Mideo Cruz’ “Poleteismo” continues to stir debate

Artists from the United States, Canada, Italy, Germany, Australia and Thailand defended Cruz and said the campaign of vilification against Cruz was unjust.


MANILA – In the immediate wake of the Senate’s investigation into the controversial art exhibit “Kulo” and one of its featured works “Poleteismo” by embattled artist Mideo Cruz, the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) issued a statement urging the senators to uphold the Freedom of Expression as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution states in Article 3, Section 4 that: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.”

The group reminded lawmakers of their oath to uphold and defend the Constitution and desist from “bullying” and “pressuring” institutions like the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) to ” succumb to their will.” It also called on the CCP to stand firm on its mandate, promote and protect the artistic freedom of expression and reopen the exhibit.

“We urge the Senate to instead focus its energies, time and budget to address the continuing human rights violations and impunity of violators in the country. There is moreover the matter of extreme poverty due to landlessness by the majority of the Filipinos which also deserves priority,” it said.

Cruz a no-show at the Senate

The Senate conducted it’s hearing on “Kulo” but Cruz did not appear. In an email to Bulatlat.com, Cruz said he was advised against it by well-meaning friends.

Finding Cruz absent, Senate Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada said Cruz should be subpoenaed, but at the end of the hearing wherein officials of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the CCP attended, chairman of the Committee on Education Senator Edgardo Angara said there was no longer a need to subpoena Cruz.

Angara explained that it was not Cruz who was the subject of inquiry but the CCP as a public institution that allowed Cruz’ work to be put on display in one of its galleries.

Cruz issued a statement explaining his absence from the hearing.

He said he did not attend the hearing because it was no longer about his work but an issue of art education and the broader fight for freedom of expression. He said he was abiding by the decision of colleagues not to attend and in the process not feed his “self-serving impulse to defend my work or my person to each query, insult or threat being hurled at me.”

Controversial artist Mideo Cruz issues public apology to those offended by his “Poleteismo” but remains firm on the right of artists to create and express their views on society and issues. “I apologize if I hold a contrary view to others but I honestly believe that providing a space for a different voice is necessary for a mature society,” he said.(Photo by Ina Alleco Silverio / bulatlat.com)

“Again, I apologize if I have offended anyone. My artworks are to me, like a carpenter to his hammer, my tools to reexamine our public morals and ideals. In the end, I assume that my audience would exercise their logical decision-making to reject or accept the message or to sway them toward improving society.I apologize if I hold a contrary view to others but I honestly believe that providing a space for a different voice is necessary for mature society.”

Poleteismo fallacies

Dean Raul Pangalangan of the UP Law School and Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist said “fallacies” abounded in the furor over “Poleteismo.” Among the six fallacies he noted was the belief that if “Poleteismo” should be displayed in a private gallery and not at the CCP which is a a state instrumentality, making it complicit to an attack on religion.

“A private gallery is completely free to judge art according to its aesthetic biases. But a publicly-funded gallery is bound by a document called the Philippine Constitution, which requires it to respect ‘freedom of speech and of expression’ (Article III, Sec. 4) and ‘foster … a Filipino national culture … in a climate of free artistic and intellectual expression’ (Article XIV, Sec. 14). By shutting down Kulô, the government is reduced to being the henchman of the neighborhood thug,” he said.

Pagalangan also said “the braggadocio by church lawyers” that the Revised Penal Code provides enough basis to punish any person who publicly “offend[s] any race or religion” is also a fallacy.

“Remember that the law likewise criminalizes defamatory speech, but—in order to reconcile it with the Bill of Rights—the courts have concocted the New York Times v. Sullivan test (adopted by the Philippine Supreme Court) that makes it more difficult to convict when it is a public officer who is defamed,” he said.

Another national artist also laid down his opinion on the controversy.

National Artist for Literature Francisco Sionil Jose said that “Poleteismo” “was not art at all.” In his column in the Philippine Star, Jose said” If I were to do the Jesus Christ commentary in oil, I would have used imagination, craftsmanship, and most important — originality. None of these basic qualities are in the CCP exhibit.”

“How I wish our artists would stop claiming freedom of expression all the time that they are criticized. To me freedom of expression is not involved with the CCP exhibit. Artistic sensibility and rigid critical values are the norm and they should prevail if our culture is to develop,” he said.

Support from other artists

Artists from the United States, Canada, Italy, Germany, Australia and Thailand defended Cruz and said the campaign of vilification against Cruz was unjust.

Interaksyon.com cited a message from a German artist Jürgen Fritz who said Cruz “created a piece of art, whose central core was to provoke such reactions from the Church and other institutions. I think this was successful. I hope that what is coming now will be fruitful for you and the Filipino art movement.”

Cruz himself last weekend asked members of the public who were offended by his art to forgive him, but remained firm that his art was really all about challenging ideas.

“I ask the forgiveness of those who were hurt; but I’m not the person who paints beautiful flowers or landscapes. My projects are about encouraging and provoking ideas and discourse,” he said in an interview aired over a GMA-7 news program.

Art as social commentary

The online community has also been afire with comments regarding the controversy. Artists and academics alike posted their own analyses and thoughts not only on “Poleteismo” but on the outraged response of Church and moralist institutions as well.

“Would the same people who are outraged by iconoclastic imagery be just as outraged by poverty, child exploitation, hunger, female subjugation in some societies, animal cruelty, etc? Would the same people who defend iconoclastic imagery be as staunch and incensed by censorship? Why is art (or human handiwork of some symmetry, design and impact) more successful at being a pot-stirrer than a ’cause’? Is there a chance causes can be more successful at articulating their concerns as art(or human handiwork of some symmetry, design and impact)?”, asked Armida Mabitad-Azada, doctorate student at the Centre for Research in Romanticism at Roehampton University and an alumna of the University of the Philippines.

Azada ventured to hazard a guess at “art as pot-stirrer” and said people should not judge pieces on exhibit “as though they were innocent and disinterested, or without an agenda to convert or offend.”

“Someone with a cause clearly and plainly presents himself as someone meant to persuade someone else. Spectators like being entertained, not necessarily taught, or dictated upon. When spectators enter a space which is meant for pieces on display and suddenly find themselves in an uncomfortable position of being ‘told’ what or how to think by an inarticulate, supposedly lifeless object, then they become outraged,” she said.

The art student, however, ventured to say that the artist who supposedly remains silent in the background while presenting his handiwork “is expected to speak for himself, and to make his intentions clear to the viewing public.”

“Thus begins the discussion of what is acceptable and unacceptable to society, and to the consumers of ‘art’. However, the discussion of what is acceptable in society is also the realm of the artist and his peers,” she said.

“Is there a chance social justice causes can be just as effective at causing outrage and inciting people to action as art can? ” She then went on to acknowledge in her conclusion that “Poleteismo” has served its purpose. “Owing to the accidental grace of public outrage, the work’s place in its public memory is sealed.”

Artists should be free to create

Cultural worker, history researcher, author and curator Imelda Cajipe Endaya in her own essay “Trying to understand why art can offend, and why artists should continue to be free” said the ongoing controversy however is not about an artwork being prurient or obscene but more about blasphemy and sacrilege in a largely Catholic populace.

She also noted that there are no legal precedents on such matters when it comes to testing the Constitution and so no discussion on the issue did take place.

Endaya said she had told Cruz himself in a previous forum that she herself was offended by the artwork, but she didn’t think that the CPP should have closed the exhibit.

“Politeismo should have been left open for restricted viewing, but maybe moved elsewhere on safer grounds of free-thinking academe,” she said.

Commenting on how various politicians have started to grandstand using the controversy for their own ends, Endaya said, Filipinos should look at the positive side of these ensuing events.

“Yes, artists and cultural workers, let’s seize this as an educating opportunity. This is not just about a controversial artwork, it is about how artists can continue to freely create and exhibit/publish their work, and how government will administer, control or neglect art and culture,” she said.

CCP should reopen Kulo exhibit

Former dean of the UP Diliman college of fine arts and respected artist Leonilo Doloricon has also pondered over the matter of free expression and whether it was “a gift of the state to the people out of compassion.”

“The answer is no. The right to free expression is the result of the people’s struggle against the Marcos dictatorship,” he said.

The artist explained that after the fall of the dictatorship in 1986, the new government under then president Cory Aquino constituted a Constitutional Assembly to frame a new constitution to replace the 1973 Constitution to which the political mandate of Marcos belonged. Under the then new 1987 constitution, Article 4 and its section 4 was passed on freedom of speech, expression, and the press.

“If this is the case, why are we still pressing for the right to free expression vis-a-vis the closure of the Kulo exhibit and to whom are we addressing the issue? Are we addressing the issue to the board of trustees of the CCP, to the Church people or to the Aquino government who were also believed to be behind this closure?,” he asked.

Doloricon said the issue of closure should be addressed to the CCP Board of Trustees because they were the ones who officially announced the closure of the exhibit.

“The CCP Board was caught in the crossfire , so to speak, but since they are the extension of the state instrumentalities in cultivating Filipino culture and the arts, their decision is the decision of the state. The demand to reopen the kulo exhibit at the CCP is actually to reaffirm the Article 4 of the Bill of Rights which belong to the people. The only role of the state is to assure this right is being protected and address to,” he said.

Defend freedom of expression

Finally, the CAP sounded the alarm over President Benigno Aquino III’s reported call to the CCP Board about the exhibit and by his public statement that “there is no freedom that is absolute.” The group said Aquino’s declaration was ” tantamount to censorship and repression of the freedom of expression.”

The “Kulo” exhibit was closed on August 9.

“We disagree with the statement of Pres. Aquino where he said: “May karapatan ka pero kung naaapakan ang karapatan ng iba naman may mali na doon at hindi sinasang-ayunan ng batas yun”. The practice of Freedom of Expression such as by artists does not in any way violate the people’s rights as contained in the Bill of Rights,” the group said.

According to the CAP, the controversy surrounding “Poleteismo” was quite different from matters such as the continued extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture committed by military, paramilitary and police forces which do directly and grossly violate people’s rights.
“We call on artists, cultural workers and media practitioners to be vigilant and stand steadfast in defending the Constitutional right to freedom of expression and of the press.” (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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8 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. We should always respect one’s opinion. Everybody is entitled to have their own stand regarding certain thing in this world. In this spot, I can consider the artist as a victim because he can’t express well what is inside his will.As a democratic country, we should be always open for everybody’s opinion.

  2. I want to save this particular blog post to my pc, perhaps there is an easy method than copying it straight into notepad and saving it as a txt file?

  3. Ang pagkakaintindi ko sa gustong ipahiwatig ng exhibit nito ay karamahihan sa relihiyosong tao ay fanatiko na naiihahantulad sa basura. Mas binibigyan nila ng importansiya ang walng kwentang bagay. Tulad din ng goverment mas binibigyan nila ito ng attensiyon kumpara sa matagal ng problema na dapat aksyonan.

  4. Pabayaan s’ya sa kanyang art exhibit. Manood ang gustong manood. Sundin ang Saligang Batas. Pabayaan s’ya sa kanyang paraan ng pagpapahayag ng kanyang saloobin. Hindi s’ya Katoliko kaya hindi natin s’ya pwede i-excommunicate. Di natin pwedeng ipagdiinan sa kanya ang ating paniniwala. Isa s’yang alagad ng sining. Kanya-kanyang trip lang yan pagdating sa art.

  5. There are a lot of ways on how to express what you have in mind by not hurting other people. What Cruz had done, in my opinion is purely an act of being irresponsible. He is a Sick person I guess.

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