Thursday, August 18, 2011

SATOSHI on Art and the Freedom of Expression: Mideo Cruz, Lee Stewart and Tsang Kin-Wah

A lot has been said about the recent art exhibition in the Cultural Center of the Philippines wherein Filipino artist, Mideo Cruz, juxtaposed the image of Jesus Christ with kitschy symbols of pop culture. The installation (entitled “Poleteismo” or “Polytheism”) has the conservative Catholics in a fit of outrage, who claim that the installation is a mockery of their faith. Even the President of the Philippines weighed in asking the exhibition be closed. The artist was even asked to defend himself in front of the Senate; and as of today, the debate is nowhere ending.

Mideo Cruz and his installation "Poleteismo"

I am personally quite amused not at the art itself but rather on the debate… who said what and the different tactics and gimmicks used to make their points across. Facebook alone, one can find pages like “Mideo Cruz the Anti-Christ” and “Mideo Cruz Burn in Hell” at one side of the spectrum and “Support Mideo Cruz” at the other end. The media, of course, had a field day. In fact, I believe the media played a huge role in sensationalizing it. In Facebook, JP Cuison (a fellow artist), had a great time mocking those who criticize Mideo. In his own artistic fashion, he regularly post whingeing, whining and ranting analogies (some were just plain ridiculous) worthy of an exhibition of their own, and this is not to mention some of the comments he gets.

Lee Stewart

Of course, this kind of outrage and debate is absolutely nothing new. I actually think that it is healthy for the different parties to re-evaluate what they stand for. A controversy, at a lesser degree but equally amusing, happened to an artist I admire, Lee Stewart.

Back in 2005, a squad of five police stormed into an art gallery in Glasgow over complaints about a 5,000 British pound nude painting of a woman in the window. The gallery owner was warned that if he doesn’t take down the painting, he will be charged on breach of the peace. The gallery owner was shocked, “It’s draconian, to say the very least. This painting was part of a sold-out show which ran for two months in London.” I personally don’t know what the painting looked like, but it was described as “the body of an overweight middle-aged Scots woman from below the head” (might just be something like the above picture)... or something to the style of the painting that I have by Lee Stewart (see below)... Personally, I don’t know what was the fuss all about. The difference was that the whole matter ended there; there were no huge outbursts from artists or gallery owners.

A Couple by Lee Stewart

In some cases, pre-emptive measures were made. Some institutions just simply wouldn't take the risk in allowing such "freedom of expression". November last year, I reported the case of Hong Kong artist Tsang Kin-Wah. Tsang, known for his works combining expletives with floral pattern (text with image), pulled out of an exhibition at the SCHUNCK* Heerlen in Netherlands after the museum feels that his work was too sensitive for such a prominent place as the entrance/lobby. Tsang was given the choice to either change his work or move the work to a less ‘public’ area.

Let Us Build and Launch a Blue Rocket to Heaven by Tsang Kin-Wah

No exhibition, no controversy; and the director of SCHUNCK* live happily ever after... As for Karen Flores, Head of the Visual Arts Division of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, she resigned when the exhibition was forced to close. Too bad for the Dutch, they missed the chance to see the work of a great artist. Too good for the Filipinos, they have a Karen Flores who is willing to stand for their arts.

More on Mideo Cruz's saga, click here

More on Lee Stewart's saga, click here

More on Tsang Kin-Wah saga, click here

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At August 20, 2011 at 4:03 PM , Anonymous Ken Hui said...

Yet another insightful article. Only someone as sophisticated as Satoshi can write an excellent article like this.


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