Monday, 8 August 2011

Speaking of censorship....

It appears that the debate over the access to so-called "offensive art" is not limited to Australia (reported here and here).

ABS-CBN reports that various Catholic groups in the Philippines have threatened to take legal action against the Cultural Center of the Philippines
(CCP) if certain artworks remain on display.

The works in question are part of a exhibit titled "Kulo" from artists at the University of Santo Tomas, which includes images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary which have been "enhanced" or as ABS-CBN explains "adorned with objects not related to Christianity - from a crucifix with a wooden penis to a Christ the King figurine with rabbit ears."

The story is that:

Atty. Jo Imbong, executive director of the St. Thomas More Society Inc., [has] said they may file charges against the CCP for violating Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code, which penalizes the exhibition of offensive material.

"There is a provision in the Penal Code which penalizes the exhibition of works which offend religion. That might be one possibility. Or a civil suit which requires the closure of the exhibit," Imbong said.

"What we have done so far is give notice to the CCP through president Dr. Raul Sunico and gave him 48 hours to close the exhibit. I spoke to him and he promised to promptly act on our letter." ...

"Apparently, the use of Christ's image, Christ's face, the rosary, the crucifix and interspersing it with the male organ, broken crucifixes piercing the eyes and forehead of Christ...the message that's delivered here is one of mockery and andalism that hurts the sensibilities of the Christian community," Imbong said.

Imbong said those who have visited the exhibit, which is open to the public, have called "Kulo" an "insult to their faith."

She added that even some of CCP's staff "were revolted by it."

"The role of the CCP is to promote excellent Filipino aesthetics and positive Filipino cultural values and national identity. My question is, is it our identity to mock and vandalize religious icons? Is that the Filipino pride that the CCP is supposed to foster? Are we going to be proud of what destroys revered symbols? That's not Filipino at all and that is contrary to the mandate of CCP," she said.

CCP chairperson Emily Abrera, however, stands by the legitimacy of the exhibit, saying that it promotes intelligent debate.

"We see nothing wrong with the works, exhibit," she said.

"I don't know if they've viewed the entire exhibit. Mr. Medeo Cruz's installation is one of the 32 artists and I think we should take it as part of the exhibit. This is part of the dialogue of the discourse, part of social community. Not all art is for aesthetic purposes...and that is the context from which the exhibit must be taken.

"It is part of our culture to question, it is part of our culture to seek answers, to look behind the surface and dig out what our real values are. This is a time for questioning for many."

While art is, after all, a form of expression, Imbong maintained that such expression has its limits and that artists have a social responsibility.

"Unlike any other form of speech, (art) has its limits. It is not absolute. The law admonishes respect of the belief of others," she said.
What struck me most about this story is that the Philippines has a law on Immoral Exhibitions - and with a quick search, it appears that Article 201 of the revised penal code on immoral doctrines imposes penalties upon the following:
  1. Those who shall publicly expound or proclaim doctrines openly contrary to public morals;
  2. The authors of obscene literature, published with their knowledge in any form; the editors publishing such literature, and the owners/operators of the establishment selling the same;
  3. Those who, in the theatres, fairs, cinemas or any other place, exhibit indecent or immoral plays, scenes, acts or shows, it being understood that the obscene literature or indecent or immoral plays, scenes, acts or shows, whether live or in film, which are prescribed by virtue hereof shall include those which (i) glorify criminals or condone crimes; (ii) serve no other purpose but to satisfy the market for violence, lust or pornography; (iii) offend any race religion; (iv) tend to abet traffic in and use of prohibited drugs; and (v) are contrary to law, public order, morals, good customs, established policies, lawful orders, decrees and edicts; and
  4. Those who shall sell, give away or exhibit films, prints, engravings, sculptures or literature which are offensive to morals.
So, I would guess that its opponents would claim that this exhibition falls under part 4. But, just how do you measure what is "offensive to morals"? It seems like a wholely subjective law. Can it really be said that this form of censorship is socially responsible.

Source:, 3 August 2011

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