BY SAM L. MARCELO, Senior Reporter

Penises, TV shows, bishops, and memos: How art landed on the front page

Posted on August 19, 2011

A view of Poleteismo in its entirety -- Mideo Cruz
2002: Mideo Cruz debuts an early version of what is now known as Poleteismo in Hardware 1, a group exhibit held at the Vargas Museum of the University of the Philippines, Diliman. The piece includes religious statuettes, pop icons, graduation photos, calendars, maps, and other miscellany. During the opening, Mr. Cruz does a performance piece commenting on power relations: while seated in a wheelchair he holds "power" -- represented by a light bulb in birdcage -- in his hands. This lamp is connected to a cross made of electrical sockets.

2003: Mr. Cruz is part of Sungduan 3, an exhibit organized by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) every four years. Mr. Cruz’s contribution, Colonial Conception, includes penis ashtrays, which he will use eight years later for another exhibit.

2005: The cross with a red penis is first shown at Kulay Diwa Art Gallery, where Poleteismo is part of Santong Pinagpasasaan. The Kulay Diwa installation includes Mickey Mouse Kristorey (the Christ the King statuette with a red nose); a cross; an altar; and a version of the poster of Jesus Christ crying black tears. Telecinco, a Spanish television channel, features the piece. A few objects from this show will make it to future exhibitions.

2007: Mr. Cruz does the production design for Stonefree’s "Anghel" music video. In several performance scenes, Poleteismo can be seen in the background, complete with cross and red penis. (Watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJvso526kqE)

2007: Poleteismo is installed in the lobby of the Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University as part of Tutok: Nexus. It stays for more than a month in the seminary, unmolested. The installation is inside a telephone booth, and its elements include light bulbs and a fragment of the cross that was displayed in Kulay Diwa (particularly the bleeding hand). Poon (formerly known as Mickey Mouse Kristorey) is there; as is Anghel dela Gwardya, a larger-than-life angel with Mickey Mouse ears; and Altar (piggy banks stuffed inside a reliquary). The red penis is absent.

2010: Jaime Pacena II begins conceptualizing a show that will ultimately become Kulo. The project proposal submitted by the curatorial team to the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) reads, in part: "The proposed exhibition is an artist initiative that hopes to re-evaluate the contribution of individual artists to the discourse in art and its social context in the Philippines. It will feature artworks by selected alumni artists of the University of Santo Tomas (UST).
"It hopes to contribute to the discourses of the pen and the sword, education and revolution -- topics that implicate Filipino thinkers and artists, who are conscious of the historical occasion and dialogue between Jose Rizal’s 150th birthday and the country’s oldest university’s 400th year celebration as an educational institution. This is more than a showcase of new or past works, but more of a gathering of ideas and ideologies, principles and disciplines and past and present dialogues."
The proposal is later approved by Karen Ocampo Flores, head of CCP’s Visual Arts Unit. (Note: exhibitions are not pre-cleared by the CCP Board.)

June 17, 2011: Poleteismo makes its fifth appearance as part of Kulo. It sports penis ashtrays that were of part of Mr. Cruz’s 2003 Sungduan installation. The exhibit, composed of works from 32 artists, opens in the CCP’s Main Gallery. CCP President Raul M. Sunico graces the event.
Kulo features many "brilliant contemporary artists" (this observation from a gallerist) from UST: Andres Barrioquinto, Ronald Ventura, Alfredo Esquillo, Ivan Roxas, CJ Tanedo, Buen Calubayan, Mark Salvatus, Wesley Valenzuela, Costantino Zicarelli, Melvin Culaba, Mr. Pacena, Mr. Cruz, and many others.
Captions are late but Mr. Cruz’s Poleteismo does have wall text explaining that the installation "speaks of idolatry and the deconstruction of neo-deities." Kulo’s curatorial team overlooks the need for an audience advisory warning viewers that the exhibit may be offensive.
On opening day, there are no violent complaints about the exhibit or any of the works.
(Note: The CCP did not fund Kulo, it provided the venue. In all, the cultural institution spent around P6,000 for this show.)

July 6, 2011: A letter of complaint addressed to Mr. Sunico arrives from the UST College of Fine Arts and Design. It informs the CCP President that UST did not give the curators permission to carry the name of the university. The letter also states its objection to the work of Mr. Cruz, as it does not "represent nor conform to the ideals of the University as a Catholic institution" and requests that CCP "take appropriate measures to remedy the situation which places the University in an embarrassing position."

July 14, 2011: Mr. Sunico circulates a memo addressed to Ms. Flores. It informs Ms. Flores that the management committee, after a meeting held July 12, approved the removal of Poleteismo as well as any mention of "UST" or "Thomasian" from the Main Gallery entrance.
Mr. Sunico is prevailed upon by CCP Chairperson Emily Abrera to reconsider his decision and to confirm the CCP’s policy on artistic freedom; Poleteismo remains in the Main Gallery.
However, a notice clarifying that Kulo is not an official UST exhibit is posted at the entrance of the Main Gallery.

July 15, 2011: Ms. Abrera walks through the exhibit and leafs through the guest book. She finds around 500 entries, two of which say that Kulo is "disgusting" or something to a similar effect.

-- MIdeo Cruz

July 16, 2011: Ms. Flores is interviewed by Pinky Webb, who hosts XXX, an investigative news program on ABS-CBN. They talk about Kulo and not a word is uttered about the Reproductive Health Bill, a controversial and divisive piece of legislation.

July 18, 2011: An ABS-CBN staffer conducts a phone interview with Mr. Cruz, who is out of town. XXX airs. Ms. Webb introduces the Kulo segment, which includes footage from hidden cameras, by relating Poleteismo to the Reproductive Health Bill. Both Mr. Cruz and Ms. Flores wonder where the journalist got her information.

July 19, 2011: The CCP Board conducts an informal meeting and goes over issues. Kulo does not come up but Mr. Sunico again airs his concerns about the exhibit. It is decided that a second disclaimer warning visitors of its possibly offensive content be posted at the entrance of the Main Gallery.

July 22, 2011: ABS-CBN continues its coverage of Kulo on TV Patrol. In an exclusive interview with the network, Archbishop Oscar Cruz calls Poleteismo "sickening." The report by Mr. Omaga-Diaz also ends up as an online item on abs-cbnNEWS.com. (Read it here: http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/lifestyle/07/22/11/filipino-artist-criticized-blasphemous-art).

July 23, 2011: Ed Tirona of the Council of the Laity of the Philippines, upon seeing ABS-CBN’s segment, is moved to write an e-mail with the heading "Another ABS-CBN affront against the Church!":
"In the 6:30 p.m. ABS-CBN Radyo Patrol news tonight (July 22) they featured a supposed artist (missed the name of the bloke who looks more like a gender aberrant) who took the liberty of scandalizing the image of Christ by disfiguring its face and sacrilegiously vulgarizing it with obscenities ostensibly as an art expression. This is another affront to us Catholics coming in the wake of this station leading in church bashing with their invented ‘Pajero’ tag which they feasted on in ridiculing our Bishops for two weeks. Has ABS-CBN given up its sense of decency in being a leading butcher of this administration against the Catholic Church?
"I call upon the militant Church organizations to denounce this obvious attempt of ABS-CBN to discredit our Church and what we Catholics believe in. Let us denounce this station for its total lack of sensitivity and professionalism. I wonder if the ABS-CBN management will have the guts to do the same to the Muslims. The lay faithful must not allow ABS-CBN to get away with malicious reporting against the Catholic faith!" (Read it here: http://humanlifeanddignity.blogspot.com/2011/07/abs-cbn-affront-against-church.html)

July 24, 2011: The Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star run news stories quoting the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) public affairs committee chairman Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iniguez and Archbishop Cruz. The former calls for a boycott while the latter advises Mr. Cruz to see a psychiatrist. (Read PDI’s news story here: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/28449/bishops-outraged-by-%E2%80%98sacrilegious%E2%80%99-art-show-at-cultural-center Read Philippine Star’s: http://www.philstar.com/nation/article.aspx?publicationsubcategoryid=65&articleid=709262)

July 26, 2011: Members of the CBCP Media visit the CCP to view the exhibit. Ms. Flores invites them to the Kulo forum scheduled for Aug. 5 and receives a non-committal response.

July 28, 2011: Mr. Cruz is forced to sit down with XXX after the program says it will continue the Kulo story in its next episode with or without his input. The follow-up segment, according to Mr. Cruz, is a response to an e-mail the network received from Mr. Tirona.

July 29, 2011: BusinessWorld runs "Boiling Over Blasphemy" in its Weekender section. (Read it here: http://www.bworldonline.com/weekender/content.php?id=35478)

Aug. 1, 2011: Lay Catholic groups send a demand letter to the CCP, saying that if the exhibit isn’t closed by Thursday afternoon, Aug. 4, charges will be filed. The letter lands in the CCP’s Office of the President (OP), where it will stay for three days before it reaches Ms. Flores, the CCP official directly involved with the Kulo exhibit. XXX airs another segment on Kulo. (Watch the episode’s trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/user/XXXposeTV#p/u/2/uBynjX-wWfg)

Aug. 2, 2011: CBCP News posts an article about the demand letter sent to CCP. Several news organizations pick it up, including ABS-CBN, GMA, and Reuters.
Ms. Abrera forwards the CBCP News article to Ms. Flores, who doesn’t know that the demand letter is with the OP. Upon receiving Ms. Abrera’s e-mail, Ms. Flores sends a mass e-mail asking for advice. One of many e-mail messages sent by Ms. Flores the night of Aug. 2 and the early morning of Aug. 3 states: "Letters of invitation were sent to CBCP Media and the CBCP Council of Culture. No answer. Instead, they keep making pronouncements to media. Is it a coincidence that they timed this announcement prior to the Aug. 5 public forum? I think that they should answer first why they have not opened themselves to dialog before they earn the right to issue demand letters and threaten the CCP in media."
Via e-mail, Mr. Pacena, Kulo curator, suggests that the exhibit be closed for public viewing but open for private viewing and for research purposes: "[C]losing the exhibition will not stop the discourse -- Give CBCP what they want. The exhibition will still progress in some other way."
Ms. Flores replies: "We all have to be prepared for what we want to stand for. What I wish immediately to point out is that CBCP has chosen to preempt the forum process, and we must urgently bring attention back to that forum. A demand letter, if there is one, is out of order since I have not even seen the CBCP complaint or protest in writing." The demand letter Ms. Flores is referring to, as already mentioned, is in the OP.

Aug. 3, 2011: In an e-mail, CCP trustee Antonio Yap asks Mr. Sunico how an exhibit that violates social mores came to be at the CCP.

Aug. 4, 2011: The 48-hour deadline looms over Kulo.
Ms. Flores finally sees the demand letter that was sent to CCP on Aug. 1.
A man and a woman visit the Main Gallery and vandalize Mr. Cruz’s Poleteismo by writing "bakla" (homosexual) on various areas, removing and smashing penis ashtrays that were part of the collage, and trying to burn the red penis attached to a cross. Artworks by Lindsey "Lindslee" James Lee and Mark Salvatus are also vandalized.
The deadline comes and goes; the exhibit remains open.
(Days later, the vandal comes forward and admits what he did. Watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPz_E1yrDbc)

Aug. 5, 2011: A CCP executive meeting is convened. According to an Aug. 12 statement e-mailed by CCP trustee Fray Paolo Maria Diosdado Granados Casurao, six trustees were opposed to the exhibit: Mr. Sunico; Zenaida Tantoco; Isabel Caro Wilson; and Fray Casurao, himself, who were present; and Arsenio "Nick" Lizaso and Mr. Yap, who sent their objections by e-mail. Those who were in favor of the exhibit were Ms. Abrera, Florangel Braid, and Carolyn Espiritu.
Jaime Laya also informs Mr. Sunico that he is in favor of keeping Kulo open. Cristina Turalba personally finds the exhibit offensive but understands that CCP Board has a responsibility towards artists (this according to Ms. Abrera’s recollection of what happened).
As per Fray Casurao’s statement, this Aug. 5 meeting was a consultation and not a vote on whether the exhibit should be closed.

In the end, Ms. Abrera states that Kulo cannot be closed due to the contract that provides for the use of the venue until the third week of August. (Kulo was slated to run until Aug. 21.) She also says that the CCP Board must hear the artists’ side.
The forum, titled "Dakdakan," proceeds as scheduled. Ms. Abrera, Mr. Sunico, Ms. Flores, Mr. Pacena and Mr. Cruz, among others, face an audience with conflicting views on the limits of freedom of expression. In Ms. Flores’s opinion, the forum, which was supposed to be about the exhibit, was "hi-jacked." She is unsettled by religious and lay leaders calling Mr. Sunico "our friend Raul" and by several references to exhibit-related conversations she was not privy to.

Aug. 6, 2011: Threats made to CCP officers escalate.

CATHOLIC DEVOTEES protest against Kulo through praying in front of the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Aug. 7. -- AFP

Aug. 7, 2011: Manila Rep. Amado Bagatsing calls for the resignation of the CCP Board. A prayer rally is held in front of the CCP. It won’t be the last.

Aug. 8, 2011: The CCP is closed, as it usually is on a Monday. After receiving several text messages about Kulo, President Benigno S. C. Aquino III visits the CCP to view the exhibit and to meet with the CCP trustees.
On the same day, Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos (District 2) heads to the CCP with a television crew in tow. Mr. Sunico, who has close ties with the former First Lady, authorizes her entrance. Mrs. Marcos proceeds to denounce Poleteismo, calling it "ugly" in front of the cameras.
International news organizations such as Fox News, CBS, BBC News, the Washington Post, Forbes and the Huffington Post pick up the Kulo story from the Associated Press. It’s everywhere thanks to Mrs. Marcos.
A referendum initiated by Mr. Sunico is completed: Kulo shall be closed.
Mr. Cruz celebrates his birthday.

Aug. 9, 2011: A day after President Aquino and Mrs. Marcos visit the CCP, newspapers report that Kulo is closed. Mrs. Marcos claims credit, saying that she was able to persuade several members of the CCP Board to shut it down. In a text message to BusinessWorld, Ms. Flores says that the CCP will release a statement denying these reports since, to her knowledge, the Board had reached no decision.
Later in the day, the CCP releases an official statement saying that Kulo will be shut due to security concerns (there is a clause in the contract between the CCP and the artists that the exhibit can be shut for this reason).
The statement also says that the CCP management "has reviewed its policies and [is] now taking steps to enable its officers and staff to make more informed decisions in the future." It continues that CCP "shall continue to act as catalyst for free expression of Filipino artists."
During an ambush interview at the Malampaya Gas Plant, in Tabangao, Batangas City, Batangas, President Aquino says that he is pleased with the CCP Board’s decision to close the exhibit. He says that "there is no freedom that is absolute" but adds that he is not after censorship.
In a privilege speech, Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada, like Mr. Bagatsing, calls for the resignation of the CCP Board. "These ugly, insulting, blasphemous images achieve nothing, enrich no one and debase instead of uplift," he says. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile supports Mr. Estrada’s call.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III threatens to slash the CCP’s budget.
Kulo makes it to the New York Times Web site (Read the final version here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/10/world/asia/10philippines.html).
Ms. Flores submits her resignation letter to the office of Mr. Sunico.

CONGRESSWOMAN Imelda Marcos viewed Poleteismo at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Aug. 8; details of one wall of the controversial installation. -- AFP

Aug. 10, 2011: Kulo lands on the front page of the Philippine Star. The New York Times runs its story on page A12 with the headline "Criticized Philippine Art Exhibit Is Closed."
During a forum held at the Faculty Center of the University of the Philippines (UP), Diliman, Ms. Flores announces her resignation but refuses to elaborate as there is a press conference scheduled for Aug. 11.

Aug. 11, 2011: During a press conference held at the UP Diliman College of Mass Communication (UP CMC), Ms. Flores says that she stands as an individual with her convictions intact: "I simply exercised my right to agree to disagree." (In an e-mail to BusinessWorld, Ms. Abrera says that she is saddened by Ms. Flores’s resignation. "She’s a good person, straightforward and she acts with the courage of her convictions.")
Supporting Ms. Flores are panelists National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, chair of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines; UP CMC professor Nicanor Tiongson; Iggy Rodriguez, spokesperson of Palayain ang Sining, an artist collective; visual artist Egai Talusan Fernandez, member of the Christian Art Society of the Philippines; Buen Calubayan, Kulo co-curator; Cecilia Sta. Maria Dela Paz, chairperson of UP’s Department of Art Studies; dance artist Myra Beltran; and musician Cabring Cabrera, lead singer of the band Datu’s Tribe.
Mr. Rodriguez calls on artists to join a peaceful and creative mobilization at the CCP on Aug. 21.
The discussion has now moved from Mr. Cruz’s Poleteismo to censorship and the dangers of curtailing freedom of expression.
Charges are filed at the Ombudsman. The complaint affidavit of Manolo Dayrit, chairman of Ang Kapatiran Party (Alliance for the Common Good) names Ms. Flores, Mr. Cruz and eight CCP Board members as respondents. The only trustees not to be charged are Fray Casurao and Mr. Lizaso. The question was asked: Why were they spared? Opposition to the exhibit can’t be the basis since, according to Fray Casurao’s statement, four other Board members wanted Kulo closed: Mr. Sunico, Ms. Tantoco, Ms. Wilson, and Mr. Yap.
Jo Aurea "Jo" Imbong, Pro-Life Philippines legal counsel, says that the respondents are liable for violating Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code on immoral doctrines, obscene publications and indecent shows.

Aug. 11-12, 2011: Invitations from the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture and Committee on Public Information are sent out for a public hearing regarding Kulo.

Aug. 12, 2011: The CCP holds a press conference presided by Chris B. Millado, CCP vice-president and artistic director. He says that while the consequences of Kulo could have been avoided, the exhibit created an opportunity to engage others. "We understand the disappointment and frustration of our artists when they learned about the closure of the Main Gallery. To them please believe us when we say we will remain committed to the cause of artistic freedom." Mr. Millado also invites media to tour the "backspaces" of the CCP on Aug. 17 to see how art is created.
Mr. Sunico is not present at the press conference since he is in China for an engagement scheduled long before the Kulo controversy.
During a briefing at BusinessWorld, Budget Secretary Florencio B. Abad fields a question regarding the threat to slash CCP’s budget. He says that emotions are no basis for policy, and adds that the Cabinet is of a divided opinion on the exhibit.

Aug. 15, 2011: CBCP News reports that Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales has declared Aug. 26 as a "Day of Penance" for the "sinfull art exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines."

Aug. 16, 2011: Ms. Abrera and the rest of the CCP Board attend the Senate hearing. Other stakeholders present are NCCA chairman Prof. Felipe M. de Leon; Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, vice-president of the CBCP; UST vice-rector Pablo T. Tiong; former UP College of Law Dean Raul Pangalangan; Constitutional professor Atty. Florin Hilbay; National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose; National Artist for Visual Arts Abdulmari Imao; Ms. Dela Paz, who was also present during the Aug. 10 forum in UP; and Mr. Dayrit, the main complainant in the suit filed against CCP officials.
Mr. Cruz and Ms. Flores are absent.
Ms. Abrera and Mr. Sunico explain to the panel the events leading to the Kulo controversy, and how decisions were made.

Archbishop Palma and vice-rector Tiong say that they find Poleteismo offensive and that they were hurt by the exhibit.
Ms. Dela Paz reiterates the stand of UP’s Department of Art Studies: "While freedom of expression and artistic license are not absolute and must be guided with reflexivity, accountability and responsibility on the part of makers of art, the freedom is fundamental, and inalienable. The work in question is art, and while it is a site of struggle over meanings and definitions, it is protected as expression in a free society."
Messrs. Pangalangan and Hilbay explain that "free speech is for speech you don’t like, not for speech you like." Many of the points they raise can be found in the opinion pieces they wrote in Inquirer: Mr. Pangalangan’s Aug. 11 "Passion for Reason" column titled "Freedom for the thought we hate" (read it here: http://opinion.inquirer.net/9801/%E2%80%98freedom-for-the-thought-we-hate%E2%80%99) and Mr. Hilbay’s Aug. 15 commentary "The crucible of free speech" (read it here: http://opinion.inquirer.net/9981/the-crucible-of-free-speech)
Mr. Jose says that Poleteismo is not art and that Mr. Cruz was "juvenile and immature in his attempt to express his views." The National Artist already said as much in an Aug. 15 piece that ran in the Philippine Star titled "The CCP Jesus Christ exhibit: It ain’t art." (Read it here: http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=716740&publicationSubCategoryId=79)
Mr. Estrada stands by his call for the resignation of the CCP Board.
Ms. Abrera invites everyone present at the hearing to attend the Aug. 17 CCP tour.

Aug. 17, 2011: In a statement, Edgardo J. Angara, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Education, Arts and Culture, says that that the testimonies and position papers of all resource persons will be evaluated regarding two aspects: The role of the CCP as a public institution, and the freedom of artistic expression and respect of religious icons. Mr. Angara adds that new legislation may not be necessary, but urges CCP to review/rethink its administrative policies on selecting artworks and performances for public exhibition.
The CCP tour is attended by over 30 members of the media and no senators.

Aug. 19, 2011: This timeline is published in BusinessWorld. Will the Kulo controversy continue to boil? Mr. Cruz thinks so: "Mukhang maraming stress pa ito."

(On Aug. 21, artists will head to the CCP to ask that Kulo be reopened on the last day of its scheduled run.)