Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ars Gratia Artis(ts)-- Brief Thoughts on the CCP Scandal

Yes, I know the title is a really bad pun.

The talk of the town in Manila is, without doubt, the controversial 'Poleteismo' exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines-- an exhibit that has gained particular notoriety, for its sacrilegious depictions of Our Lord. The artist responsible for the exhibit, one Mideo Cruz, has received no small amount of death threats and even a summons to a Senate inquiry; and just two weeks ago, some Catholics marched to the CCP and pulled down some of the more offensive pieces of 'art' and set them on fire. As I've said, the exhibit was considered extremely blasphemous: among some of the pieces are a crucifix with a giant, erect, wooden penis; an image of Our Lord with another wooden penis glued to its forehead; a statue of Christ the King with Mickey Mouse ears and cherry red lips; a crucifix draped with a used condom; and others too numerous to mention. The exhibit was closed on August 9th, but not without controversy, as many in the art community of Manila would like it restored, for the sake of "freedom of expression."

As much as I'd like to be fair and gave Mideo Cruz even a semblance of a benefit of the doubt, I really cannot. For what it's worth, the exhibit is profoundly mediocre (Mideo[cre], as his critics would say)-- Cruz says he wants to dissect religion and its gradual degradation in the context of a neoliberal economy, but fails considerably. What he gives the viewer, on the other hand, is nothing more than another tired attempt at being "shocking" and "edgy"; there is no substance in his art, in short, save for a poor attempt at finding an excuse for pissing off the Church. I have long concluded that much of modern art has really nothing to do with making something beautiful, but is really more concerned with creating a potential market for buyers. Art is now done for the sake of the artists-- the establishment of a cult personality, the perpetuation of his name, etc. These artists see themselves as twenty first century jesters-- fools who speak the truth-- but have neither the wit nor subtlety needed to do the job. If I am sounding a bit reactionary at this point, it is because this incident demonstrates the deep-rooted elitism inherent in the Philippine art scene. Cruz is not just poking mischief at the symbols of the Catholic religion, he is also ridiculing the many thousands of tortured souls who find strength, hope, and salvation in these symbols. The image of the Crucified is also the image, the archetype even, of the ordinary Filipino, languishing as he is in the muck of inexorable poverty. It is not just a matter of sacrilege, but can also be read as an attack on the very humanity of these people, who have entrusted everything to God.

At present it seems that Cruz and his followers are at the receiving end of a very strong backlash by militarized Catholics. But why should anyone be surprised? Too many artists today think that art consists in being crudely provocative, but run for cover at the first signs of criticism--or worse, public outrage. But hey, you reap what you sow. Perhaps it's a telling sign that they should focus more on creating art rather than persist in the delusion that they are modern day messiahs.


Andrew said...

When the heresy stops, the burning can too... =)

Archistrategos said...

True dat!