Celdran held, questioned over Imelda Marcos art in Dubai


Filipino artist Carlos Celdran holds on prison bars inside the detention cell in Manila in this October 2010 file photo. Celdran's act about former first lady Imelda Marcos was censored in March at an art fair in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. AP

MANILA, Philippines—The last thing Filipino performer Carlos Celdran expected at the largest art fair in the Middle East was to be picked up by security officials, questioned, and ordered to remove political and religious references from his show.

“It never occurred to me this would be sensitive,” Celdran said of his act about former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos, which was performed in Dubai to a backdrop of paintings and sculptures.

Celdran’s story takes place in the 1970s, when Imelda’s husband, Ferdinand, declared martial law and her developing nation became an unlikely player on the global stage — thanks to its relationship with the US, which considered it an important ally in the Cold War.

Imelda Marcos, who lived lavishly while others lived in squalor and in fear of her husband’s iron-fisted rule, used state-sponsored arts and culture to create an image that society was progressing.

Celdran said human rights and freedom of expression can often be compromised to push the agenda along when nations do that — whether by hosting an Olympics, a Miss Universe pageant, or an international arts fair.

“If there are any parallels to what’s going on in the Middle East, that’s up to you to find, not me,” Celdran said in a recent interview.

His was not the only case of censorship at the Art Dubai 2012 fair, which was held last month and attracted unprecedented interest in its sixth year largely because of the Arab Spring uprisings.

At least four paintings were taken down ahead of a visit by the emirate’s ruling family, including one depicting the beating by soldiers and police of an Egyptian woman, her blue bra exposed, in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Another was of a woman holding underwear with “leave” written across the front, the word often chanted by Arab Spring protesters during their demonstrations.

Antonia Carver, director of Art Dubai, downplayed the significance.

“It is common worldwide for the authorities to check exhibitions for particularly sensitive content when expecting royal visits,” she said in an email. “We had over 500 artists on show and we were asked that a gallery take down and store a minimal number of works.”

As for Celdran’s act, she said that security officials just wanted to talk to him, and that it was his decision, ultimately, to cancel.

She said she was not in the room during Celdran’s hourlong interrogation, and did not elaborate.

But Celdran said references to religion and politics raised the loudest alarm bells.

Imelda Marcos was famous for hobnobbing with Hollywood starlets and charming world leaders.

It was when Celdran ventured into the friendship Marcos had with Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi — whom she asked to stop supporting Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines and help broker a peace deal — that he was whisked away by a tall, robed man.

Just before Celdran was taken away, he had Marcos tell Gadhafi, “Islam is all about peace, and if you are funding a war in my country you are also pitting Muslim against Muslim.”

Celdran decided to cancel rather than revise his show.

But before leaving, he held a brief, impromptu performance, sitting on the floor of the exhibition hall with tape covering his mouth.

While he says he knows Dubai remains politically conservative and steeped in religion, he wishes that would have been part of a broader discussion.

“Everyone was ignoring the big elephant hanging over the room,” he said. “If you’re going to take away the Arab Spring, theocracy, intimidation, freedom of speech and other issues that are really relevant today, it becomes just a decorative fair.”

Celdran, known for stirring debate on public issues at home, was briefly jailed in 2010 for disrupting a Roman Catholic Mass in Manila to protest the clergy’s opposition to contraception.

But after some reflection about what he now calls his “own Mideast crisis,” he’s able to laugh. “I was just collateral damage of the Arab Spring,” he said.

Get Inquirer updates while on the go, add us on these apps:

Inquirer Viber

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • Bert

    There is always a right place for a SPOILED BRAT and Dubai is not one of them.

    Good for him, he did not end up in an arab prison cell, it’s never a good place for atonement for all the insults hurled against the catholic church….

  • bagombong

    Until now still Imelda or the Marcoses life style are on the topic of this people, if you go back during Marcos era, i still prepared that years….mas gugustuhin ko pa ng panahon na yun kaysa ngayon…what kind of freedom we have right now…yes we have a lot…free kill in front your kids, free to kidnap, free to carnap, free to rob someone even bank and free to kill inside the mall…this was not happened during Marcos time, actually…during Marcos time is…he is after the politician who wants to create disability to our nation…this politicians are using students activist at that time, yes..bec. our group are being used at that time on the street….we hope changes when they come to power but that is not happened..we just created a worst political leaders to our nation and up to now they are still in power…shame to those still using the Marcos as the cause of poverty….but look at Philippines now…worst life ahead… people from the Middle East knows the Marcos time, yes..i worked 13 yrs in the ME and those bosses in arab praises the Marcos time and most of them they see Marcos and Imelda are the best leader that we had…so don’t be surprised if they did not allow this guy using Marcos as his exhibit..he must be thankful, dahil he did’nt end up in jail…

    • rjgc

      The conflict is not between Marcos and Aquino or whoever. The conflict is between Marcos and the people. Anybody who murders, lies, steals billions of dollars, steals the ballot has no right to lead the country–Marcos man siya o Aquino o sino man. Marcos was a liar, thief, murderer. Hindi dapat tularan o i “prefer.” Kung gagayahin siya ni Noynoy, Noynoy should be ousted too. We deserve the best leaders.

      The Arabs are not the best people to judge what is “best leader.” Eh kaya nga sila nag rerebolusyon ngayon. But they can learn a thing or two from us Pinoys about people power: that united, a people can overthrow corrupt dictators and even emirs and elect excellent ones. The Arab peoples deserve morally upright leaders just as we Filipinos do.

    • boypalaban

      “free kill in front your kids, free to kidnap, free to carnap, free to rob someone even bank and free to kill inside the mall…”


To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.

Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:

c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City,Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


editors' picks




latest videos