not a simple matter of simply putting up a sign that goes:

Warning! Contains images of excessive violence, nudity, or profanity that may be offensive to some people.”

Censorship takes the choice away from you. What is offensive to some may not be to other people. But if you let a few people make that decision for everyone else, then you’ve lost the very essence of a free society. The issue is very simple: If you don’t like it, then don’t watch it. If a song has risqué lyrics that offend you, then don’t listen to it.

In all likelihood, with all the various forms of media out there, there are more things you’ll not like (or at least be apathetic to)  than the ones you’ll actually like. But don’t take the choice away from everyone else. Artistic expression is a highly subjective matter and everyone should at least be free to make up his or her own mind. If you are offended by it, then don’t see it. How much more simple can it get? If an artwork is controversial in nature, put a warning, a disclaimer, or even an age restriction. But unless something is unanimously considered to be hate-speech, total censorship is not the way to go.

Lady Gaga isn’t alone in her censorship woes. Without even going to the realm of Heavy Metal music, mainstream Rock and Rap are already the frequent targets of conservative groups seeking to shut them down for their provocative or liberal lyrics or messages.

 A few weeks back, there was a protest action mounted by a conservative group to block the Manila concert of Incubus because of their perceived demonic influence.

 

There’s a whole bucket list of popular songs where artists have tread the fine line between “artistic expression“ and “offending religious feelings” from John Lennon to Tori Amos:

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Censorship in Movies

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Remember when the Da Vinci Code was the blockbuster summer movie of 2006? Everyone read the book and was eager to see it on the big screen… that is, if you weren’t living in Manila where it was banned by their ultra-moralist city officials.

So the erstwhile Manila mayor Lito Atienza had the movie not only banned in theaters, but also made the sale and distribution of the movie in optical media like DVD’s punishable by law, citing that The Da Vinci Code was “offensive to the established beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church“.

Or what about the 1994 movie Priest which also didn’t see the light of day in the Philippines because of its controversial theme of a priest wrestling with his secret homosexuality?

As works of fiction, movies like these weren’t even intentionally made to be offensive to religious belief yet still they fell to the mighty axe of Philippine censorship. But nothing tops the most glaring example of this type of overzealous censorship:

‘The Last Temptation of Christ’, arguably one of Martin Scorsese’s most controversial work likewise did not make it to Philippine cinemas because of implications of religious offense.  Never mind that Scorsese himself was Catholic and never meant to create a movie offensive to his faith, it was taken as a direct attack on religion instead of an artistic interpretation of the concept of free will.

Thankfully, The Golden Compass narrowly evaded similar censorship attempts by religious groups to ban the movie because of its anti-religious sentiments (but only after so much compromise and judicious editing by the movie’s producers to tone it down. But that’s as far as it went. Because of heavy Catholic lobbying to block the production of Book 2 – The Northern Lights, the sequel will never see the light of day. That’s pre-production censorship for you.

One could only wonder what we would be missing if they also succeeded in banning Harry Potter as well because of its “blatant promotion of witchcraft and sorcery”.

Make no mistake, the outcome of the CCP versus CBCP debate can and will be used as a precedent for all future censorship battles in the Philippines on just how much control a vocal minority can exert on what the rest of us can or cannot be allowed to see, hear, or purchase. It won’t stop with mere painting or sculptures. If conservative groups here can threaten, sue, deface, or outright remove an art exhibit, what’s to stop them from doing the same thing to more commercial forms of artistic expression like movies and music?

If you don’t care as to the fate of some artist you’ve never heard of and whose work you don’t particularly appreciate, what happens if this eventually happens to an artist you do like?

Images from Amazon, IMDB, LILI.org, Mideastposts.com

Posted in SocietyComments (7)

Conservative Catholicism as Absurdist Art


I recently had the pleasure of watching the absurdist play HARING +UBU-L XXX staged by the Sipat Lawin Ensemble at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Surprisingly, the content of the play wasn’t the most bizarre and surreal part of my day hanging around the CCP. At the open forum held on the Kulô exhibit and Mideo Cruz’s controversial Poleteismo, Catholic conservatives composed of priests, businessmen, and anti-choice activists lectured artists on what art is, in CCP. Apologies to the Sipat Lawin Ensemble but even their hilarious avant-garde piece couldn’t possibly compete with the sheer audacity of these conservatives.

 

What the conservative Catholics kept braying about during the forum was that Cruz’s piece offended the majority of Filipinos, which is still dominated by the Catholic Church, just going by the numbers. They still seem unable, however, to fathom the possibility of dissent among their ranks by naively assuming that every person baptized in the Catholic Church as a baby agrees with their single-minded cause of suppressing individual freedoms.

Yolly Gamutan, National Secretary of the Catholic Youth League of the Philippines, should be commended for saying something in the forum that every other conservative has been thinking these past months but was never brave enough to voice out. She said that “…to be Catholic, we cannot be independent in our thinking….” This brief moment of sincerity perfectly frames all the culture war issues in the Philippines right now—from divorce to the ever-contentious RH bill.

The underlying idea being fought over via church bulletin boards, bumper stickers, and Facebook walls is the seemingly novel concept of freedom. In this issue, the CBCP and its cohorts seem unaware that the concept of free expression is meaningless if it were meant only to protect the agreeable but not the offensive. And it appears that the word “freedom” means entirely different things depending on whether a conservative Catholic says it or whether a proponent of free speech says it.

To the conservatives, freedom is simply the “freedom” to act according to God’s will. This Bo Sanchez-esque cliché pervades each and every action the CBCP and its front organizations present to the public. The whole notion of self-determination and the freedom to act according to one’s own independent thoughts and beliefs is alien to them. The clerico-fascism that is the spirit of our times is crusaded for by the Church under the guise of well-meaning and an honest belief that they know better than everyone else. They’re only suppressing liberties because they know for a fact that people couldn’t possibly willfully disobey God or freely choose to go to hell.

Another absurdity proudly flaunted by the conservatives during the open forum was their call for relying on a so-called “absolute universal standard for art”. Instead of progress and a sign of maturity, they see the acceptance of new things as a sign of relativism, which is a mortal sin. The call for universal standards for art itself betrays a sense of crippling self-doubt on the part of the conservatives that the brain their Creator made for them is incapable of reaching its own conclusions. This Creator who is apparently so thin-skinned that even though he is able to create supernovas and black holes, he is still insecure enough to be insulted by what some insignificant creature built in some tiny planet. I am amazed at the gall and bravado of these mere humans who claim to speak for the feelings of an omnipotent deity, saying that God is offended by some art installation no one else would have seen had they not raised a stink about it. And they say it is the atheist who is arrogant and self-possessed.

Children, as expected, were used as arguments against Cruz’s work. Think of the children who would see such obscenities and sex-related imagery! But, I think I understand now who the children they keep referring to are. It is the conservative Catholics themselves who are the children—incapable of deciding for themselves what is right, impotent in the face of nuance, and unable to comprehend that other people exist and that they have their own wills and minds.

They called Cruz’s piece “trash” and “pornography” while unwittingly involving themselves in what is itself art—the unending discourse of what art is. And I should love to see a reenactment of the farce that occurred that Friday at the CCP. No avant-garde movement could ever challenge the sheer bombast and ludicrousness of the Catholic Church and the people who speak for it.

Posted in Politics, Religion, SocietyComments (1)

Freedom from Offense is Offensive to Human Rights


In the forum held by the CCP over the controversial artworks of Mideo Cruz the Catholic fundamentalists of the CBCP, via their proxy of Pro-Life Philippines, reiterated their demands that their faith be respected over fundamental human rights. With much bellicose shouting, they essentially demanded that freedom of expression must be squashed so that their delicate feelings about their religion won’t be offended.

Their demand, that their religious sensibilities be not offended by anyone else’ words or actions simply cannot be acquiesced to by any democratic society that values the freedom of expression. Sure, people have a right to take offense  but an expectation that no one can ever say anything which will offend you is unreasonable and has grave consequences for society.

It would mean a society crippled, unable to spread and criticize ideas for fear of offending other people. Without the spread and criticism of ideas, progress would essentially be dead. Society would not be able to move forward scientifically. Society would not be able to move forward ethically. Society would not be able to move forward artistically.

Perhaps one can see the appeal of such a society to religious fundamentalists.

So we stand against people who devalue the freedom of expression, for this freedom of expression gives us the ability to move toward a society that values reason and science. This is why representatives from the Filipino Freethinkers stood up in that forum and spoke out against the loud angry voices of the Catholic fundamentalists.

Interestingly, the Catholics of Pro-Life Philippines seemed to take offense at Red saying CBCP. It’s not a derogatory word folks!

It makes me wonder how all-powerful the fundamentalists really think their God is. I mean, if their God can be offended by a mere artwork, how all powerful can their deity really be?

Posted in Religion, Society, VideoComments (10)

This is Not a Church?


The following is a note on the forum entitled Dakdakan: Kulo, which was held last August 5 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Main Gallery regarding the controversy surrounding Mideo Cruz’s artwork. It was written by the CCP’s Visual Arts Officer-in-Charge Karen Ocampo Flores, who has permitted us to publish it on the site. 

Maraming salamat.  I’m certain there were true believers there who simply came to express their reactions.  This forum was formed to hear you out.

Maraming salamat, artists, students and other supporters.  Your presence helped achieve balance.

Kaso, SIMBAHAN PALA ITO! It wasn’t about art.  It wasn’t about religion.  It was really about politics.

We expected devotees coming in with their grievances.  But this group was something else. They came ready, they were organized (clapping cues included) and they are well-honed bullies.

I agreed with Precious Leano, our moderator, that to prevent tensions, she will regulate the forum by allowing only one-way talks by each speaker.  The rule was: no responses, no debates, no profanities.

Even with that, we were surprised by the first burst of rudeness. We were in effect told to shut up as we opened the forum with slides about “Kulo” and some points on the VA policies for exhibit proposals.  We shouldn’t make them wait.  Did I say, “Ayaw nyo ba ng forum?”  They were eager beaver for it.   “This is about that work, anyway” one began impatiently, pointing to “Poleteismo.”

Thus the Mideo-bashing and all the horrors and sins of the work in question began. They had their statements in print (same things they’ve been giving out in media). And they were performing to the cameras.  Fire, brimstone, ice, meron ding boses na matubig, na malumanay.  They worked with every ingredient laced with intimidation.

Good thing, I could hardly speak anymore (dry mouth and sore throat had set in).  Good thing, Precious was an assertive moderator.  It was so hard to follow the rules.

But some people seemed to be very used to these people’s (because they keep calling us ‘you people’) antics.  Thank you for coming, Filipino Freethinkers, you helped meet the first barrage.  Thank you, Concerned Artists of the Philippines for reading your statement of support.

So why did this forum turn into a tacit skirmish?  Because it was for them a takeover.  They ARE really telling us what to do.  It’s not a debate about art, it’s not a debate about religion: it’s about imposing their power on the CCP.  Mandates on art and culture, easy enough to subject to their virtuous interpretations, then yup, dig up an old 70s law.  Same with VA policies replete with niceties– oh yes, so bad of us not to be so nice to 85%  majority.  There, may the fear of prision mayor or the ombudsman be with you for risking the rights and welfare of the dominant religion.  CCP is fair game for their strategies to frame the RH stance within this great drama about art attacking religion.

We have seen riskier art with religious images at the CCP and other galleries;  people complained, but never at a scale such as this.  Why?  Because back then only the artist gains from the attention.

Now they have a big stake once they establish that the CCP as a government institution made a mistake in the same way that RH should be a big mistake.  So that’s why we keep getting that from out of the blue; that’s why they keep insisting that we’re doing RH even if it was an exhibit that identifies with Rizal’s conflicts with the UST.  If we were presenting RH, we would say so.

Hence the ultimatum was not simply to stop the exhibit.  They kept repeating the need for amends, for apology; that we should admit we made a mistake.  They didn’t need that from Mideo.  They want it from CCP.  And good old CBCP need not even make a statement.  It simply had to take the artist’s hand gently and ask him: why?

Am I offending a religion?  Oh, I was simply reflecting on a forum.

Posted in Personal, Politics, Religion, SocietyComments (2)

Republic of the Philistines


This article was written prior to the forum held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) regarding the controversy over Mideo Cruz’s artwork, which was conducted last August 5, 2011. 

For a reaction to the forum by CCP’s Visual Arts Officer-in-Charge Karen Ocampo Flores, click here.

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I must admit to writing this out of anger and out of fear. Just this morning, two individuals walked into the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ gallery housing the exhibit Kulo and proceeded to do the following:

The culprit/s wrote in BALLPEN on portions of the artworks, a pedestal, and walls, “EMEDEO [sic] SUMPAIN KA! BAKLA!” And then on another (unfortunate) artist’s work that had the word “MOVE,” he or she wrote, “TO HELL.” The culprit/s also hacked off the wooden penises from the cross installation.

– Tony Perez, via Facebook

This is the very same exhibit which the CBCP and its ally Pro-life Philippines’ President Eric Manalang demanded the closure of. When the CCP organized an open forum to discuss the matter with him and the museum going public, he proceeded to threaten to file a lawsuit against them the day before the forum.

I am deeply angry at the barbarians who perpetrated this shameless act of vandalism against public artworks, and I am afraid at the lengths to which people like them are willing to go for their so-called loving faith. If the CBCP or its allies fail to do anything less than totally condemn this barbaric action, then it will confirm my worst fears about how little value they put not only on freedom of expression, but on basic respect for other people’s lives, livelihood and property.

UPDATE: Ah. Color my fears confirmed, then:

Atty. Jo Imbong on CCP vandalism: “Now we see how a disordered act like an exhibit like that can fuel other disorders. Evil leads to more evils in its wake.” Imbong is from a Catholic lay group filing charges against the CCP and the artist. – Jeff Canoy over twitter (continuation)

Despite every effort made at civil accomodation, the CBCP and Pro-life Philippines have shown through their actions that they do not want discourse or discussion; they only want their demands met and their dictates obeyed.

The CCP has made a call for ‘respect and sobriety’, the full text of which can be found here (Facebook link). For this I am thankful, as it reminds me that there are still even-tempered, well-intentioned individuals who are willing to take a step back and consider the consequences of their actions and who those actions might hurt. I am thankful that through all this, there are those that still understand the value and meaning of respect.

It’s because of people like these that I can believe we do not quite yet live in an actual Philistine Republic, though it seems increasingly apparent that that is exactly the sort of country that the CBCP and its allies wish us to become. For what else would their current strategy of promoting anti-intellectualism through throttling free expression be good for, if not to bring about a society where no one may think or dare to oppose them?

(Image taken from here)

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Bastos is in the Eye of the Beholder


It has often been said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” that is, the things we see around us are interpreted differently from viewer to viewer. But what about the flip-side? Is the “profane” just as subjective as the “pleasing”?

In one of my travels, I found myself tagging along with my sister who was meeting her one-time Arts History professor Mr. Ybañez in Madrid. Now being a numbers guy, art was never one of my strong suits, in contrast to my kid sister who’s an Arts graduate. But thinking this was going to be a rare chance to expand my horizons, I begged to be the third-wheel in their art-tripping escapade.

The first stop was the Museo del Prado, one of the world’s largest art museums. Gazing at literally thousands of the world’s most treasured art pieces and listening to my two art-aficionado companions rattle trivia after trivia about the pieces we encountered was educational, to say the least. Turning a corner into another hall, we heard snickering from a group of teenage tourists who were calling their other friends to come see a painting that had piqued their interests. Curiosity got the better of me and I glanced at the artwork they were giggling at.

And there it was. A huge painting showing what looks like the Virgin Mary baring one of her breast, giving it a deft squeeze, and squirting a long stream of breast milk straight into the open mouth of a kneeling monk.

Kinky, I thought.

Some sort of Catholic breast-fetish perhaps? Surely this must be some sort of poe. The very thought of showing Catholicism’s most venerated symbol of virginity and purity actually flashing her breast and feeding a grown man her own breast milk? Oh, the Freudian implications! The very idea, mixing the sacred with the sexual, soon had me joining in the barely suppressed mirth of the other viewers.

Then my killjoy sister gave me a subtle elbow jab while giving me that “don’t you dare embarrass me in front of my prof” look.  Mr. Ybañez then graciously explained that the painting was one of Alonzo Cano’s best-known work, “The Vision of St. Bernard”. He further explained that the Latin inscription above the Virgin’s head “Monstra te esse matrem” meant “Show yourself to be a mother”. The painting was the artist’s depiction of a rather fanciful myth attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux where the saint was deep in prayer to the Virgin Mary. In response to his devotions, the statue miraculously came alive, pressed her bosom, and fed the devout saint her own milk to symbolize her divine role of motherhood over the faithful.

Now this tale, as well as the art depicting it, is rich in symbolism. If one were to interpret the painting or even the legend behind it literally, it would most certainly be fraught with sexual connotations. A shallow interpretation of this artwork would deem it “bastos” or even heretical. Thus the critical need to look beyond first impressions and try to figure out what the artist is trying to tell us. If there’s one thing I learned from my know-it-all sister and her erudite professor that day was that “art” is the process of relaying abstract ideas through symbolism. Juxtaposing symbolisms of the carnal with the spiritual does not automatically make something “blasphemous”. Compared to analyzing a mathematical formula, which is as straightforward as it gets, art is never interpreted the same way by different viewers.

Interpretation is part of the whole art experience. The artist creates the art… but that’s only half of the process. How the viewer perceives it is “creating meaning” on its own. We apply our own world-views, biases, and personal symbology on the artwork, creating an experience unique to each spectator. (plus, it helps if someone more knowledgeable gives you the cliff notes version of its back-story and history for us noobs).

One then would be led to wonder how this painting would fare if instead of being housed in the hallowed halls of one of the world’s top art museums, it was instead displayed here in the Philippines. Would it suffer the way Mideo Cruz’s works did?

Would the Catholic bishops likewise raise hell over its supposed “blasphemous” imagery?

Would Pro-Life’s Eric Manalang likewise attempt to file charges over its public display?

Would lawyer Jo Imbong likewise call it an obscenity for “offending religious belief”?

and…

Would religious extremist vandals also deface it… and have the CBCP actually blame the victim for the incident (perhaps, in the same way some bigots blame the victims of rape for “bringing it upon themselves” because of the way they dress)?

If art of this nature suffers so in the hands of our self-appointed local “art critics”, then maybe it’s a good thing they’re safely kept half a world away, far from the overzealous pinoy vandals and lawsuit-happy pinoy moral-police.

If this is the level of shallowness we can muster for art appreciation, then is it any wonder we are left with the mundane and banal which passes as “art”? While the rest of the world thrives in diversity and maturity in the appreciation of art, we are left with recycling what is safe and conventional lest someone be “offended” by what he sees.

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An Interview with Mideo Cruz


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

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.

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Censor This


I recently spoke at a small RH forum in De La Salle University where Carlos Antonio Palad, Philosophy doctorate from UP and ardent opponent of the RH Bill, while accompanied by his companion from Defensores Fidei, said that though he might not agree with what I said, he would defend to death my right to say it.

I therefore would like to humbly ask for the good professor’s promised aid in this latest case of CBCP censorship. Their chosen organization for distancing and deniability this time is Pro-life Philippines, with the effort being personally spearheaded by its president Eric Manalang, who has been demanding that an art exhibit containing, among others, the work of Mideo Cruz in the Cultural Center of the Philippines be taken down.

“By Thursday afternoon, we will file a case if they do not stop the exhibit and if they do not also make amends because stopping is not enough. The damage has been done,” Eric Manalang, president of Pro-life Philippines, said in an article posted on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines news site on Tuesday.


“Relics”, one of the works by Mideo Cruz

To address their demands, CCP set up an open forum this Friday, inviting the general public and concerned parties to come and openly discuss the issue.

Pro Life Philippines’ response to this invitation has been to ignore it and any other attempts at dialogue, then threaten a lawsuit if the exhibit was not taken down by Thursday afternoon, the day before the open forum which was organized in large part for them.

Since the start of this year, the CBCP and its allies have taken down this fast food commercial with its obviously demonic children, as well as the society destroying pectorals of the Philippine Volcanoes rugby team. Having taken on the imperialist capitalist conspirators Mcdonald’s and Bench Apparel, perhaps they now finally feel confident enough to crush the greatest threat to the cultural heritage of the Philippines: the, er, Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Not that the CBCP or its allies would ever stoop to interfering with free expression and political discourse, of course. They have after all continually assured us that they seek only to create a space for them to practice their faith without interfering with that of others.

Perhaps Defensores Fidei felt that in threatening to sue us if we did not take down a video of their speaker at a public forum saying that the tsunami in Japan happened because the Japanese used artificial contraceptives, they were defending the right of their own to be cruelly insensitive and not be criticized for it.

I am also sure that when Eric Manalang and his friends told the ladies from Catholics4RH at another open forum to have their mothers abort themselves on the steps of Manila Cathedral, he too was expressing his right to be as crassly insulting as he wanted to his fellow Catholics.

Even good old Rizalito David was perhaps only expressing his right to threaten and then smack someone he didn’t like in the face, and then, together with Father Melvin Castro, was only exercising his right to quietly walk out of Congress and get away with physical violence while later calling the whole thing a non-issue.

Given all of this, I am glad that Dr. Palad has apparently promised his support for us in this endeavor to preserve the right of this one artist, Mr. Mideo Cruz, to express himself. After all, its not like there should be one standard for the Catholic church to express itself and another standard for any other Filipino citizen. I look forward to to Dr. Palad’s prompt and sincere reply.

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