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MANILA - Off with his head!
Or at least boycott his exhibit.
Artist Mideo Cruz is now at the center of one of the biggest controversies in the Philippine visual arts scene. His latest work “Poleteismo” is being vilified left and right by various religious groups and influential leaders, with a columnist even suggesting that Cruz should be forced to drink muriatic acid.
Cruz’ “Poleteismo” is part of the exhibit “KULÔ,” group exhibition at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Main Gallery showing until August 21, 2011.It was launched on June 17 on the occasion of CCP’s celebration of Jose Rizal’s 150th birthday. (The exhibit has been shut down, beginning today.)
Cruz is somewhat bewildered and a little sad over the violent reactions. A self-effacing man who avoids direct questions about how he interprets his own art, Cruz said he never expected the negative reactions coming from various quarters.
“I never go out of my way to offend; but I do like to provoke debates and critical thinking. Art is a way of expressing one’s views about the world, culture and history, and this is what I do in my work. The audience is free to make their own conclusions and interpretations about the images I create, but I must confess I didn’t expect for anyone to react so violently against ‘Poleteismo.’ The worse that I would’ve expected is for no one to come to the CCP and see my work or those of the my colleagues in this exhibition,” he said.
There are those who might say that Cruz is being a bit too naive when he said he was surprised by the outrage generated by his work. He put up pictures of Jesus Christ and Mother Mary alongside condoms; he got plastic piggy banks and put them inside a glass display case, the sort that’s commonly found in churches; he hung crucifixes and rosaries next to wooden phalluses. Like reporter Logan said, “the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic Country,” so the reaction of some quarters could not have been such a shock.
“I wanted to provoke people into thinking. I titled my work ‘Poleteismo’ which loosely translates into ‘many beliefs’ or ‘many deities.’ Throughout history, humanity has grown to create new gods and these are not always religious figures but concepts and objects. Some have taken to worshipping money; some see politicians as godsend. People create idols and these idols whether or not they’re deserving of idolatry or worship affect our lives and how we function and see the world,” he said.
Imelda Marcos viewing Mideo Cruz's art installation at the CCP main gallery. She urged CCP's board to take the artwork down. (AFP PHOTO)
Critics of “Poleteismo” may not know the fact that it has been exhibited since 2002 in venues such as the Loyola School of Theology in Ateneo de Manila University, UP Vargas Museum, Kulay Diwa in Paranaque City, and was also featured in the music video of Anghel sa Lupa by Stonefree. Cruz has recreated the piece every time it was presented for exhibition.
“Poleteismo” is actually three walls entirely covered with various images and papers — calendars, bus tickets, old school certificates, photographs, political posters, postcards, advertisements and other printed materials. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are not the only images featured, but Robert Jaworski endorsing Dr. J. rubbing alcohol; Alma Concepcion smiling over Champion cigarettes; two Thai actors selling Coca-cola, and US President Barack Obama.
In the meantime, on one free-standing wall hangs a life-size crucifix festooned with scapulars and rosaries, as well as a red phallus.
Cruz shrugs off the outrage over the phalluses.
“It’s symbolic for patriarchy, a symbol of power. There are those who worship power, who put their faith in men who wield power even if the power is used against women, or against the whole of society. The fight for sexual and gender equality continues, doesn’t it? But the balance continues to be tipped in favor of the phallus. Is this good or bad? You decide,” he said.
The former student of the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) is not new to the art scene at all and is in fact well known not only in local art circles, but internationally as well, having opened exhibits in Switzerland, Italy and the United States. He was also recipient of the Ateneo Art Awards in 2007 and awarded the CCP 13 artists awards in 2003.
The man is widely traveled and has taken time to read up on the cultural history of religious iconography and the origins of religious symbolism.
“Everything around us can be considered as symbols, some are actually only symbols more than anything else. How we understand these symbols, how we use them is what gives them power and meaning,” he said.
Far from accusations that Cruz is only trying to generate controversy to be noticed, Cruz sheepishly admits that “Poleteismo” is actually the product of house cleaning.
Apparently, the man is a pack-rat and for the last two decades he has been collecting various scraps of paper and whatnot with the general intention of some day putting them to use.
“We were cleaning the house and we discovered all this,” he said, pointing to the walls with their thousands of colorful, conflicting images like those from a series of MTV videos from various genres looped together. He and partner, artist and singer Raquel de Loyala, usually spend two to three days pasting and putting together the massive collage that has sent religious groups seething.
Cruz frequently tries to shy away from questions that seek his own opinion on his work, but when pressed, he answers even if reluctantly.
“This is how I see the Filipino way of life — colorful, varied, full of conflicting beliefs and values. Can’t you just see these same images pasted on the walls of houses in the urban poor communities? And Filipino society, its racked with economic and political turmoil, and then there’s religion which frequently involves itself in the entire conglomeration of issues and developments,” he said.
Sure enough, if one does as Cruz advises — close your eyes after seeing the images, breathe and think – the walls begin to speak about the Filipino condition.
There’s the carton poster on the alphabet with “A” standing for “Apple” when apples are not grown in the Philippines and “J” is for Jeep and not for “jeepney.”
There’s the calendar where former First Lady Imelda Marcos smiles beatifically at her beholder.
Then there are the liquor bottles that used to contain expensive alcohol that could very well symbolize the corruption of the country because of the profligacy of its so-called leaders in government.
“I don’t like telling people what I mean when I paint something or what I want to say when I include an image in an installation. I would much rather that people talk about the work and think about they’ve seen,” Cruz said.
(This is an abridged version of a story posted in Bulatlat.com)