New Internationalist

Condom-wearing Jesus causes uproar in the Philippines

Religious icons for sale in the Philippines, by The Wandering Angel under a CC Licence

Religious icons for sale in the Philippines. Photo by The Wandering Angel under a CC Licence.

Jesus Christ, nailed on the cross, has a penis covered by a bright red condom.

On the same wall beside where the giant crucifix hangs there are different posters of Mother Mary and Jesus Christ mixed with images of Mickey Mouse, US President Barack Obama and the Statue of Liberty.

This is ‘Poleteismo’ (Polytheism), an art installation by 37-year-old visual and performance artist Mideo Cruz.

The installation is now the centre of intense uproar from conservative Catholics, some of whom threatened to kill Cruz.

Cruz, a laidback guy living a bohemian life, now fears for his life, saying that fanatics may put a bullet on his head, just as John Lennon’s killer did to the Beatles star.

The exhibit opened at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), a government-owned institution for culture and the arts which was the project of former First Lady Imelda Marcos in the 1970s. Imelda, known for her lavish lifestyle, is the wife of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Now a Congressional representative in her home province in the northern Philippines, Imelda asked the CCP to shut down the exhibit, saying that art should only be beautiful.

A viewer, perhaps a conservative Catholic, has vandalized the artwork.

Eventually, CCP closed the exhibit, giving in to pressure and threats, a move widely criticized by local artists.

Yet religious groups, dressed in creaseless white robes, continue to condemn what for them is a blasphemous piece of art, forgetting that freedom of expression is fundamental and that it is this same freedom that allows them to practise their religion in public.

Indeed, the Catholic Church in the Philippines is missing the point.

Cruz’ artwork is merely a reflection of what this predominantly Catholic country has become; of how the practice of Christianity in the country has been reduced to worshipping religious icons, or a sort of polytheism.

‘This [installation] speaks about objects that we worship, how we create these gods and idols and how we in turn are created by our gods and idols,” Cruz said in an interview with Reuters.

In the same interview, Cruz explains that the giant crucifix with a penis that can be moved up and down symbolizes the patriarchal nature of Philippine society, where men continue to be worshipped, something that the country’s Spanish colonizers bequeathed.

As I write, there is an ongoing Senate investigation on the matter and Catholic conservatives are ganging up on Cruz.

Little do they realize, however, that Cruz’ work reflects the Philippines’ self-contradictions and ambiguities, excesses and deficiencies.

The truth hurts, of course.

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  1. #1 ciderpunx 18 Aug 11

    It sounds like a thoughtful piece of artistic expression -- would love to see a picture of the piece. I'm not sure why the senate should be involved at all sounds like the same sort of ugly kneejerk populism that we're seeing here over throwing away our basic democratic freedoms cos of a bit of looting! Plus ca change.

  2. #2 reasonwhy 18 Aug 11

    What do you think Jesus would think of it?

  3. #3 Katie Gargett 26 Aug 11

    I heard is said ’If a government banned education, the birth rate would go up’ When is the Pope going to be more compassionate by promoting contraception? Most of the poorer countries are Catholic and have the highest birth rate with the associated poverty issues.

  4. #4 reasonwhy 31 Aug 11

    Does the Philippines have a high abortion rate? Condoms do not make much of a difference in the UK with 200,000 abortions a year

  5. #5 hamandpeaches 29 Sep 11

    @reasonwhy - ’Condoms do not make much of a difference in the UK’? I'm afraid I have to disagree with you. To back up your statement, do you have any statistics on what the abortion rate would be in the UK without condoms? I can see what you are trying to say, but I completely disagree. Just because abortions are still happening does not mean that condoms are ineffective.

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About the author

Iris Gonzales a New Internationalist contributor

Iris Cecilia Gonzales is a Filipino journalist and blogger. At present, she covers economic news for a Manila broadsheet, but she also writes other stories here and there. She has been blogging since 2004 on various issues including women and children and human rights. She is among the winners in the TH!NK 3 global blogging competition organized by the Netherlands-based European Journalism Centre.

You may email her at [email protected]

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