Does desecration of Christ’s image qualify as art?
Mideo Cruz, 37, who styles himself as a visual and performance artist who intentionally aims to shock and awe with his work may indeed have shocked many with his recent presentation at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), but awe he did not. Instead he has been bombarded with death threats and hate mail since the exhibit opened on June 17.
Cruz’ presentation is entitled “Poleteismo” (Poletheism). He explains that it is about the worship of relics and how idolatry has evolved through history and modern culture. Among other things, he shows an image of the face of Christ with a penis as Christ’s nose. He also presents a wooden cross with condom hangings and a bright red penis that moves vertically up and down. What can be more revered symbols in Christianity than the image of Christ and the cross? The Philippines is about 85 percent Catholic.
According to Cruz, the shock effect of his presentations is meant to spark debate. That it surely did with this exhibit. With some very angry Catholics however, the only debate issue is: “Do we hang this guy by his neck or by his nuts?”
Prominent Catholic individuals and Church organizations such as the Knights of Columbus are demanding for a boycott or a shutdown of the exhibit. Others are calling for the resignation of the Board of Directors of CCP, a government entity. Another group is preparing a lawsuit against Cruz and the CCP Board.
During the Nazi years, some SS operatives went inside a church and desecrated the sacred hosts and statues. This of course grossly offended many Catholics and some wanted to kill them. Some even wondered why God did not strike them dead after this gross sacrilege.
Of course God did not strike them dead because I presume He does not have a Nazi’s mind. Instead, He has a Christian mind: Love your neighbor, including your enemies and forgive. This is what He taught. That’s probably why he has not struck Cruz dead either as many would want. For sure, Cruz’s work turned many Christians to unChristian thoughts.
If Mideo Cruz had portrayed Muhammad as a dick which is what he did with Jesus—most likely, millions of fanatic Muslims worldwide would go on a hysterical frenzy. A fatwa death sentence coupled with a thousand tortures from countless imams (Muslim priests) would most likely have been issued. Inevitably, if he is not careful, Mideo would most likely be kidnapped, subjected to horrible torture, decapitated and his penis stuffed inside his mouth. Some Catholics are wishing that the Muslim style of vengeance be inflicted on Cruz.
In defense, Karen Ocampo-Flores, head of CCP’s Visual Arts Department stated that the mandate of CCP is to cultivate artistic expression and urged that the exhibit be seen as a whole and not in pieces. She added: “I would call it moralist hysteria or religious myopia.”
However, even if we assume that Cruz’s presentation is art in eyes of some and not the garbage that many say it is—the fact is that the patently offensive depictions of Christ and other Christian symbols does show disrespect and gross insensitivity to the feelings and beliefs of millions of Christians—not only in the Philippines but worldwide.
In the name of art, was CCP justified in allowing this patently offensive material to be displayed?
Here’s my take on this:
Art is one thing. Common sense and appropriate respect for the beliefs and affections of others is another.
Cruz’s defined objective is to shock. Therefore, the more shocking is his presentation, the more he sees himself as a success as an artist. As such, putting a penis on the face of Jesus or attaching it to a cross—he calculates—will shock the sensibilities of many. So he intentionally does it. He justifies it as art and the fools who also want to be tagged as artists or claim to understand the minds of artists sympathize and side with him and say: “That is because he is an artist!”—meaning that it’s all right.
But it’s not really all right.
Artist or not, art or not –we have to draw the line somewhere on what ought to be proper for display.
If shock artists like Cruz are allowed to go uncontrolled, what is to stop them from carrying on with more offensive presentations such as for example depicting toddler in various sexual positions with old men in their eighties?
Art ought not to be used as a carte blanche license to present anything that an artist would like to present. Like anything, it is a means to an end—not and the end by itself. Real art should bring out the best in people. Here, Cruz’s offering brings out the worst and—causing them to be angry and to hate him with a vengeance.
I agree with President Aquino’s order to CCP to remove Cruz’s exhibit which is grossly offensive to the sensitivities of millions of Christians. A good artist can communicate his message without resorting to offensive cheap inappropriate attention getting tricks.
I would not go so far as to demand the resignation of the CCP Board. It was more likely a case of a lapse of good judgment caused by an overzealousness to promote artistic expression with no malice intended. However, they should learn some important common sense lessons from the aftershocks of Cruz’s non awe inspiring presentation.
Recently a Filipino couple was arrested for producing sex fetish videos called “crush videos”. Among other cruelties, confiscated videos showed naked young women stepping on the eyes of tied up dogs and blinding them. Had they styled themselves as “avant garde artists giving free expression to the visual arts”—they might not have been arrested and probably even allowed to do a public exhibit.
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