Hubris | Inquirer News
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Hubris

/ 06:53 AM August 14, 2011

The Maker had quite a lively discussion with his art history students over the controversial installation “Poleitismo” by Mideo Cruz. He was quite surprised to find how well versed his students were on the issue. They obviously read the material and more. A few even went so far as to Google his name to “find out more about him”.

It is a strange intriguing case, which immediately raises questions about the interrelated constructs of  politics and religion. For instance, why, of all possible politicians who could have done so, was it Imelda who beat everyone else to the draw, condemning the artwork and then expressing her intention to close down the whole show? And then who should follow suit? Enrile, Estrada and Sotto, asking the Cultural Center of the Philippines board to resign and threatening to review their budget. Noynoy’s “there are limits to freedom” seemed absolutely lame. All considered, there was something wrong with the entire picture. And one has to ask: How do you make sense of all this?

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The first step is to identify and isolate the different factors involved. First, the most overarching issue which is the Philippine Constitution. Does Cruz have the right to make and then show the art work? There is some disagreement. The art work was certainly sacrilegious. But how does one quantify sacrilege? At what point does one cross the line between merely critical to sacrilege? Were Jose Rizal’s two novels merely critical or did they cross the line to sacrilege? Sacrilege presumes that there are indeed objects that are held sacred by law. The flag is one of them. But are religious images included? And if they are, does this include all images from all religions? These were questions that no one in the Maker’s classroom could answer definitively. But in the end, all agreed that the proper way to find out is to bring the artist to the bar of justice. “After all, even Jose Rizal was given his day in court.”

The proper response was certainly not vandalism. An unidentified couple attempted to destroy the artwork to express their offense. Is this act proper? Most of the students disagree. It is an act that is clearly against the law. The fact that this couple has not been identified indicates that somebody is trying to hide the identities. That act of cover-up is also against the law. Even so, we may understand why the couple, presumably devout Catholics, should be offended by the artwork. The artwork was clearly made to offend and be visually assaultive. That they should take proper steps to attack it cannot be condoned but it may well be understood. For it can be said that the artwork was designed to draw precisely the response it got from the couple.

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Indeed, Christianity and most especially Catholicism is and has always been a religion of martyrdom. Just like Islam, as it should be clearly noted. That a Catholic couple should risk punishment to defend their religious sensibility is not at all unimaginable. But they should have stood by their act and faced up to it squarely with the public. They should have said, “We did it! So now punish us.” It is not martyrdom if one hides from the consequences of the act. It becomes only so much graffiti and certainly of a lesser quality than Mideo Cruz’s art. Cruz at least signed his name. By doing so he at least assumes responsibility for his act. In a country where we have few examples of assuming responsibility for one’s act, this fact of owning up qualifies as heroic. And the question should be asked: How many times did Imelda, Enrile, Estrada and Sotto ever own up to anything?

But we should all worry about the ultimate consequences of all this. The main question is whether we all feel more free after everything or do we feel the less so? All artists and cultural workers have always worked under the burden of convincing the public to understand the importance of art in their lives, not just for its decorative functions but also for the fact that it challenges thought and by doing that evokes a deeper understanding of the world in general. We should all ask ourselves, by actions and all that has been said, did we contribute to that end?

The final answer is never easy of course. In the end, we have no recourse but to lean once again on the fact that we are a modernizing society and change is everywhere. It is the nature of change to divide and then unite and then divide again. Art is merely one element of many even if it seems to change faster than everything else. But we should all draw some relief from four exhortations cut in stone on the walls of Apollo’s Temple at Delphi in ancient Greece millennia ago, four cardinal rules that have guided over time the great artists and their works. They are: The most beautiful is always the most just, Observe the limits, Shun hubris; and, No excess. They are also good criteria against which to judge the actions of all who have been and will be involved one way or the other in this sad and sorry event.

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TAGS: art, Mideo Cruz, Poleitismo, Politics, Religion
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