2 National Artists differ over 'Kulo' exhibit

by Karen Flores, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Aug 15 2011 05:56 PM | Updated as of Aug 16 2011 10:40 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Responding to public sentiment, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) closed down last week its controversial "Kulo" exhibit, which showed defaced religious images.

Not surprisingly, some artists were not pleased.

National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, leader of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, said the closure of the exhibit was "an unfortunate move on the part of CCP," adding that such only makes the center "open to every little whim by a certain sector in Philippine society."

"That leaves CCP open to pressure anytime something, an art object being displayed, raises the ire of certain sectors," Lumbera said in an interview on ANC last week.

The works fanning controversy are Mideo Cruz's images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary which were adorned with objects not related to Christianity -- from a crucifix with a wooden penis to a Christ the King figurine with rabbit ears.

Lumbera said he understands that "there is very little ground on which the CCP and the Church can agree on," but stressed that an artist "should be allowed the freedom to create what he thinks is art."

"I just regret that the CCP did not put up an argument that would protect the artist and his creation," he said.

'Not art'

Another National Artist for Literature, however, believes that there is no art to speak of as far as the "Kulo" exhibit is concerned.

F. Sionil Jose reiterated that unlike the controversial exhibit, art involves the use of imagination, craftsmanship and originality.

"The exhibit should not have been shown at the CCP. If submitted to my old gallery, I would have rejected it. It is not -- I repeat -- it is not art! It is an immature and juvenile attempt at caricature," he wrote in his column in The Philippine Star on Monday.

"If I were to criticize religious faith visually, I would do it much better, more creatively than what this artist has done. The cross alone -- I can do so much with it with allegory and symbolism. And this is what is precisely wrong with so many of our visual artists: for all their superb craftsmanship, they lack imagination and they don't think hard enough."

Jose said he has not seen the exhibit itself, but stressed that pictures were "enough to convince me of the validity of my conclusion."

He then wished that Filipino artists "would stop claiming freedom of expression all the time when they are criticized."

"There is so much anarchy in the world of art today and much of it is due to this dictum that there is 'a new way of seeing things.' If I covered the Batasan building -- all of it with black cloth -- that is not only searing commentary, an achievement -- it is also something new. But is it art?" he said.

"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."

The head of the CCP visual arts department resigned following the closure of the "Kulo" exhibit. A number of senators as well as several groups asked other officials, including CCP president Raul Sunico, to follow suit.

Sunico, however, maintained that "it is not up to me to resign."

The CCP is under the Office of the President.