Now’s an incredibly frustrating time here in the Philippines for art. A recent controversial exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) gained the ire and hostility of the Catholic Church — the largest religious domination in the country — so much so that it has reached the Senate today!
But before that, a very brief recollection of events. The CCP opened an exhibit entitled Kulo, and an artist by the name of Mideo Cruz had a multimedia piece there entitled Poleteismo (note that he is only one of 31 artists showcasing his work in the exhibit).
Among many elements within his collage are images of Jesus Christ adorned with rabbit ears, Jesus with a phallus for a nose, a crucifix with a condom, and other religious paraphernalia mixed with other secular objects.
Almost a month later, the exhibit exploded in the media for its “blasphemous” depiction. This prompted the work’s vandalism; a CCP board member’s resignation; the WHOLE exhibit’s closure (which I didn’t get to see anymore, thanks); and the aforementioned and, in my opinion, unnecessary Senate hearing.
The fallen phallus (Source)
You may read up on all this brouhaha through other sites and read through the many, many opinion pieces on the whole issue on your own. But this whole ordeal reminded of the many times art and religion clashed throughout the decades and in different countries.
Enemy number 1 was Michelangelo, one of the greatest Renaissance artists in the world. A section of his fresco in the Sistine Chapel entitled The Last Judgment was deemed indecent because of all the anatomically correct paintings of nude figures. They had to commission an artist (a former student of his, no less!) to paint loincloths over all those penises on the ceiling.
A detail from The Last Judgment. The cloth looks like an afterthought. (Source)
It was during this time that a fig leaf became a popular cover-up for statues with exposed genitals. Up to today, the fig leaf remains an infamous symbol for censorship.
A statue of Mercury in the Vatican (sculptor unknown) (Source)
In the 80s, a photographer by the name of Andres Serrano exhibited a photograph of a crucifix submerged in his own urine. Entitled Piss Christ, the work was similarly subjected to vandalism, and the gallery that housed it received death threats too.
Chris Ofili won the prestigious Turner Prize in London back in the 90s for his work entitled The Holy Virgin Mary. His win was questioned by many because of his depiction of Mary as an African (a nod to his Nigerian roots) surrounded by female organs and a piece of elephant dung. His work was defaced several times, and galleries that exhibited this work became recipients of dung at their doorsteps.
Renee Cox became the subject of controversy for her reinterpretation of Da Vinci’s Last Supper. Entitled Yo Mama’s Last Supper, it is a photo collage of Cox as a naked (and female!) Jesus Christ among her predominantly black disciples. Then New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani chastised the artwork for using taxpayers’ money for its exhibition, and he even formed a committee to monitor the art in NY museums.
Priscilla Bracks is an Australian artist who had a photo of Jesus morph into Osama Bin Laden. If you look at her website, her style really is to mix elements of pop culture and news affairs in her pieces, but this didn’t spare her from drawing flak from the Australian Prime Minister himself.
Bearded Orientals Making the Empire Cross (Source)
There are more examples you can find and study on this subject, even those that became controversial with other religions. In the natural cycle of controversies, all the uproar eventually died down. People went on with their sinless/sinful lives; art continues to move and inspire; and we find other things to spend our time on.
But let’s go back to what’s happening here in the Philippines. As a faithful member of the Catholic Church, an art lover, and law-abiding citizen witnessing with frustration this overreaction from both the Church and the State (who should be separate entities, mind you); please, if you can’t handle the art, then just turn your eyes away from it.