Philippine 'phallic' art exhibit forced to close

Imelda Marcos at the Poleteismo exhibition in Manila's cultural centre on 8 August 2011 Imelda Marcos founded the cultural centre now holding the exhibition

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A controversial art exhibition in the Philippines pairing religious icons with phallic symbols has been forced to close after the president intervened.

The exhibition - which features a crucifix with a model penis attached - has provoked outrage in the mainly Catholic country.

President Benigno Aquino said the show, which launched in June, was offensive.

A day earlier former first lady Imelda Marcos joined the growing protest over the exhibition.

She said Mideo Cruz's exhibition at Manila's cultural centre had "desecrated" something sacred.

Mr Aquino said that he had called the government-run centre to tell staff that he opposed the artwork.

"I did stress the idea that there are rights but if those rights hurt the rights of others, there is something wrong and that is not covered by the law.

"I reminded them that there is no freedom that is absolute," he said.

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The exhibition, entitled Poleteismo or Polytheism, includes a statue of Jesus with the ears of Mickey Mouse, and a wall collage featuring images from Christ and the Virgin Mary to the Statue of Liberty and US President Barack Obama.

Mr Cruz says it is intended to be about the worship of icons.

"This 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," said the Filipino artist, referring to the 300 years of Spanish rule that brought Catholicism to the Philippines and the current influences from the US.

Mr Cruz admitted he wanted to provoke a reaction but has been surprised by the strength of the response, reports the BBC's Kate McGeown in Manila.

He has received death threats and hate mail, and one of his pieces has been vandalised.

Mrs Marcos is one of the country's main patrons of the art and founded the cultural centre in the 1970s when her husband Ferdinand was president. She saw the exhibition for herself and said she was "shocked" by it.

"There were so many symbols of the male organ there - something sacred to be desecrated. It is sad, and it should not happen here in the cultural centre," said the 82-year-old.

Roman Catholic leaders are threatening to sue Mr Cruz and the exhibition organisers.

The cultural centre had insisted it was fulfilling its mandate to cultivate artistic expression.

But it later said in a statement: "With an increasing number of threats to persons and property... the board of the Cultural Centre of the Philippines have decided to close down the main gallery."

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