National artists Jose, Lumbera spar over controversial exhibit
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National artists Jose, Lumbera spar over controversial exhibit

Two of the Philippines’ National Artists for Literature – F. Sionil Jose and Bienvenido Lumbera – have issued dueling statements on the controversial art installation of Mideo Cruz which was shut down by state cultural authorities after extremists threatened to firebomb the exhibit and to hurt the artist.

The statements of Jose and Lumbera represent the long-running conflict within the artistic and literary communities on what is art and for whom.

In a column piece for the Philippine Star, Jose declared:

The exhibit should not have been shown at the CCP. If submitted to my old gallery, I would have rejected it. It is not — I repeat — it is not art! It is an immature and juvenile attempt at caricature.

It is important to note this admission by Jose:

I have not seen the exhibit itself but I have seen pictures of it and they are enough to convince me of the validity of my conclusion.

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F. Sionil Jose. (Photo from ellentordesillas.com)

Jose also says that:

How I wish our artists would stop claiming freedom of expression all the time that they are criticized. To me freedom of expression is not involved with the CCP exhibit. Artistic sensibility and rigid critical values are the norm and they should prevail if our culture is to develop.

We have done it when we were young, put beards and blackened teeth on pictures of people. If I were to criticize religious faith visually, I would do it much better, more creatively than what this artist had done. The cross alone — I can do so much with it with allegory and symbolism. And this is what is precisely wrong with so many of our visual artists: for all their superb craftsmanship, they lack imagination and they don’t think hard enough. Then even sweet Jesus would understand; after all, in this earth His people who didn’t know what they were doing, beat Him up, crowned Him with thorns then crucified Him.

For Jose, Cruz’s work is not art. It is also no good. Jose says he “could do it much better”.

Jose, however, has to contend with the searing criticism coming from Lumbera, who is now the chair of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines.

Reacting to the decision of the Cultural Center of the Philippines to temporarily shut down the exhibit, Lumbera said:

The CCP should have stood its ground and resisted the demands of those who did not understand the implications of their actions when they raged against an art piece. It did more than just shut the doors of a gallery exhibiting Kulo, it surrendered the rights of artists and allowed censorship in

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Lumbera (wearing glasses) joins artists in defending Cruz. (Photo from Bulatlat.com)

(Lumbera’s original statement in Filipino: “Sa pagsuko ng CCP Board sa mga hinihingi o idindidemanda ng mga tumututol sa eksibisyong ‘Kulo,’ naganap ang pagsuko na hindi lamang pagsuko ng institusyon kundi pagsuko ng mga indibidwal na artista.”)

Lumbera stressed that:

It sends a message to artists, that they should be more careful when creating their art for fear of repercussions. This is an attack against creativity and the freedom of expression; artists are being told to toe a certain line and repress what they truly think and feel about society and how they experience the world

The debate continues — and artists should propel it forward for the sake of the development of Philippine art and literature.