Awards and Abuses

Promised dinner at a nearby fast food restaurant, around a dozen male street children from the Vito Cruz area let themselves be whisked off to the Multi-Purpose Hall of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) by two young men one April afternoon.

The boys were going to play a game, and the instructions were simple: at the appointed time, the kids would enter a makeshift enclosure in pairs and the objective of each, in emulation of professional wrestlers, was to eject his opponent from the ring. As the children began fighting, the men acted as commentators, egging the combatants on.

Awards and Abuses (Contemporary Art Philippines Magazine Issue 24)

Although the wrestling appeared to be no more than rough-housing at the outset, it quickly escalated: the blows became more forceful; the contenders were suddenly all inside the arena; and one of the boys, twelve-year-old Marco Ramirez (a pseudonym) , found himself trapped in a corner, attacked by several assailants.

Rather than attempt to bring the situation to order, however, the men continued to yell their lungs out.

Alarmed, an audience member jumped into the fray, trying to distract the kids by offering his own body as a target for their aggression. Another hit the lights, plunging the hall into darkness. A third shouted at the commentators, denouncing the proceedings as exploitative.

As the frenzy subsided, someone cried out for a first-aid kit: while all the children were sore, if not bruised, from the experience, Ramirez had sustained a wound on his foot.

Precisely what had the boys gotten themselves into? They have said that it was never really explained to them, but they had participated in Criticism Is Hard Work, a performance piece staged by poet Angelo Suarez and visual artist Costantino Zicarelli for the opening day of Tupada Xing: Social Contract. Organized by the Tupada art collective, it was also known as the Tupada Action and Media Art Fourth International Action Art Event 2007 (TAMA ’07).

Five years later, artist Alwin Reamillo, the viewer who had loudly decried the piece as exploitation, is still outraged. “You don’t do that in a performance,” he said in an interview, believing that Criticism, which he compared to a cockfight or a dogfight, was a case of child abuse. Republic Act No. 7610, the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, defines “child abuse” as the maltreatment of a child, habitual or otherwise, including “any act by deeds or words which debases, degrades or demeans the intrinsic worth and dignity of a child as a human being”.

[Read the rest of the article in Issue 24 of Contemporary Art Philippines magazine or here.]

Journalism as barbarism

Image of World of Warcraft orc by Flickr user Snowball1210. Used under the terms of a Creative Commons License.
Image of World of Warcraft orc by Flickr user Snowball1210. Used under the terms of a Creative Commons License.
The furor that continues to rage around the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) exhibition “Kulô”, and specifically Mideo Cruz’s installation Poleteismo, one of the works featured in said exhibition, has taken the form of a battle between blasphemy and censorship—an unfortunate development, in my view, as both positions seem predicated on a clear-cut, straightforward duality between how the public has responded to the work and how it ought to respond to the work. Whether the situation will shape-shift into something more capable of accommodating a greater, more complex range of possibilities remains to be seen, but that it has been reduced to such crude terms can be attributed in part to the manner that the mass media thoroughly maltreated the relevant issues.

It is highly likely that this ruckus would not have swelled to its current proportions—might never have happened in the first place—had Pinky Webb, host of the ABS-CBN current affairs show “XXX”, refrained from framing Poleteismo, diminished to its details, as a commentary on the contentious RH Bill. (The sense of the verb “frame” as pertaining to false incrimination is useful here.) As someone who has seen Poleteismo for himself, I find that interpretation completely untenable: the only element of the work that could be said to have a connection to the bill would be the condoms, and I saw no compelling reason to draw that connection—not least because the proposed measure is concerned with more than just prophylactics.

But the burden of the blame for the frenzied character of the dispute is not only for Webb, “XXX”, or ABS-CBN to bear. Understanding, no doubt, that anything related to the controversial piece of legislation would serve as a reliable magnet for rapid, even rabid, reactions, which would then translate into increased ratings, several prominent members of the fourth estate wasted no time jumping into the fray in order to whip the public into a state of hysteria.

Granted that these journalists might have been offended by the installation themselves, and were thus less motivated by profit than by piousness, their personal feelings do not excuse or exempt them from their responsibilities as gatekeepers of information. What could have been a teachable moment—that art can be unbeautiful and demanding; that any work has to be experienced in its entirety before being judged; that approval of a thing is not a necessary prerequisite for engaging or understanding it; that the production of transgressive images has a long (art) history; that the CCP has mounted similarly challenging exhibitions before; that the male genitalia in cultures past and present are emblematic of the divine; or that “Kulô” had 31 other, perhaps richer, offerings—was instead exploited for its explosive potential.

Surely there is a world of difference between calling public attention to alleged offense and sensationalizing said alleged offense to the point of extremism. Yet instead of sounding a call to careful contemplation and sober reflection, broadcasters and columnists, with monstrous insouciance and bestial impunity, presumed to think, speak, and act on behalf of their readers, listeners, and viewers. In the process, they did not only betray—as well as encourage in their audience—a false sense of entitlement to spew opinions, no matter how baseless, but also they fueled and inflamed various fears that served as barriers to dialogue, including, among others, iconophobia, homophobia, and phallophobia. (The last could be an especially interesting area of investigation for sociologists and anthropologists, considering that at least half of the outraged commentators are male and presumably have penises of their own.)

Two particularly appalling examples of the foregoing come to mind. The first is “‘Artist’ daw, binaboy si Kristo” a piece in Abante where entertainment reporter Marc Logan passive-aggressively suggests the different ways that a lynch mob of ostensibly devout Catholics could deal with Cruz—by beating him up, stabbing him, hanging him, throwing him into a creek, forcing him to drink muriatic acid, or shooting him—and warns the artist against seeking assistance from the media. The second is “Art as terrorism” a Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial that, though exponentially more intelligent than Logan’s article, contains a tacit apologia for the vandalism undertaken against Poleteismo—not to mention a nearby, unrelated painting, Love to Move by Lindslee—and, by virtue of its title, performs the callous and insensitive rhetorical maneuver of trivializing the indescribable shock and trauma with which any experience of terrorism is bound up, while at the same time implying that Cruz’s installation requires a radical riposte.

Given that both articles clearly intend to stage a defense of the Catholic faith and faithful, is the appropriate, ethical response to Cruz’s supposed symbolic violence the incitement of further violence? Will Abante, Philippine Daily Inquirer, or any other media outfit hold itself accountable should any of the threats that have been made against the CCP, its officers, and Cruz—threats apparently grave enough to warrant the closure of “Kulô”—be carried out?

The media community should take its cue from the arts and culture sector: this is as good a time as any for its denizens to begin the task of taking stock, of questioning themselves and their practices, and of upholding the emancipatory values on which such practices are founded. “The practice of journalism,” as the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) declares, “involves the use of power: the power to influence the way people look at themselves, their societies, and the world; the power to help shape the attitudes and values of others; and the power to help liberate men and women from the shackles of ignorance so they may exercise their sovereign human right to decide their destinies.” This power should not be used to perpetrate and perpetuate barbarism.

*This article was slightly modified on 15 August 2011, 4:50 AM (GMT +8).

Mulling over “Kulô”

Art, all art, as the British writer Jeanette Winterson would remind us, is a foreign city, which is to say that it is fluent in tongues and steeped in traditions that inevitably require no small degree of adaptation and acclimatization on the part of those who seek a meaningful encounter with it. To behave as though art bore the onus of conforming to and confirming beliefs and expectations long held and cherished is to act like the boorish tourist who assumes, nay, demands that the locals speak his or her language, indicating a fatal combination of arrogance and ignorance that ought to be despaired at and deplored. And yet it is that very combination with which the past several days have been marked when one examines the clangorous—I hesitate to use the word “popular”—discourse that has erupted around the now-closed Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) exhibition “Kulô”, which, in addition to 31 other works of art intended to play off the convergence of the sesquicentennial of national hero Jose Rizal and the quadricentennial of the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, features Poleteismo, an installation by Mideo Cruz that is both fulcrum and field for what been not so much a debate than a protracted shouting match, with terms yanked out of context for maximum incendiary effect: “blasphemy” and “terrorism” on the one hand, and “moralist hysteria” and “religious myopia” on the other.

[Read the rest in Interlineal.]

Dear Mr. President, Proposals for Public and Public Schools

Filipino school kids

September 07, 2010

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III
President of the Republic of the Philippines

Dear Mr. President,

Before we state the reasons for writing this letter, let me introduce ourselves. We are third year high school students from Sacred Heart School – Hijas de Jesus, a private school in the city of Cebu. Stated in this letter are our proposals for the different aspects in Arts: dance, music, cultural arts, and Sports, written by different people.

We believe that every Filipino is proud to be one, every Filipino is proud to live in the Philippines, a place rich in history and culture. Truly the Philippines is a wonderful place but as we travel along its roads and intersection we see the “Hope of the Motherland”, our youth walking in droves as young as ten years sniffing a plastic filled with “Rugby”.  Teenagers nowadays wearing black with faces full of pierced needles either members of rival gangs known and dreaded in Cebu, the Crisp Gang or the Tau Gamma. Clinging to each other in brotherhood but resulting in gang wars thus death is imminent. Mr. President, our hearts bleed for them and we know yours as well. We are coming out with proposals to your office and do hope that this will be given attention with.

We also believe that a sense of self is created when a child can look at a piece of art that they created and feel pride. Children typically do not have a very good grasp on emotion and often do not know how to express what they feel. Typically, their emotion comes out in negative behavior or registration, which those things lead to punishment and belittlement. It is good for a child to express emotion through art. They may not know what they are feeling, but if you set them down and give them the task of making something that looks like how they feel, they will find release. In the end and if able to release emotion, the children will behave better and act their age having less punishment and more praise. Praise is the best way to boost a child. It’s a chain reaction. For art, the possibilities are endless.

One of the possibilities to promote the arts and sports talent of a student, is to improve the different resources needed. Resources for arts and sports are very important.

Art and Music Resources by Katrina Po

One of the many things Filipinos excel in is arts and music. To be good in arts and/or music takes skill and talent, which is given by God. As gifts from our Father above, we should maximize them and put them into good use and to do this, good and decent resources for arts and music are needed.

If a budget is set aside by the Government to supply adequate resources for arts and music to both public and private schools, more students will be encouraged to enhance their capability in arts and music. The enhancement of the skills of the Filipinos may make them competent and proficient artists who can and will be able to bring pride to our country.

With the use of proper resources, such as books as reference, appropriate art materials and musical instruments, Filipinos will be able to practice and enhance their skills in the arts and music area. Along with teachers to guide them, Filipinos would be able to develop their skills and capability in arts and music. With this, they can represent our country in international events and bring honor to the Philippines.

The students need reference to orient them. These references will be the guide and inspiration for the students.

The achievements of the Filipino artist may give us hope to aspiring which will inspire them to do better. The constant success of the Filipinos will give the Filipinos an even better reputation. The triumphs of the Filipinos will be a continuous reminder that Filipinos are talented and will be another reason to be proud Filipinos.

Sports Resources by Joanna Ramas and Danielle Cang

Another thing Filipinos excel in is Sports. In sports, it does not matter what social status you have or how intelligent you are. Excelling in sports come from pure skill. These skills are talents given by God to be nurtured and cherished. Thus, the need of adequate resources and facilities.
Sports are an important part of every society, every country and every part of our planet, just like Arts and Music. Sports are not only for leisure, but it also keeps us fit and healthy, this would assist our country since the people would be in good shape to work which would be great for our economy. Regular participation in indoor and outdoor games and individual sports provide sufficient exercises to the body.

There are a lot of schools nowadays lacking the needed resources and/or supplies for sports, not necessarily rackets, balls and etc. but also books and reference materials about sports and how to play them. This would really help students learn more about sports education the importance of sports should be recognized therefore old materials should be replaced with new ones. Students would be more encouraged to participate in sports since the materials are new. Sports indeed play a significant role in creating one’s character where people are much more mature and mentally developed.

In one way or another, everyone is involved in sports or some sort, whether they’re playing or watching a game or knows someone who does. Sports can help the country earn money; some professional athletes receive millions of dollars a year.

In many ways, sports define a society. They show what people are interested in watching other people do and what they will pay to see. They show how people can make a living by being athletic and entertaining other people. They give people ways to test their athletic skill against other people. Most of all, they give people something to focus on and follow that is a sort of release from heavy cares of everyday life.

Playing sports improves the Math skills in children. It develops leadership qualities and fosters a team spirit in them. Sports involve competition; they involve winning and losing. This exposes the players to both aspects of life, successes and failures.

If a budget would be set aside to provide proper sport facilities to both public and private schools, I believe more students will be motivated to intensify their athletic ability and become competent and skilled athletes that would give pride to our country. With proper training and equipment, the Filipino students would be able to enhance their capability of succeeding in sports and become globally competitive.

These athletes give hope to our people. If trained well and prioritized by our government, the possibilities are endless for these youth as they continue to give us another to be proud Filipinos.

The improvement of resources is not the only possible way to enhance or to improve the skills of the children today. There should also be different programs facilitated for arts, music and sports.

Art Programs by Janica Echavez

1.    Sining At Kultura Sa Barangay

Mr. President, if we have the Botika sa Barangay how about having Arts and Culture in every Barangay which can use the room facilities of the day care centers facilities which I know is a requisite in all barangays. Expressions of Arts in painting, dancing, singing and other forms of art can be facilitated then by volunteers within the barangay or tapping Student teachers from Public and Private Universities and Colleges taking up Arts major and the like to render mandatory OJTs or Practicum through teaching. This way Mr. President, we can give them a different alternative learning through the Arts. Mr. President, we saw the different expressions of Arts shown in Pilipinas Got Talent hosted by Kris Aquino which produces Val Bino, a balut vendor.

2.    Revival Of The Arts And Craft Subject In Schools

Mr. President, because of technology and the fast paced living we loosed grip of the very basics. This goes with the arts. I recommend to the Department of Education the revival of the Arts and Crafts subject back to the curriculum. This will someday give them alternative way in living. My mother told me that her mother used to stitch and embroider and she did not mind knowing that it can be a very good business eighteen years from now.

Sports Programs by Arielle Tan

I write to you in order to convince you that the development of sports programs should be promoted in private and public schools because sports have numerous mental and physical benefits. Mot only do they keep you fit but they can also relieve your mind from everyday pressures that represent school life. Sports also instill value in players by teaching them to follow rules, respect people in authority, accept defeat, and remain humble. Among the very many sports, these are the sports that I would like to propose:
•    Basketball – This sport can build up teamwork and cooperation within the group. Thus, harmony can be achieved.
•    Volleyball – This sport can develop one’s trust within one’s own ability.
•    Soccer – This strengthens the person’s physical and mental capabilities.
•    Tennis or Badminton – These sports can build up the person’s physical strength.
•    Swimming – This sport can teach people that keeping an eye forward should be down no matter what happens.

Music Programs by Gabrielle Climaco

I would like to propose that all schools should be required to have good music programs. As a student I personally feel that music plays an important role in my life. Not only does it serve as a form of entertainment but it also exposes different people to different cultures and styles of music because just like dance and many other forms of art, music is universal. I think that in this generation, people are greatly influenced by music and it is a major factor that contributes to our development as people. With music programs on learning how to play different musical instruments, choir groups and other practical activities, the students will be able to develop their capabilities in the music aspect. I think that schools that are able to give such programs will be more successful in molding students to be more mature and diverse people and also open up more opportunities for us in the future.

Dance Programs by Katrina Po

With music comes dance. Maybe some Filipinos are not talented in Sports or Music but in Dance, thus, the need of Music Programs in the private and public schools around the Philippines. Like Music, Dance can influence people and can expose Filipinos to various cultures and lifestyles. Dance can also help educate the Filipinos about the history of our country for the knowledge of the dance steps of the native dances has different interpretations that relate to our history. With dance troupes, dance classes and extra-curricular activities, which involves dancing, the students’ imagination and creativity expands and with this, the students become open-minded.

The different programs, indeed, will expand the knowledge of the students and scholarships are opportunities for the Filipino students to pursue their dreams. Scholarships give students the chance to enhance their knowledge, and their creativity.

Art Scholarship by Andrea Go

As a student, I recognized the importance of arts. It is a way for all of us individual to express ourselves, it is an important tool to examine and express our beliefs in light of artists’ version or perception of truth. It has the ability to transport us to a different time and place. It allows us to gain historical perceptiveness and understanding. Art allows us to appreciate different periods in history and their impact and significant in our world. Through scholarships, even the less-fortunate ones will be able to achieve their dreams for they should also be given the chance to express themselves.

Music Scholarship by Kezia Sucalit

As we all know there are certain people who are not good at academics and there are those who are good and talented at non-academic activities, like sports, arts and music. And we believe in the saying, nobody’s perfect.

Musically inclined people are truly blessed since there are people who are not really talented in Music. Music scholarships are really needed in schools since there are man students that are good in music. Unfortunately, some schools here in the Philippines do not sponsor scholarships like this.

Music scholarships will provide more opportunities for our less fortunate brothers and sisters that are talented in music to achieve their dreams. Scholarships will also encourage more children to study in schools since there will be a scholarship program which will help them be who they want to be. Parents will also enroll their child, who is believed to have a talent in music, to school. Applying for the scholarship will encourage students to do their best and will give students the chance to learn new things about music. Most importantly, those who want to pursue their dreams in the music aspect will be able to do so educated and with proper knowledge on what they are doing.

Dance Scholarships by Aerika Tan

As a student, I believe that the promotion of dance scholarships will help the character excellence of the Filipinos and this can create positive changes in the society through education. Education is very important, yes. So, credit should be given to the students, who have the talent and ability in dancing, by giving dance scholarships. God gave each one of us talents to show to people, and it is something we should be proud of. This is why I believe that giving scholarships t Filipinos can be a big help. The dance talents of the Filipinos can take them to international competitions, representing the name of our country. At the same time, Filipino audiences will be proud and will look up at these dancers as inspiration.

Culture is a part of who we are. It is what makes us Filipinos distinct. Without our culture, there will be nothing unique about us. Even though culture is who we are, it doesn’t mean we don’t have to learn about it. We can always be like this, but some may never know how it’s called or it’s importance or even how it makes us distinct. This is why Cultural Arts should be a part of the curriculum of the private and public schools around the Philippines.

Cultural Arts by Romina Ricardo

The cultural values of a community give it an identity of its own. A community gains a character and a personality of its own, because of the culture of its people. Culture is shared by the members of a community. It is learned and passed from the older generations to the newer ones. For an effective transfer of culture from one generation to another, it has to be translated into symbols. Language, art and religion serve as the symbolic means of transfer of cultural values between generations. Culture is a bond that ties the people of a community, and even a nation together. It is that one common bond, which brings the people of a community together.

Having said that, we would like to propose for a Cultural History and Art Program to be adapted into the Philippines’ high school curriculum, especially for that of the public education system.

Cultural History would serve as an academic discipline that combines communication, literary theory, media theory, film/video studies, cultural anthropology, philosophy, museum studies and art history/criticism to study cultural phenomena in our societies. This program will concentrate on how a particular phenomenon relates to matters of ideology & nationality, by two specific means:

1) Study through Theory
Through this, students will be able to understand the backgrounds, foundation and history of the elements of our culture – from dance, music, visual art, art through media, literary art, and cuisine – through a subjective means.

2) Study through Application
As stated, it will be the application and practicality of the theory studied. Then again, it will cover the aspects of dance, music, visual art, art through media, literary art, and even cuisine.

We believe that with this program, a deeper sense of nationalism will be instilled within the Filipino students. It will develop pride in one self’s nation and will definitely help steer away from the losing of one’s identity. Not only will it be beneficial to the students in the present, but also for the youth of the future, for this will be the legacy that is to be passed on to the next generations.

Today, there are nearly six billion people in the Philippines, more than half are uneducated and are living with dreams that cannot be pursued. If approved, these proposals will be a big help to so many Filipinos. Not only will those benefiting these will be helped, but also the economy of the Philippines. Those benefiting these will also be an inspiration to those aspiring ones. They will be a sign that we should not give up, a constant reminder that there is always hope.
We thank you, Mr. President, for the time you allotted to read this. We hope that our proposals will be taken into consideration. May God bless you, Sir, at all times.
Thank you once again and May you have a good day.

Sincerely yours,
Third Year High School Students
Sacred Heart School – Hijas de Jesus