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Political fire at the CCP lawn

While everyone was focused on campaigning and the elections, there was a tempest going on in the CCP

DEPARTMENT heads of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) have said they uphold the artistic intent of the art installation that is currently located on its front lawn. This after a post on the CCP Facebook page disavowed changes made to the work that it said were “a blatant and brazen violation of election rules.”

On April 30, the CCP launched an installation by artist Jinggoy L. Buensuceso, KAINGIN: An Earth Month Art Installation, at the CCP Front Lawn as part of the Earth Day celebration.

According to the description of the art installation, it involves “transforming the CCP Front Lawn into a burnt forest with over a thousand contemporary bululs.” The figures of the granary gods are made of molded fiberglass infused with burnt debris, soil, and dust that was collected from areas in the Philippines that have the most environmental struggles. Red ribbons were used to connect the sculptures which were scattered across the front lawn.

The exhibit description further states that the figures serve “as a symbol of nature’s destruction by the fire of people’s desires —  logging, mining, and misinformed, self-serving acts.”

On May 7, the last day of a particularly contentious election season, the red ribbons connecting the sculptures were changed to pink.

An updated press release on the installation stated: “Manila wakes up to a Kaingin forest blooming in pink at the CCP Front Lawn.”

The statement, accompanied by a new photo of the installation, was published in a now-deleted post on the Facebook page of the CCP Visual Arts and Museum Division (CCP VAMD).

That same day, Mr. Buensuceso wrote on his social media outlets: “Tao Tao Kasama Ka Ba sa Isang Libo? KAINGIN Forest Bloomed Pink.” (People People Are You Among the One Thousand?) The post also contained tags in support of presidential candidate Vice-President Leni Robredo and vice-presidential candidate Francisco “Kiko” Pangilinan. Pink is associated with Ms. Robredo’s presidential campaign.

The installation’s updated press release further stated that “the once fiery red embers of the ravaged Kaingin forest… have been revived by a different kind of flame, the flame of renewal, hope, and love for Motherland.”

According to the press release, “For Buensuceso, fire is a power bestowed upon us to either destroy or to give life that ushers a rebirth (of the land). We have a choice to make, and we can use that choice for a better future for all.”

However, on the evening of the same day, the CCP Office of the President, through the CCP’s official Facebook page, posted the following statement: “This is to inform the Filipino public that the CCP disavows any responsibility for the unauthorized action taken by a few personnel to deck the front lawn of the CCP with ribbons donning the color associated with one of the presidential candidates. This is a blatant and brazen violation of election rules.”

The CCP VAMD’s Facebook post regarding the changes to the installation was deleted.

As a response, the CCP Visual Arts and Museum Department clarified the intention of the artwork in a post on May 9 via Facebook. The statement was signed by CCP Vice-President and Artistic Director Chris Millado with Associate Artistic Director Production and Exhibition Department Ariel Yonzon, and Visual Arts and Museum Division Officer-in-Charge Rica Estrada.

It stated that Mr. Buensuceso had “submitted a proposal to modify the installation by using pink ribbons to signify the ‘…flame of renewal, hope, and love for Motherland.’”

The artist’s proposal, submitted to the Office of the Artistic Director, was “approved cognizant of artistic processes that usually accompany such interactive installations and without prejudice to any election-related activity. It is within the artist’s right to freedom of expression to create, present and evolve his/her artistic work,” the statement said.

BusinessWorld sought Mr. Buensuceso’s reaction but received no feedback as of press time.

Mr. Buensuceso is a UP Fine Arts graduate, has been featured in Maison & Objet Paris, Wallpaper Magazine, The Artling, Design Anthology, and Manila FAME, and has had several solo exhibits in Manila, Singapore, and New York.

Multi-media visual artist and teacher Abdulmari “Toym” de Leon Imao, Jr. describes the role of art in politics and social issues with the quote: “When the truth is under siege, and the press is pinned down by the state, the arts become our second line of defense.”

Discussing the issue with BusinessWorld through Messenger, Mr. Imao said, “In this age of rampant and often state-sponsored fake news, propaganda, and historical revisionism, the arts become one of the most powerful tools for truth saying, specially when it is a commentary that challenges societal issues and concerns in relation to the state and its constituents.

“Art has and always has been political once it is situated within the context of civilized society. Therefore, creating works of art is a political act,” Mr. Imao said, citing that art can either cater to the powerful or “serve as the creative mouthpiece of the lower strata of a society.”

“Whether an artist enables the status quo or disrupts it, they are all valid acts within a democratic space of free expression,” he added.

“For those who want to appreciate art for what it is, some would gaze upon it as if it existed in a vacuum, devoid of any explanation or background studies. Art for art’s sake —  which again is totally valid,” Mr. Imao explained.

“But to fully appreciate the work and position it within the history of visual expressions within particular societies, one has to retrieve more information beyond the visual display in front of them and delve into the artist’s intention and the context of the artform in relation to the zeitgeist of the time,” he said.

In a now expired Instagram story, Mr. Buensuceso wrote that the pink fabric connecting the figures in KAINGIN was removed before midnight (May 8) “in keeping with the Comelec rules.”

KAINGIN is currently on view — without ribbons —  until May 30 at the Front Lawn and three related installations, Huling Hapunan, Entierro, and Ritwal, can be seen at the fourth-floor Atrium of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman