Wednesday, August 31, 2011

An Epiphany on Christmas, in August

Last night, whilst bored out of my wits and my head ringing with an infernal headache, I took to perusing the television, as usual, to catch something--anything-- that would help relieve my boredom. It was ten in the evening, and the storm that lashed over Manila had almost gone, a perfect foil to an otherwise very welcome four day weekend. Spongebob Squarepants was not due for another hour, the History Channel was airing some loony program about ancient aliens, and I had missed the replay of one of my guilty pleasures (don't ask; it's a show on E!).

Perhaps it's simply the monotony of modern life, but I have been feeling very anxious as of late, all the more irritating because I could not exactly pinpoint its root cause-- if there is even one at all. I have not been feeling very religious lately; going to church seems to have taken a rather unpleasant affect for me, and even my prayers seem to have lost their meaning. To top it all off, the last ten days have been excruciatingly bad-- emotionally, spiritually, mentally. It was in such a mood-- festering, as it were, in an unbearable restlessness-- that I plopped myself in front of the TV.  And as I've already mentioned, channel after channel was airing the same old tripe, and not exactly the tripe I wanted to see.

I switched to the local channels, mindlessly flipping through them. I was about to switch the television off, when suddenly my ears were pricked by the sounds and words of a familiar song. Familiar, and still so very much out of season. "We Three Kings of Orient are/Bearing gifts we traverse afar/Field and fountain, moor and mountain/Following yonder Star!" Christmas songs in August! What an absurdity. The song was even accompanied by a montage of images whose very purpose were to recall a very White (as in WASP) Christmas: people in sweaters, burning logs, snow glimpsed through windows. I would have laughed if it weren't so strange.

But was it? In my toddler years, the run-up to December was always the most exciting part of the year for me. I was always fanatical about Christmas; I would slash away the dates on my calendar with a red marker and giggle excitedly and proclaim, with a voice sonorous as it was joyful, "Only 77 days to go till Christmas!" In my mind, the roughly one hundred and twenty days from the beginning of September to the end of December were golden, untouchable, and magical, and will always be: they represented the best of what humanity could offer, and hope in its pristine joyfulness. I sat for what seemed like half an hour just listening to the song, so familiar and yet thoroughly new as well, as if I were hearing it for the first time. And suddenly, I felt as if all will be all right. This darkness, too, shall pass-- as it always does, washed away by the warmth and joy of Christmas; by the hope that comes with the newborn babe, lying in the manger; by the cool December air, the taste of oatmeal raisin cookies, and yes, pretending to be WASPs for a day (or two) and dressing up in Ralph Lauren sweaters and putting red dots on our noses. The song finally ended, and all I could think of was how beautiful it was-- and how the days were going to be a little more exciting, now that September has come knocking on threshold.

It is the 31st of August, and yes, Christmas is coming. I feel it in the air, smell it in the kitchen, hear it in the malls, and taste it in my bones. The golden days are coming, and the muck of the past and all its mistakes and sins and secret lusts would be swept away. Tomorrow is the 1st of September; just one more sleep, and it will be Christmas again.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cirio de Nazare

Here's a video (in Portuguese) on one of Brazil's most popular religious festivals, the Cirio de Nazare. It is held annually on the second Sunday of October in the city of Belem, in the state of Para; it is a procession in honor of Our Lady, with close to two million participants. The story goes that, some three hundred years ago, a woodsman named Placido Jose de Souza found a small image of the Blessed Virgin floating in the Murucutu creek. Being a good Catholic, he fishes it out of the water and makes an altar for it in his humble home. But every night, as he went to sleep, the statue would disappear from his home and mysteriously reappear on the site where it was found. He interpreted this as a sign that the Virgin wanted a church built in her honor, and thus de Souza began construction on a small chapel.

Over the years, countless miracles have been attributed to the Virgin of Nazareth. In gratitude to her intercession, the people of Belem honor her with a great feast and procession, lasting several hours usually. The image of the Virgin is housed in a gilded carriage, attached to which are two immense lengths of rope (the cirio), which men compete to have the honor of pulling. They go barefoot as a sign of humility. Wikipedia has a full description of the ceremonies attached to the feast.

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.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Still Busy

Black Light Dinner Party "Older Together" from dreambear on Vimeo.

... Well, probably more uninspired, down in the dumps, and pessimistic than "busy". I also have a lot of books to read/finish reading, which are more immensely stirring than the internet, or so I'd like to believe. I am just so confused about a lot of things. Here is a nice little song to start the week with, though.