The Philippine art community was dealt  a bombshell today when the Cultural Center of the Philippines closed down its main gallery where a controversial art exhibit is being shown. The exhibit features an artwork that many conservatives in the Philippines find offensive and blasphemous. Among others, it shows Jesus Christ with a penis.

To learn more about the controversy, check out this story and this story.

As it turned out, President Aquino has expressed displeasure himself toward the exhibit and admitted to talking to the CCP’s board members about it. A short time after this, the closure was announced. Although the CCP claimed that the closure was because of the threats it received, the statement of the president seems to suggest that his displeasure may have something to do with it as well.

Below is the statement from the CCP:

Due to numerous emails, text messages and other letters sent to various offficers of the CCP, and to the artists themselves, with an increasing number of threats to persons and property,  the members of the Board of the Cultural Center of the Philippines have decided to close down the Main Gallery where the Kulo Exhibit is on display.  This decision was made amidst controversy and deliberation by the Board as to what steps are necessary to avoid future similar incidents.

In the light of the foregoing developments and recent experience,  the CCP management has reviewed its policies and are now taking steps to enable its officers and staff  to make more informed decisions in the future.

The  CCP shall continue to act as catalyst for free expression of  Filipino artists.  It thanks all those who have, in one way or another, contributed to the dialogue about art, and the different ways it affects society today.

Backgrounder:   KULO’ opened  on June 17  at the CCP Main Gallery,  a compilation of work by 32 artists, meant to be part of the Center’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of Jose Rizal. Because all the participating artists had a common educational background, all having studied at the  UST, they felt it fitting that the theme of Jose Rizal also reflect the heritage and culture represented by the 400-year old university.

Each artist participated with one installation. It was curated by J. Pacena II.  In keeping with previous practice to evaluate merits of art works on the basis of established parameters,  the CCP Visual Arts Division,  headed by Karen Ocampo-Flores,  approved the  proposal to exhibit on the basis of an evaluation of their proposal as well as the background qualifications of the participating artists.

Publicity on the exhibit only happened after a major network covered it in the news. Particular focus had been put on one specific art work,  “Politeismo” By Mideo Cruz.  Politeismo has been exhibited since 2002 in such venues as the  Ateneo de Manila, UP Vargas Musueum and Kulay Diwa Galleries.

Threats  to security became most alarming on Aug 4 when security reported that a couple had vandalized the art works and attempted to set fire to the exhibit but had been unsuccessful.  Subsequent hate mails and  threats to members of the Board intensified following this incident. Following serious discussion,  the Board members agreed on the common objective, to nurture freedom of artistic expression, while recognizing the responsibilities that go with it.