An art installation that mixes Christ with kitschy symbols of pop culture and includes a crucifix with a movable penis has set off an uproar in the Philippines among conservative Catholics, who say the installations are a mockery of their faith.
Mideo Cruz, the artist responsible for the installation -- intended to be a commentary on icon worship -- has been branded a "demon" and bombarded with death threats and hate mail since his work featured in an exhibit in Manila that began June 17.
"May your soul burn to (sic) hell, you Devil pro (sic) artist," wrote a furious Facebook user, one of dozens denouncing Cruz's work.
Cruz, a 37-year-old visual and performance artist who has exhibited in such international art centers as New York, Paris and Tokyo, said he had wanted to provoke a reaction but was surprised by the violence of the response.
"You can't force people. But I just hope that when we look at something, the process doesn't stop at the surface," he said.
Cruz said his installation, "Poleteismo" or "Polytheism," is about the worship of relics and how idolatry evolves through history and modern culture.
Posters of Christ and the Virgin Mary, crucifixes and religious curios recall the 300 years of Spanish rule that implanted Catholicism in the Philippines, while images of Mickey Mouse, the Statue of Liberty and U.S. President Barack Obama point to the lasting influence of U.S. imperialism.
"This speaks about objects that we worship, how we create these gods and idols, and how we in turn are created by our gods and idols," Cruz said.
One part of the installation is a giant wooden crucifix with a bright red penis that can be moved up and down, a symbol of a patriarchal society where men are "worshipped," he said.
Early versions of the work, which also includes kitschy posters and souvenirs from Cruz's travels, were exhibited as long ago as 2002 in other galleries, but the current furor is unprecedented.
"It is very offensive to the majority, since the majority are Christian. It's sort of mocking the faith," said Emmanuel Fernandez, a teacher who is a member of the staunchly Catholic social group Knights of Columbus.
Roman Catholics make up roughly 80 percent of the Philippine population, and conservatives are vocal in the public arena. Catholic lobbyists have aggressively fought against a legislative bill that seeks to raise awareness on artificial contraception, and bishops have castigated proponents of same-sex marriage and divorce.
Calls for the exhibit to be boycotted or shut down have flooded the Cultural Center of the Philippines, where it is being held, and a Catholic university mentioned as the alma mater of all the artists in the exhibition asked for its name to be withdrawn.
But Karen Ocampo-Flores, the centre's head for visual arts, said the center was only fulfilling its mandate of cultivating artistic expression and regretted that the installation was seen only in pieces and not in its entirety.
"I would call it moralist hysteria, I would call it religious myopia," she said.
"Yes, you can have your faith, and that can be respected. But you must also be able to tolerate and understand other people's views."
Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, who heads a diocese in Manila, said Catholics must not be too quick to judge the artist without sufficient information. But he also said artists must consider their audience.
"There may be some works of art, which... would not be in harmony with the mentality and the culture of a certain group of people, of a certain religion," he said. "Then I think artists and those who put on such exhibits should be very, very sensitive to that."
For viewers who are neither steadfastly Catholic nor connoisseurs of art, the mishmash of elements in Cruz's piece is indecipherable at worst and thought-provoking at best.
"We are a little surprised by this artwork, it left us very perplexed," said Francoise Masson, a tourist from Paris.
CCP closes gallery with controversial artwork
The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) has decided to temporarily shut down the gallery that houses artist Mideo Cruz's controversial artworks.
Cruz's art installation "Politeismo" depicted a version of Jesus Christ as a mouse and also showed other religious objects juxtaposed with a red penis or other odd objects, which critics described as "blasphemous" and "sacrilegious."
While CCP said it will "continue to act as catalyst for free expression of Filipino artists," it said they are now taking steps to "make more informed decisions in the future."
"This decision was made amidst controversy and deliberation by the Board as to what steps are necessary to avoid future similar incidents," the CCP said in a statement Tuesday.
CCP said the exhibit did not only draw flak; it also exposed the institution to security threats.
"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," he CCP said.
Members of the CCP Board also started to receive hate mails and threats.
The exhibit 'Kulo' is a compilation of work by 32 artists and was hinged on Jose Rizal's 150th year.
"Because all the participating artists had a common educational background, all having studied at the [University of Santo Tomas], they felt it fitting that the theme of Jose Rizal also reflect the heritage and culture represented by the 400-year old university," CCP said in its backgrounder.
CCP said "Politeismo" was not new as it had been featured in exhibits in Ateneo de Manila [University], [University of the Philippines] Vargas Musueum and Kulay Diwa [Gallery of Philippine Contemporary Art] since 2002.
Art exhibit draws ire of Philippine Catholics
Forum on 'sacrilegious' CCP art show ends in word war
CCP shuts down controversial exhibit on Imelda Marcos's prodding
And I suggest avoiding the comments in those articles as well. They make me want to punch things. :|