Emily A. Abrera, the chairperson of the board of trustees of the Cultural Center of the Philippines has sent a letter to Film Academy of the Philippines Director-General Leo G. Martinez regarding the recent controversy over the Kulo artwork in a CCP exhibit that drew lack from Catholic bishops and lay organizations.
The letter is hereby reprinted in full:
I read the trail of these unfortunate exchanges, and need to clarify a couple of things for the sake of the arguments which have tended to be built around the wrong presumptions.
The CCP Board does not pre-clear any of the specific exhibits, shows, programs etc, unless they will incur a cost of P500,000.00+. Which means that the board gets into the details of such arrangements because they will cost us aa arm and a leg and we need to raise the funds to be able to offer such to the public. Otherwise, we meet monthly, discuss policy and other issues brought up to our attention, review our financial resources, and approve major expenditures. We have a president who looks after the day-today operations of the CCP, and he has a Management Committee as well as an Artistic Programs Committee to help him do the job.
Some of the trustees contribute in other ways, either according to the expertise we have, or by fund-raising. We all try to attend as many of the shows as we can, but as you can imagine, we cannot be present at all of them. (The CCP produces some 800 shows in a year. And it does so on a meager budget, which is a stupendous feat in itself.) The Board receives no salary, only a monthly stipend of P1,600.00 per trustee and P2,200.00 for the chair, but only if we are present at the monthly board meeting. We do not receive any other benefits but we do get to watch the shows for free, which is a wonderful perk, although most in the board pay for their yearly subscriptions anyway in order to help our resident companies earn much-needed income.
There may be some confusion about how much nitty-gritty details the trustees (or for that matter, the chair) get involved in because in the days of Imelda Marcos, she personally decided what to show and what not to show. She felt that she was the ultimate judge of what was true, good and beautiful, and that’s what she espouses to this day.
You understand of course, that those were the ways under Martial Law. Some artists benefited from this arrangement, while scores of others were muzzled; it was a deplorable situation, and I need not go into more detail about it.
Under Bing Roxas later, Dr. Nick Tiongson sought to give a much wider berth to the forms of artistic expression that were shown at the CCP… finally, upon the restoration of democracy in the late 80′s, the CCP too organized itself along more democratic lines, with art managers and an artistic programs committee (all of whom were chosen for their ability and track records and experience) that were in charge of sifting through the many proposals and possibilities and deciding on what was worthwhile showing, as well as coming up with programs that would try to develop young talent.
That is how it is done to this day.
The exhibit in question, KULO’, had a very interesting intention.
The project proposal submitted by the curatorial team late in 2010, led by Jaime Pacena II to the CCP, through our Visual Arts Manager Karen Ocampo Flores, reads, in part:
“The proposed exhibition is an artist initiative that hopes to re-evaluate the contribution of individual artists to the discourse in art and its social context in the Philippines. It will feature artworks by selected alumni artists of the University of Santo Tomas (UST).
It hopes to contribute to the discourses of the pen and the sword, education and revolution — topics that implicate Filipinos and artists, who are conscious of the historical occasion and dialogue between Jose Rizal’s 150th birthday and the country’s oldest university’s 400th year celebration as an educational institution.
This is more than a showcase of new or past works, but more of a gathering of ideas and ideologies, principles and disciplines and past and present dialogues.”
Karen approved the concept as part of the CCP’s celebration of the 150th year of Jose Rizal, and upon reviewing the credentials of the 32 artists who would contribute to the exhibit, gave it a go. The process was sound.
The exhibit opened on June 16, 2011 in the CCP main gallery, (which is a place one must seek out) and ran for a month without much fuss. Our guestbook shows mostly positive critiques of the exhibit and only a few negative ones.
On July 18, a television show decided to feature what it felt were “controversial” portions of one of the artworks, Cruz’s Politeismo, and all hell broke loose. This was when certain groups came forward, demanded its closure, etc. I might point out that there were also many other groups and individuals, artists included, who demanded that the exhibit stay open.
The CCP does not censor artistic expression. On the contrary, I see it as our mandate to uphold it. And so we chose to hold a dialogue, which became a forum of intense accusations, threats, and generally, a shameful display of what we know to be un-Christian ways of dealing with dissenting views. (This last is my personal impression.)
For the first time at the CCP, we had a vandal come in and destroy certain portions of the exhibit. This same vandal went on air a few days later and bragged about what he did, and hurled a few more threats our way. Some columnists opined that the vandalism (a crime, mind you) was well-deserved. The situation quickly deteriorated into a circus as politics also entered the picture, and media had a heyday whipping up the frenzy further (and whipping the CCP Board and its officers), calling us crazy, anti-Christ, and all sorts of other names. Well, some of these insults many of you saw on these email exchanges, mostly from people who had never seen the exhibit, nor knew of its intent, nor had any knowledge of how the CCP selects its programs or operates.
On August 9, we closed the gallery for the safety of all concerned. It was a decision that wasn’t easy to make but which we felt was best in light of all the threats, suggested and overt, from sources we could not identify but who seemed intent on doing harm somehow. Thankfully, at a Senate hearing called a week after, we had a chance to get the facts of the case clarified. We have also been accused of spending “public funds” for this exhibit. Aside from the venue grant, which is use of the main gallery for its duration, the CCP spent exactly P6,624.00 for KULO’. The artistic group took on all other expenses pertaining to the exhibit. Nevertheless, charges have been filed and that is now what I and some members of the Board must deal with.
Despite the nastiness of the recent experience, I felt that it provided a much needed opportunity for the general public to think about art and its role in society. It gave us at the CCP a chance to see what aspects of our own processes and policies we need to review, also what gaps in information and education we need to address; it gave the artists some new insights into the ways that they can effectively engage a public in a discourse … and I’m sure, there will be other good things that can come from a rather painful event.
That is what I wish to say about KULO’. We live in a democracy; we need to understand that the freedoms we enjoy today came at a steep price. People gave their lives for it. The CCP continues to uphold artistic freedom. I still feel deeply saddened that we had to close the exhibit when we did; sadder even that there are those in this day and age who believe that they have a monopoly of opinion that everyone else must kowtow to, and that any means will justify their ends. But I hope we can all learn from this and come out better individuals, free to think and make decisions on our own, and more dedicated to protecting the right of every Filipino to offer new thoughts, new ways to challenge existing paradigms, as long as this is done without violence and intimidation.
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