Where some see art, others see blasphemy
The Inquirer’s Aug. 8 editorial, “Art as terrorism,” bristled with an amazing and exceptional outburst of intolerance. It chastised Mideo Cruz, a known and multi-awarded artist, for “Poleteismo,” a part of an art exhibit, “Kulo,” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). Cruz’s collage included posters and images of Jesus Christ, the Holy Family, Barack Obama, crucifixes, crosses, phalluses, condoms. The editorial denounced his art work as a “sacrilege, blasphemy and an attack on the Church.”
Cruz envisioned “idol worship” in Philippine history and became the object of a modern form of the Inquisition.
The editorial perceived no polytheism. Catholics worship one God. They merely accord the Holy Family adoration and the Blessed Mother a higher form of veneration.
The Inquirer’s youngest columnist, Patricia Evangelista, reacted strongly. She claimed that, in the name of faith, the editorial makes a statement on and an underlying approval of violence; that the issue is not bad or good, original or unoriginal art; that the issue is “freedom” especially of expression and of religion; and that “blasphemy is still free speech.”
The legal luminaries of the Inquirer sustained Cruz’s right to his art, the right of the CCP to exhibit “Kulo” at its hall and, in effect, the right of the editorial to severely criticize Cruz, and the freedom of Evangelista to take exception to the editorial. Dean Raul Pangalangan stressed that “we cannot censor Cruz; we can only boycott him.” He and UP Prof. Florin Hilbay pointed out that, according to the Constitution and jurisprudence, free speech is “for the thought that we hate.” They affirmed that the traditional functions of art and speech are “to unsettle, disturb, even offend,” if not to provoke or anger.
History validates Cruz’s thesis. Will Durant traces religious worship as originally based on “magic, legends, myths, superstitions,” and polytheism on the worship of celestial bodies, the earth, humans, ancestors, totems, sex—or almost anything that has to do with life. The serpent and the fig leaf are, to Durant, phalluses. Polytheism has been transported from the cradles of civilization by the waters of Tigris-Euphrates to Egypt, Greece and Rome.
The Ten Commandments of the Mosaic law mentions “a jealous god,” Yahweh, who nevertheless tolerates other “lesser gods.” On the other hand, the Ten Commandments of the Roman Catholic Church speak of one God; however, the faithful also pray to the Holy Trinity, the Holy Family, and various saints and their graven images.
Art, like beauty, lies in the eyes of the beholder. From the same window of Mideo Cruz, many stare at blasphemy; some see mere art or idolatry. Others discern, with the image of Christ and the phalluses, unbridled population growth, overly taxing the carrying capacity of this poor country. Some relate the condoms to the RH bill to mitigate the situation. Some others believe that an ultra-conservative Catholic Church, with its antediluvian dogmas, as constituting a stumbling block to progress. A few artists, like John Lennon, look and imagine a land without religion.
—NELSON D. LAVIÑA,
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