Monday, August 8, 2011

A Teaching Moment on Free Expression

In a probably biased (we are on the side of the Cultural Center of the Philippines on the well publicized controversy, after all) attempt to make the most of this teaching moment, allow us to submit these questions for your reflection and consideration.

1. Why is burning an effigy of our president not considered offensive or criminal? Is it not meant to provoke and attack? Is it not an act of gross disrespect for an important figure of authority? Should such acts now therefore be banned?

2. If that doesn't cross the line, what about burning the president in effigy AND burning a truly important cultural and patriotic symbol like the flag?

We do have a law prohibits acts "[t]o mutilate, deface, defile, trample on or cast contempt or commit any act or omission casting dishonor or ridicule upon the flag or over its surface." We went to google to see if we could find any examples or pictures of someone burning the Philippine flag and - to our surprise and pride - came up empty. But this one's close enough:

In the US, flag burning is recognized as a legitimate expression of protest. As far as we know, the law banning the mutilation and defacement of the Philippine flag has not been tested in court against the Constitutional right of free speech.

In such a test, on which side would you stand?

3. In an opinion piece, the Philippine Daily Inquirer wrote that

(t)he danger here is that his art could become arrogant and terror-prone. The Church has experienced a tumultuous history of iconoclastic revolutions across the centuries (the Byzantine iconoclastic outbursts in the first millennium and the Protestant revolts in the second) that have destroyed priceless items in man’s cultural heritage.

The question is, so what?

Isn't art and music and words sometimes legitimately arrogant and terror-prone? Isn't arrogant and terror-prone art still free speech?

Where would our country be if Rizal had written Noli, or if our legislators had succumbed to similar Church-led pressure against the Rizal bill?

4. Who's to say what's art or what's not art?

Is this painting art? Is it merely disdainful, or did it cross some line that makes it scandalously disrespectful and blasphemous?

Mga May Akda
by Manny Garibay
Oil on canvas (2007).

(Disclosure: From where we sit, we like it. We liked it enough to acquire for our permanent collection. )

5. Finally, given the chilling effect that has been imposed with blunt force on the Cultural Center of the Philippines and on the participating artists, who in the creative sector now will dare use their work to question the powers that be?

Regardless of where you stand on this particular exhibit, is it really worth it to set this precedent?


Pransism said...

Greetings CANVAS!

I agree with the questions you raised in this particular blog post. Personally, I think 'some' of 'them' take their religious conservatism to heart as if it is absolute. That's what we get in a predominantly-Roman Catholic (not Christian) country.

But I would admit that the question on who would say what is art or what is not is problematic as its begs for lengthy debates and throwing of arguments.

But I would agree for the showing of the controversial exhibit at CCP throughout its designated display dates. They are the artist's works, not of CCP. If 'they' have to castigate anyone, that will be the artist. But then, who are 'they' to decide on the artistic acceptability of the exhibits, or of any artists for that matter?

This is getting cyclic and so I must end here, hoping that somehow I have made a point.

Thank you and more power to CANVAS.

Cha Datu said...

The reaction to Mideo Cruz's work says more about the protesting Filipino Catholics than it does about the artist. I live in Sydney, Australia where there's a whole museum dedicated to contemporary art, where I've seen some pieces employing the same approach Mideo Cruz has used in his controversial artwork. I'm not a big fan of this style of work (my husband even thinks it borders on vandalism) and so I would usually just breeze past the piece and move on to something more to my liking. That is after all, what you do when you visit a museum/ art exhibit. You don't come with the expectation that you would like everything on show, you come with a sense of wonder, a desire to be stirred , to see the world through another person's eye or at least his interpretation of it. Then you decide if it's something you find inspiring, something you can appreciate or simply something that doesn't connect with you. If you find something particularly horrendous , you may give feedback on the guest logbook, you may write a critique and send it to the museum or even the local newspapers. But for heaven's sake , you don't call for the whole exhibit to be shut down! You probably shouldn't be going to any more art shows, if that's how you choose to behave.

ringrongring said...

i actually saw this exhibit at least 2 weeks before this backlash....and found it to be a visual feast. did i like it? no. i actually found it boring...likened it to a really big hobby craft's work for school gone terribly wrong....was i

the reaction to mideo cruz's work was amazing to watch. was it wrong? not really. from where i sit, watching it all unfold from the comfort of my home, ALL OF IT IS ART.

i say, got out and do more such works. its a great way to get noticed, at a cost of nothing...instant notoriety!

So did the value of his art INCREASE after the show?