The Phallus and the Gods

A BBC news report on the controversial “phallic” art exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines landed on the website’s top ten most read articles earlier today, most likely because of the word “phallic” on the headline. And then the lead was about Imelda Marcos joining in on the criticisms of Mideo Cruz’ works. Trust Imelda to steal the limelight even from a bunch of reportedly sacrilegious penises.

I haven’t seen the exhibit yet but I’ve heard about how some offended people went ballistic at the venue and a couple even smashed an artwork and tried to set it on fire. Okay… They must have been really REALLY offended to go as far as attempting to commit arson in the CCP. Some of my friends, even those who aren’t Catholics, also found it repulsive and disrespectful. Others said Cruz was just an insecure artist wannabe who desperately wants attention.

I can understand the shock value and the almost instinctive repugnance elicited by an image of Jesus with a wooden phallus glued on his forehead or a crucifix with a penis attached to it. When I was in college and was a hardcore, Bible-toting, Hillsong-singing, Rick Warren-quoting church junkie, my roommate then thought it was hilarious to ask me this: Did Jesus masturbate?

Ah the blasphemy of the heathen! I wailed as I fervently stormed heaven with supplications for the salvation of her soul (and maybe a little bit of imprecatory prayers because I was so mad that she used Jesus and masturbation in the same sentence). Now that my frenetic religious extremism has mellowed down, that actually sounds like a valid question. Or not. But I’m not calling on God anymore to have a lightning bolt strike my former roommate’s ass.

I found the question offensive then because it dared to associate deity with something that’s perceived as crude, filthy and well, “sinful.” And I guess that’s also why people were just so furious at the CCP exhibit. But I still wonder though, why is a sex organ instinctively branded as blasphemous, filthy and sinful and should not be associated with deity? From what I remember in my high school Social Studies class, the phallus is a symbol of the divine in Hinduism.

Since Cruz entitled his exhibit Polytheism, maybe that’s a message he’s trying to convey, a juxtaposition of various representations of humanity’s gods? And is that why people are furious, because he associated the monotheistic belief of Christianity with the polytheism of the Hindu religion? Or is it merely something like “Penis = Kadiri! Bastos! (gross and obscene).”

Don’t get me wrong. I have no illusions of judging the merit of his art since I’m nowhere near the position of being able to do that. My artistic capabilities are somewhere along the level of stick figures drawn by four-year-olds. I’m just trying to step back and figure out if maybe there’s something else there other than the supposed blasphemy. Maybe he’s not just being a dick (pun intended) and he really has something to say. And maybe before we try to burn something down, we should at least make an effort to understand it and try to see it from the perspective of the other side.

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