Raul Sunico, the Cultural Center of the Philippines chairman, was asked to resign over what’s turned into a giant art debacle over there. It seems like every pro-Christian group is up in arms and demanding that the people responsible be sued or otherwise punished for hurting baby Jesus’ feelings. Manila Representative Amado Bagatsing has been especially vocal about it.
“One of the artists involved in the exhibit is a certain Mideo Cruz, pangalan pa mandin Cruz. It’s a total affront to Christianity and to the Catholics in particular,” said Bagatsing, a devout Catholic.
“These CCP officials should be answerable to the people. That’s not promoting our culture and art. Ang pangit at ang laswa-laswa (it’s ugly and lewd),” he stressed.
Bagatsing said the exhibit had also incurred the ire of the leaders of the Catholic Church, which protested it and described it as “blasphemous.”
Various groups, including Pro-life Philippines, have been mulling filing charges against the artist and the CCP for what they said was a “sacrilegious” exhibit and have demanded to stop the exhibit in 48 hours or face the legal consequences, Bagatsing said.
Then, for whatever reason, he likens this event to the teacher in Sudan a few years ago who let her Muslim students name their class teddy bear Mohammad. The devout Muslim adults who found out about this went berserk, calling for 40 lashes and death because they thought she deliberately insulted their prophet. In the end the teacher was sentenced to 15 days’ imprisonment and deportation.
It was an over-the-top reaction to something completely juvenile, as is the reaction Filipinos are having over this art exhibit. I’m sure that’s not the kind of comparison Batatsing intended to make, though.
President Aquino reprimanded the Cultural Center and demanded a few resignations, too. So did Senate President Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada. The University of Sto. Tomas have washed their hands of it, claiming the exhibit never was a project endorsed by them as previously stated. I’ll quote a few things from another Manilla Bulletin article:
“What does it serve a viewers’ mind and soul to see the images of Christianity’s bedrock, Jesus Christ, his mother the Virgin Mary, and of the Cross that symbolizes the supreme sacrifice offered by Christ to redeem mankind, treated so insultingly and with such shocking disrespect by a group of people who believe they have the absolute artistic license to do so?” Estrada stressed in his speech.
Why should art that mocks religious iconography be off limits to artists? There are things to take seriously and there are things to let slide. Human freedoms and rights should be taken seriously. Nobody’s been stepped on here. If they were offended by what they were looking at, they had the choice to not look. Ridiculous art should be something allowed to slide. This did not have to be that big of a deal.
“I ask that, because of the failure of the Board of Directors of the CCP to thoroughly scrutinize artists who want to put up an exhibit with them, they should all resign from their positions starting Wednesday,” Estrada said.
People can decide to be offended by anything, though. How’s CCP supposed to anticipate future reaction and pick displays accordingly? Estrada’s essentially suggesting CCP should never advertise artists on the off chance someone will see something else he doesn’t like and pitch another hissy.
Aquino, who found the art exhibit a violation of other people’s rights, said he was “not after censorship” in arts but emphasized that freedom of expression is not absolute.
“I was in contact with several board members Tuesday and I told them I am Christian and the country is at least 85 percent Christian then there is this depiction of Christ that offends people, that’s wrong,” he said in a press conference during a visit in a Malampaya onshore gas facility here.
That’s a problem. People need to be allowed to challenge the pervading ideas and ideologies of their societies. Buck the status quo. It’s the only way change can happen. Positive change, hopefully. This doesn’t seem very positive for artists there today, and those who hope to be in the future. Admittedly there’s value in self-censorship sometimes, knowing when to shut up, knowing when not to be deliberately inflammatory. But, sometimes people need to throw caution to the wind and dare to express themselves and their criticisms of a social structure. “Sacrilegious” artwork is a popular way to do that. Especially because people always want to shut it down immediately lest other people start thinking the artist’s really onto something.
Next, the article quotes some artists.
Edward Llanes, a graphic artist supervisor and a devout Catholic, dismissed the artwork as “stupid.” “That is stupid because the artist lost respect to the religion and its beliefs. The Philippines consists of mostly Catholics and we deplore phallic symbols in religious images. We must respect the culture of each religion,” he said.
No, if the art is “stupid” it’s because it was badly done, not because it mocked a religion. Jesus did have a penis if he was a man (although probably not on his face. Surely Luke would have mentioned it..). Plus, every photo of a church could be considered a religious image if you want to go that far and nearly every church I’ve seen has an enormous erection. You should see what’s getting built for Saskatoon’s new cathedral. Kinky, the way it curves and all…
He, however, admitted that as an artist, each artwork is the artist’s freedom of expression. “If you have an artwork and it is for your own keeping, it’s okay because it’s your freedom of expression but if you put it on exhibit for the public to see, then it’s not right,” he said.
Again, you never know what people are going to find offensive. Maybe someone’s totally put off by chickens. Nobody in the whole of the Philippines had better paint a picture of one and hang it up where people can see. Good grief, think of the riots.
Another artist, Bonn Erasmo who belongs to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, also raised a question. “Bakit niya ginagawa yan?” He said that though they do not believe in icons and images, he disagreed with the artwork. “People now have become more liberated and express themselves freely, but expressing oneself should not be offensive to others,” he said.
He stressed the importance of respect for one’s religion. “Even if you don’t have the same belief as others, you must respect their beliefs. Hindi tama na gawan mo ng kabastusan ung religion ng iba. Hindi ito makatao,” he said.
People need respect. Religions need to be open to being challenged. Beliefs that have little to do with reality need to be challenged. If neither can stand up to the challenges then they weren’t that strong to begin with. And the only way to be sure you’ll offend no one is to never say or do anything — and even that might be construed as offensive in some situations. It’s no-win.
Other artists take Cruz’ side, admitting he did have the right to express himself, but call on him to at least take responsibility for the flak his work has caused. I don’t think this is anything he should apologize for, but I wonder if he anticipated this level of disgust when he applied for a place to display it. How does he feel about all this bad press? For all we know he’s getting more commissions for art installations now than he ever would have had he played nice.