writings, projects and exhibitions of Clarissa Chikiamco

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Brief statement on the reaction to Mideo Cruz's work

I am appalled and, at the same time, exasperated on the hysteria regarding Mideo Cruz's work Poleteismo which was exhibited at "Kulo" at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. I also condemn the closure and, in effect, censorship of the exhibition, the apparent result of the overwhelming threats against the people at CCP.

Regardless of the CCP being a state institution, the artist, like the other people in this country, has an absolute right to express himself, whether or not the majority will find this offensive. Democracy does not mean mob rule. There is a lot of rubbish as well being bandied about such as the art in CCP having to express Filipino values, Filipino identity. Pray tell, what are Filipino values? What is the Filipino identity? We are coming dangerously close to propaganda.

What kind of art would the majority like to find in CCP? Are we to put it to a vote? If we are to follow what the majority desires, we're going to wind up with a lot of terrible to substandard art in there. This is not to say that majority of Filipinos have bad taste. It is a natural occurrence in art that even works simply recognized as art are first recognized by a minority. It is why the art world uses the term avant-garde ("advance guard"/"front guard").

Mideo's work is not harming anyone (at least in the literal physical sense). He followed the guidelines of the allotted space by the guest curator, as selected by CCP. As a curator myself, I've seen a lot of works and exhibitions which I do not like but it does not give me any right at all to vandalize and/or remove it. If I don't like the work, I usually just ignore it. Sometimes I may discuss this with others but that is all.

For those who do not like Mideo's work, you can scream and beat your chest--you are well within your rights. But you should not take away that freedom from someone else.

It should be said as well that Mideo's artwork does not necessarily represent his personal views on religion. How an artist expresses his artistic identity can be very different from his personal identity. There are some artists who work autobiographically (think like van Gogh), which is the popular conception of the artist. Yet, many contemporary artists today work more like sociologists, doing interpretations and interventions from their observations on culture. Due to this nature, they are able to personally distance themselves from the work.

People are reading Mideo's work as an attack on Catholicism. I actually don't see the work that way. To me, his work is about iconography, colonialism and capitalism. But even if it were an attack on Catholicism, so what? Criticism against Catholicism - in particular Catholic fundamentalism - is fair. With the death threats that the artist has been getting, it just goes to show the great irony of certain Catholics and the Church in this country and also how object-oriented their faith is.

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