Artists protest censorship in Philippines

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - As part of planned protest actions against the "attacks on freedom of expression" on Friday, August 12, an artists' coalition decrying the closure of a controversial exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) has urged the CCP to reopen it on what would have been its last day.

Expressing support for artist Mideo Cruz and decrying censorship, the Palayain ang Sining called on the CCP to reconsider its closure of the "Kulo" exhibit that included Cruz's "Poleteismo" that outraged politicians, clerics and religious activists.

The CCP board last Tuesday decided to close down the entire exhibit, bowing to pressure from religious conservatives and apparently after a call from President Aquino.

The exhibit, which opened last June, was supposed to have ended on August 21.

"We call on the CCP to reopen the exhibition in the spirit of the free flow of ideas and cultural expressions," the coalition of artists, critics and academics said in a statement.

"We call on all artists to join us in our cause and mount a creative protest against censorship," coalition spokesperson Iggy Gutierrez told a press conference at the University of the Philippines on Thursday.

He said the coalition also planned on showing the "Kulo" exhibit in other venues but declined to give details.

The UP press conference was attended by a broad range of artists' groups, including Sining Bugkos, Ugatlahi, the Concerned Artists of the Philippines and Artists Arrest, among others.

The groups threw their support behind Cruz and Karen Flores, the CCP visual arts head who had approved the controversial show and who resigned on Wednesday.

Flores, who was also at Thursday's forum, pointed out that religion should not lead people into hatred and should instead enlighten people.

Practice tolerance

"Religion should lead us to practice tolerance amid our differences," she said.

Religious conservatives and politicians raised a howl over Cruz's work, which featured an image of Jesus Christ with a penis attached to his face, and threatened civil and criminal suits against the CCP board and the show's participating artists.

Cecilia Sta. Maria, a professor at the UP Arts Studies department, said this was similar to disliking a particular page or chapter of a book but judging the entire thing as offensive.

Bienvenido Lumbera, a national artist for literature, said he found the recent events to be disturbing and feared it would set a precedent.

"The fear is already there for the artists, they would [have to] consider if anyone would be disturbed by their creations," he said.

Nicanor Tiongson, a former censors chief, said vigilance is needed to fight censorship and education to help people understand the workings of art.

Tiongson was the censors chief in 2001 when the Arroyo administration banned the showing of "Live Show," a film depicting the lives of young men and women who perform sex onstage, because of pressure from the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin and conservative political and religious leaders.

Musician and high school teacher Cabring Cabrera, the vocalist of Datu's Tribe, explained that as a musician, he was very much against the idea of censorship.

"It seems like President Aquino's 'matuwid na daan' is turning out to be narrow and not that straight," he said.

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