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Peru: Art Exhibit Depicting Saints Causes Controversy and Possible Censorship

Approximately one month ago, the exhibit “Migration of the Saints” was inaugurated at the gallery Vértice located in the Lima neighborhood of San Isidro. The works by the artist Cristina Planas are iconoclastic in nature, and portrays the saints in an unconventional format. In the blog Palabras Van y Vienen II [es], M. Isabel Guerra interviews Planas, where she talks about why she chose this subject matter:

Los santos están en los altares, pero antes de estar allí fueron seres humanos y vivieron en esta tierra … Estoy disponiendo la galería como si fuera una gran iglesia antigua; en lo que sería el altar principal está en Señor de los Milagros … al lado derecho, “a la diestra del Señor”, a San Martín y Santa Rosa, los santos que son, digamos, oficiales, y a la izquierda está Sarita Colonia, la santa popular pero que no ha sido reconocida por el Vaticano.

en la actualidad ya no matan a nadie con espinas ni con clavos, sino más bien con armas de fuego, entre otras cosas. Por eso al Cristo Moreno lo he retratado como clavado de fusiles, en vez de coronado de espinas; a Sarita la he ubicado en su combi; a San Martín lo he caracterizado como un muchacho de barrio; y a Santa Rosa como a la mujer apasionada que es capaz de disfrutar de su proceso vital.

The saints are located on altars, but before they arrived there, they were human beings and lived on this earth … I am arranging the gallery as if it was a great antique church; and on the main altar is the Lord of the Miracles … “on the right hand side of the Lord” are Saint Martín and Saint Rosa, the saints, who are ‘official’, and on the left there is Sarita Colonia, the popular saint that has not been recognized by the Vatican.

Nowadays, they no longer kill people with thorns or with nails, but with firearms, among other things. That is why the Black Christ was portrayed as being nailed with rifles, instead of being crowned with thorns; Sarita was placed in her combi (public bus); Saint Martín was characterized as a man from the neighborhood; and Saint Rosa as a passionate woman capable of enjoying her vital processes.



Photo by Palabras Van y Vienen II and used with permission

The manner in which the saints were portrayed was not the only thing that attracted attention, but also because the saints were dressed only in their undergarments. This generated a wide variety of reactions, from those who were in favor of showing another side to the saints, one of being more human, to those who were offended because they considered that it was irreverent the way that the sacred figures were portrayed. However, the events took on another turn when prior to the exhibit's conclusion, the Municipality of San Isidro closed the gallery [es] alleging that there were problems with the operating muncipical license. The Director of the gallery, Rosario Wenzel, published a note in the blog Arte Nuevo [es] where she refuted some of the claims:

6. Debemos señalar que no es cierto que la Galería Vértice carezca de la respectiva Licencia de funcionamiento ni que no cuente con el Certificado emitido por Defensa Civil, aún cuando podrá haber existido un problema administrativo de actualización del RUC, el cual ya ha sido solucionado.

7. Es evidente que el cierre físico de la Galería Vértice se ha llevado a cabo por la presión de un grupo ultraísta, que no representa a la comunidad católica, de la cual somos respetuosos, y lo que es más grave, las personas que han expresado su disconformidad no han visitado la muestra y se han dejado llevar por la opinión tendenciosa de gente desinformada, fanática y llena de prejuicios, que estamos seguros no comparte la mayoría de las personas pensantes.

6. It is not true that the Vértice Gallery lacks the proper operating license or lacks the certification given by Civil Defense, and there could have been an administrative problem with the current validity of the RUC, but it has already been addressed.

7. It is apparent that the physical closure of the Vértice Gallery was caused by the pressure from a radical group, which does not represent the Catholic community, of which we are very respectful towards, and the most serious aspect of this matter is that those persons that have expressed their discomfort had not even visited the exhibit and allowed themselves to be swayed by the opinion of misinformed people, who are full of prejudices and we are sure that they do not share the opinions of the majority of people.

Amazilia of Perú Apartheid [es] does not see the basis for the scandal:

En principio no entiendo por que encuentran estas figuras ofensivas, aunque presentadas en forma poco convencional se les guarda el respeto debido, estan como estarian en cualquier otra iglesia, no se que es lo que les molesta más: la ropa interior o las expresiones faciales. Pero en los 2000 años de arte cristiano no ha habido trasgresiones mas bizarras?

I don't understand why they found those figures to be offensive, and even though they were presented in an unconventional format, they were still presented with the proper respect, as if they were in any other church. I don't know if they were upset for the underwear or for their facial expressions. In the past 2000 years of Christian art, hasn't there been more bizarre examples?

Some other bloggers see the other side, such as Guille of Pueblo Vruto [es] who writes:

O la señora Planas ignora el valor de los santos para las personas religiosas o intenta burlarse de ellas. Es obvio que para los fieles y devotos la gracia del santito radica en que se trata de un modelo de vida espiritual que no solamente reduce la importancia de lo físico (material) sino que, incluso, combate su centralidad… No se trata del simple afán de proponer una estética “alternativa”: claramente se subvierte la estética “corriente” (oficial, canónica, etc) con un anti-valor. Los santos de Cristina Planas no “migran”: se trastocan hasta la negación y el (auto) rechazo.

Either Mrs. Planas ignores the value of saints for the religious persons or she tries to make fun of them. It is obvious that for the faithful and devoted, the grace of the saints are found in that they are model for the spiritual life. This also includes the physical (material) aspect, which is important for their centrality… It does not deal with simply proposing a simple aesthetic “alternative”: clearly it subverts the “ordinary” aesthetic (official, canonical, etc.) with an anti-values aesthetic. The saints of Cristina Planas do not “migrate”: they alter towards the negation and the (self) rejection.

Many are left wondering about the cause-and-effect aspect of the closure of the gallery. Luis of Bloodyhell [es] writes:

Aún no tengo los suficientes elementos de juicio para saber si lo de Vértice fue una censura o no. Pero sí tengo los suficientes elementos para comprender que sería más interesante que los artistas se animaran -a la luz de estas expresiones últimas de, según se dice, intolerancia o ignorancia estética de los mal llamados “fanáticos religiosos”- no a decir que la religión es importante para el “pueblo peruano” o a admirarse del fervor de esta nación “católica”, sino a alertar y pensar sobre todo lo chueco y malsano que una religión es capaz de producir. O sea, es hora de ofender a la religión.

Hay un comentario que leí por ahí que me pareció muy lógico. Dice lo siguiente, parafraseo: “¿cómo así me piden respetar el arte cuando los artistas no respetan mis creencias?”. Muy cierto. Súper cierto. 100 bonus points. La respuesta es así: no, nadie pide que respetes el arte. Es más, nadie pide que respetes nada. Tu irrespeto es ilimitado, sin fronteras y puede contener toda la ira y el desprecio de lo que tu cerebro es capaz. Solo hay una restricción: cumplir la ley, escritas, aunque te parezca increíble, por los hombres, que pensaron cosas muy diferentes a Dios. Por lo tanto, no puedes ir a una galería de arte y quemar aquello que te parece ofensivo y que no respetas. Serías detenido por eso. Pero sí puedes decir y escribir sobre el arte todo lo que tú quieras. O, mejor, podrías ser un artista religioso y dedicar tus obras al Señor, obras que, claro, lo respeten. Dudo mucho que le importe, pero bueno, eres libre. ¿Y sabes qué? Esa libertad de expresarte no te la dio Dios: te la dieron los hombres.

I still don't have enough evidence to judge whether the (closure) of Vértice was censorship or not. I do, however, have enough evidence to understand that it would be more interesting if the artist would be willing to – in light of the latest intolerance and ignorance of the so-called “religious fanatics” – not say that religion is important for the “Peruvian people” or admire the fervor of this “Catholic” nation, but alert and reflect about all of the twisted and unhealthy aspects that religion is capable of producing. In other words, it is time to offend religion.

There is a comment that I read that appeared to be very logical. It says, paraphrased, “How can they ask me to respect art, when the artists don't respect my beliefs?” It is true, very true. 100 bonus points. The answer is the following: no one asks you to respect art. It is more, no one asks you to respect anything. You disrespect is unlimited, without borders, and can contain all of the anger and disdain that your brain is capable of. There is only one restriction: follow the law, even if it seems to be unbelievable, as man thinks differently than God. You cannot go to an art gallery and burn all that you think is offensive and that you don't respect. You will be arrested for that. You can, however, say and write all that you want about art. Or better, you can be a religious artist and dedicate you work to the God, works that would be respected. I doubt that it matters to you, you are free. You know what? That freedom of expression is not given to you by God, man gave it to you.

2 comments

  • I appreciate your writing about this. Why hasn’t the arts community risen up in defense of this injustice? In the states, when this kind of thing has happened, the artists do not remain silent, even though they sometimes lose. What is different. My suggestion is resistence.

  • […] Beitrag erschien zuerst auf Global Voices. Die Übersetzung erfolgte durch Martin Ruopp, Teil des “Project Lingua“. Die […]

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