Posts Tagged ‘culture studies’

sacred music

From Christian hymns to Hindu chants, sacred music is an essential component of nearly all, if not all, religions. It is an expression of faith, an integral part of ritual, and a reminder to the musicians and listeners of the attributes of their Lord.

In Hinduism, kirtan – a form of call-and-response chanting –  is an “ancient participatory music experience” with the power to uplift through sound and vibration.

It is a form of praise worship involving the repetition of a mantra, starting slow and going faster and faster until the singers are caught up in energetic, joyous celebration.

The chanting of maha (great) mantras is believed to bestow peace, inspiration, and grace.

Mountain Hare Krishna – Krishna Das (2000) from the “Live on Earth…for a Limited Time” album

Rock On Hanuman – MC Yogi feat. Krishna Das (2008) from the “Elephant Power” album

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pop goes the world: art and soul

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  4 August 2011, Thursday

Art and Soul

Since when has an artwork created so much scandal and controversy as Mideo Cruz’s Politeismo, now on exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines?

The artist and his work. Image here.

It is a mish-mash of religious and worldly iconography that has divided viewers. The art world in general applauds the expression of the artist’s personal vision, while some Roman Catholics are indignant, with some lay Catholic groups even considering filing charges against the artist and the CCP to “stop (sic) the exhibit in 48 hours or face the legal consequences.”

In the case of Politeismo, religion + art does not necessarily equal religious art, the kind of art that fills our museums and private collections – exquisitely-carved wooden mild-faced saints in robes with eyes lifted to heaven or carried on a plate; paintings of miraculous scenes, Christ on his cross, or Mary stepping on a serpent, its fangs embedded in her white foot, her head wreathed in stars or roses.

Mideo’s art brings these deities and saints to the level of humans. And why not, one might say? That is the risk run when the object of worship is depicted as human. In this instance, the sacred + religious = sacrilegious, as its detractors claim.

Viewers observe the work at CCP. From the artist’s public Facebook page.

The outrage stems from prevailing cultural attitudes which insists on respect towards religion, especially the dominant Roman Catholic Church. In his paper “Filipino Values: Determinants of Philippine Future” (1990), Dr. Serafin Talisayon identified religiosity as one of Philippine society’s core values – “maka-Diyos, spirituality, religiosity, belief in miracles, devotional”. He also cites a Tsukuba University study (1980) that places the Philippines on the top of a list of countries and their spiritual/religious beliefs, followed by India, Brazil, and the United States.

Tagged with the label “Asia’s Only Catholic Country”, many Catholic Filipinos feel they have to live up to that.

On the other hand, US-based Filipino art collector Victor Velasco points out works of art such as Politeismo are created to a great extent in other countries. He mentions the issues “…Andres Serrano, Piss Christ, American Family Association, National Endowment for the Arts, Senators Helms and D’Amato; also Corcoran Gallery of Art, Robert Mapplethorpe; also Dread Scott Tyler and “What is the Proper Way to Display An American Flag?”

Of Mideo’s work, Velasco says, “I think the show is beyond Catholic images or iconography. It instead deals with every type of of ‘idolatry’. Hence, [the incorporation of elements such as] Mickey Mouse, Fernando Poe, Jr, Imelda Marcos, Obama. Is PNoy anywhere in the wall — he, who was voted into office mostly for being a symbol? It focuses on how symbols and images are potent (i.e. powerful therefore dangerous) devices in creating, conjuring, and perpetuating beliefs and worships.”

Part of the sprawling installation. From the artist’s public Facebook page.

Velasco put me in touch with the controversial artist himself. Here’s our question-and-answer exchange on the issue:

Q: “What is your reaction to the negative comments to your art – “blasphemy”, “sacrilege”, and so on?”

Mideo Cruz: “I’m still astonished about the entire incident because the particular artwork inside a gallery became an effective, provocative tool, [whereas] every artist [knows the reality] that very few people come to an enclosed gallery space.

“It is an existing work [of which] various versions were already exhibited, first at the UP Vargas Museum in 2002, at Kulay Diwa Art Galleries in 2005 wherein the exhibit was also featured in a Spanish TV, and in 2007 at the Nexus group exhibition in Loyola Heights, Quezon City. It is a part of a music video done in the same year, which is being aired until now. Similarly inspired projects were done in Zurich, Switzerland; Taipei, Taiwan; Sardinia, Italy; Hong Kong; China and; Vancouver, Canada.

“As a visual artist, the images I create contain more explanation than my words. Images are open to various interpretations on the basis of the viewer’s perspective, maturity, and imagination.

“I cannot please everybody. I cannot tell them exactly how they will look and translate my work but may I say, please don’t stop on the surface; if you will close your eyes upon seeing the images, there are more things to see.

“Sometimes we need to realize that what we are looking at is the mirror of our society and of ourselves. The uproar might be the unconscious denial of seeing ourselves truthfully in the mirror. The realities in our society are the real blasphemy of our own image, the blasphemy of our sacred self.”

Q:  “When you conceived this work, did you think the majority of Filipinos were ready for this kind of thing? Or did you go ahead knowing that there would be many negative comments?”

Mideo: “Michael Steiner, the Swiss movie director, used to tell me “Your works are not really for a Filipino audience, they may not be ready to see those images.” But when we will be ready? Some philosophers say that we are now leaving the era of post-modernism; the world now is talking about same-sex marriage and here in the Philippines we are still talking if it is morally right to use a condom. We are now the only nation that doesn’t have a divorce law.

“Next year the physicists in Geneva are expecting some new discoveries from the 70 million “god particles” from the Large Hadron Collider. Who would dare to do something outside convention if we will be afraid to go out of the box? We wouldn’t know that the sun is the center of the solar system if Copernicus was afraid to be tagged a heretic. People should not be afraid to introduce things outside the norm; the dialectics must continue and we should not be afraid of change.”

Taking pictures of the controversial work. From the artist’s public Facebook page.

Q:  “What is the majority of comments that you have received overall – more negative or positive?”

Mideo: “At first a lot of the comments were threats and personal attacks, which only strengthened the points of my work, but lately, some arguments are [shaping up], and personal attacks are dwindling down with more substantial arguments. I see everything as positive and the comments on blogs, social networking sites, and other media as an extension of the work in CCP in a newer context. This might be similar to how an artwork behaves and changes when transform to a document such as photograph and video. It is another kind of experience in perceiving the work. A lot of artists and people from the creative industry from here and foreign countries are now showing their support.”

Q:  “With this controversy, what would you say are the prevailing or dominant attitudes in the country when it comes to works that touch on religious matters?”

Mideo: “That’s where I started trying to understand the making of the sacred and how the people contribute to that. Then I reconstruct it with parallel meanings relevant to our life as people. It really depends on the audience how they perceive the images, there are various reactions of course.

“Most of the people who reacted violently haven’t seen the actual work nor try to read the signifiers more. Or some saw it first on TV where it already directed them to where they will focus their mind upon seeing the images. They are in another context and not in the context of an art space wherein the experience they will gain is open for critical discourse.

“One integral part is we are so afraid to use the phallic, whereas it is part of our ancient culture. Even in our own language it is a taboo to mention it.”

Q:  “Would you do this again – continue creating these kinds of works?”

Mideo: “The worst thing for an individual is to be affected by intimidation and stop doing the things he believes in.”

Politeismo is a mixed-tape of pop culture, politics, and Papa God. Image from the artist’s public Facebook page.

Q: “Do you have plans to show these works abroad? Or, what would be the fate of these artworks – are they for sale? If yes, do you already have a buyer or buyers? Do you think there are Filipino art collectors who would buy these kinds of works?”

Mideo: “No plans yet to show it again inside or outside the country. I have been collecting these“relics” since I was in secondary school, so most of these things will remain in my vault. A couple of years ago there were some local art collectors who showed interest in one of the work exhibited – the cross titled “Relic” – but [negotiations] didn’t prosper and I wasn’t that interested to give it up that time. I already sold some fragments of the installation I did in Zurich in 2008.”

I believe in freedom of expression. Stifling a country’s artists stifles its soul. Art is a reflection of the zeitgeist, and Filipinos in general are questioning the continued and pervasive influence of the Church in our society and culture. Witness the spirited debates on the reproductive health and divorce bills; on the vehicles given by a government agency to seven bishops.

Not only are the clergy and their assumption of moral ascendancy being questioned, but also those who seek to impose their Catholic beliefs on others, such as the Alabang Village homeowners’ association officers who sought to bar the sale of condoms in their area, a move met with opposition and derision from fellow residents.

Mideo and other artists who do similar work are exploring the way religious beliefs have become embedded in our culture. Where is sacrilege there? The Church feels threatened; how different is this from Jose Rizal’s time, as he portrayed in his novels? I saw photos of the artwork under fire, and I consider it pretty tame compared to what’s out there in the world.

I’d say we’re just catching up. Welcome to the rest of the world, Philippines. *** 

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pop goes the world: culture stock

POP GOES THE WORLD, By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 7 October 2010, Thursday

Culture Stock

Where resides a nation’s heart and soul?

This was the question that several university professors, media professionals, and I discussed the other night during a PhD class at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication. It stemmed from College of St. Benilde professor Rod Rivera’s report on theaters in Manila that screen films bordering on the pornographic.  There are those, he said, that claim that such theaters in Quiapo and Recto are a front for male prostitution.

From there, Dr. Jose Lacson segued to commercialism in television and film. Advertising executive Chitchat Diangson said that much of television content in dictated by what producers believe will sell, leading to the creation of mind-numbing programs like “Wowowee”. Professor Bea Lapa deplored the entertainment media’s unwillingness to raise the programming bar in standards and taste, while writer Nina Villena brought up the issue of media gatekeeping. Women’s development professor and staunch feminist Julienne Baldo decried the media’s reinforcement of negative stereotypes of gender and class, perpetuating cruel cycles of prejudice and bias that further retard national social development.

Prof. Julienne Baldo analyzes the poster of  ”Serbis” at a theater in Quiapo.

Which brings us back to our question and its possible answer. It is in art where commercialism does not hold absolute sway and the discourse on social issues may be expanded without the taint of capitalism and the imperative of profit. There are those of us who write, paint, make music, and sculpt not for money, but because we need to express the meanings and concepts that burn within us and cry to be expressed and physically manifested in forms that may be shared with others.

These forms – books, songs, paintings, theater plays – often do not translate into income for their creators, but that was not the point of their creation anyway. It is in a nation’s art that current social events and issues are poked, cut up into bits, and licked to find out what they taste like. What’s important to people? That is what floats up in the content being made nowadays, and is disseminated over channels such as the Internet.

Dulaang UP scored one such intellectually-shaking triumph with their recent hit production “Shock Value”, written by Floy Quintos and directed by Alexander Cortez. It’s been given a positive review by MST opinion editor Adelle Chua, who focused her piece on the play’s theme of the commercialization of television, and how producers of celebrity shows of mass attraction artificially manufacture the scandals and intrigues that make up its content.

“Shock Value” cast members sashay across the stage. (Dulaang UP photo)

Among its stars in its cast are John Lapus, Mylene Dizon, Andoy Ranay, Christian Alvarado, and the awesomely talented Sabina Santiago. As “Little Tweety Girl”, Santiago’s hilarious on-stage simulation of an orgasm, eyes rolling back in her head, demotes Meg Ryan’s performance in “When Harry Met Sally” to amateur status.

Dulaang UP’s next offering is “Isang Panaginip na Fili”, “an edgy, dreamlike interpretation” of the Jose Rizal novel El Filibusterismo by writer/director Quintos, which will run from November 24 to December 12 at UP Diliman’s Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater. Call (02)926-1349 or (02)433-7840 for tickets.

“Isang Panaginip na Fili” publicity still, courtesy of Dulaang UP.

A fresh take on heartbreak, loss, and recovery comes from writer Carljoe Javier by way of his non-fiction book The Kobayashi Maru of Love, with artwork and design by Adam David of the Youth and Beauty Brigade. It’s available at avalon.ph.

Says Carljoe: “I wrote The Kobayashi Maru of Love because, first, I was trying to understand (a recent) breakup, and I was trying to work through my feelings about it. Like any breakup, there are nasty emotions that follow, and I was going through all that. But I thought that if I was forced to apply aesthetic distance, if I was forced to try and be funny about it, that I would be able to cope better. And as I got back into the dating game, well, things were just funny and had to be written about.”

The book is indeed funny, but beyond that, it dwells on themes that nearly everyone who reads it can relate to. “I think that I’m talking about something universal,” says Carljoe, “and that’s loss. Pretty much everyone has gone through a heartbreak or a heartache. I guess that I was just trying to connect to that, to make the book not just about my own personal heartbreak, but to make it for everyone who’s ever been through it. Our individual experiences are different, but the hurt is the same. So I wanted to write a book that talked about that.”

Carljoe’s next book, Geek Tragedies, will be published by UP Press next year. “I have a number of projects in the works,” he says, “among them a book I hope to write about the Filipino diaspora and the effect that having parents abroad have on kids; a book about me, a fat man trying to get healthy; and a novel.” A freelance writer and editor of the Philippine Online Chronicles, he is also taking his MA Creative Writing at UP’s College of Arts and Letters.

Art in this country is alive and well and a thriving part of our culture, a part that is not a slave to commercialism but is free to speak out on social matters, the human condition, and what lives inside the Filipino heart and soul. ***

Photo above, L-R: (front) writer Bambi Harper, UP professor emeritus Dr. Cristina Hidalgo. (back) writers Waldo Petralba, Jeena Marquez, and Carljoe Javier.

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