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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Censorship vs Ownership?

Once again, I am late in posting about an issue. I have tons and tons of things to do and I had no time to blog. But I think I have to say my piece about this one.

I am talking about the alterations done on a mural of the Neo-Angono Artists which was commissioned, ironically, by no less than the National Press Club to commemorate press freedom in the country. The alterations were made prior to the unveiling of the mural by President Arroyo. Like as if the president was a child who should see no evil, hear no evil. That she should not be made aware of the things surrounding her. Like an alibata tattoo would spell a lot of negativity on her that it would ruin her day and not run the country well.

Naturally, the artists cried foul over the "defilement" of their "obra maestra" saying that it was censorship at the very least. The NPC countered that the contract they have with the artists was clear - that the painting should not depict any political ideology and that the artists did not adhere to what was in the contract. It argued further that it commissioned the painting, hence it is within its right to do whatever it pleases. The issue has spawned a controversy on who is right.

As an artist, I have always condemned censorship. Every Juan dela Cruz, who is of legal age, should be free to express himself/herself, as it is his/her right to view and listen to what there is and judge for himself/herself what is appropriate or not. But that is me as an artist, therefore, a biased opinion. I have to look at it from a more objective point-of-view.

Is the NPC right in its claim that because it paid for the mural, they have the power to alter it? In his article entitled Picasso and Diego Rivera and the art of war, Ruben Pangalangan says:

The National Press Club (NPC) apparently thinks that just because it paid for the mural, it has the power to alter it as it wishes. The NPC must realize that ownership of the thing does not mean ownership of the copyright... The ownership of the NPC is limited to the physical thing, which it may sell like any other property -- but only the artists, as copyright owners, have the right to transform their art work. The owner may only keep the work “as is.” Transforming it is an exclusive “economic right” of the artist.


I agree completely! A work of art is not a piece of toy which someone has bought at a department store to which the owner can do anything he/she pleases. Together with the work of art is the philosophy/ideology of its creator and the time, perspiration and blood consumed in the process of its creation. For these, the art work should be respected. After all, if an artwork is not to the liking of someone, said someone can just ignore it.

In the case where someone commissions an artwork, it should be understood that the agreement carries with it the implied trust placed by the buyer on the creator, not only with the latter's aesthetic philosophy/style but the entire package as well when there is no explicit agreement to the contrary. An artist afterall is a social and, as Picasso put it, "a political animal"

Picasso said: “What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only eyes, if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he is a poet…? Far from it: … he is also a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world …. How could it be possible … with a cool indifference to detach yourself from the very life which they bring to you so abundantly? No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.”



The NPC claims that the artists agreed with their instructions that the work should not contain any political ideology. Granting that this is true, the artists counter that during the time they were making the mural, none of the NPC people came to check on its progress. Now that would have spelled a lot of difference, wouldn't it? Again, if the artists' claim is true, then NPC has been remiss of their responsibility. By failing to guard its "investment", it can be implied that they trusted the judgment of the artists and will abide by whatever the outcome of the work they have commissioned will be. Besides, is showing current events and history a political ideology?

Are the artists correct in protesting the vandalism committed on their work? I believe that they are.

...the artist has “moral rights” to maintain the integrity of his work and oppose “any distortion, mutilation or other modification of … his work … prejudicial to his honor or reputation.” Indeed, moral rights may not be waived entirely, especially if the effect is “to use the name of the author with respect to a work he did not create.” The NPC may be liable for damages, criminal penalties and fines for the infringement of their intellectual property rights.


My greatest displeasure with the NPC stand is that I perceive it to be ignorant of what a work of art is. That an artwork is actually bigger than its dimensions. Given the right time and exposure, a work of art will begin to embody a culture, a nation's collective aesthetic ideal, a repository of a culture's philosophy and way of life, and in this case, its history. Taken in this perspective, a work of art may, for the time being, be owned by a cerain individual or group, but in due time will be owned by the people.

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17 Comments:

Blogger ipanema said...

Did the artist signed anything? If he did, the NPC has the right to do that. If he didn't sign, they have no business to alter it at all.

That's the crap of commissioned painting. Especially if you have pesky people telling an artist what to do. That is simply wrong. As for who is right, I just need to know if he signed something. That's the legal loophole.

I think it was meant to impress the President. What for? Suckers all.

4:59 AM  
Blogger rolly said...

ipanema I don't think the artists have signed anything to that effect. What artist would agree to have his work altered?

10:07 AM  
Anonymous siu said...

tito rolly, the artist retains the copyright or economic right of his work and therefore only he and he alone can alter,or create a derivative work, or an adaptation based on, the original. I believe this rule even extends to commissioned work. My opinion- unless there was an express agreement for the neo-angono artists to sell their copyright along with the artwork - there clearly was an infringement committed by the NPC.

11:10 PM  
Blogger rolly said...

siu Exactly! What artist would sell his/her copyright with their work? The NPC not having visited the progress of the work was remiss in its obligation to guard its "investment", implicitly agreed to whatever the outcome of the work would be.

And yes, no artist would agree to having his/her work defiled by another. I wonder who agreed to make the alterations. I wouldn't because it is unethical.

4:34 AM  
Blogger R Panaderos said...

It's a damn shame that the National Press Club, of all institutions, would do such a thing. Sumisipsip ba sila kay GMA? Why? What for? Martial law ba uli sa atin? Eh ano ngayon kung mayamot si Gloria? Who cares? She hasn't been doing a good job of running the country anyway. Sorry, Rolly for the rant.

10:30 AM  
Blogger rolly said...

R. Panaderos It's okay. I, too, was ranting.

12:04 PM  
Blogger watson said...

Only in the Philippines eh, Tito Rolly?

7:38 PM  
Blogger rolly said...

Watson If by that you meant the irony of the curtailment of expression by the very painting that is supposed to honor press freedom, yes!

12:29 AM  
Blogger BatJay said...

hahaha. sana ginawa na lang nilang "PRESS HERE TO EJECT"

nakakainis kasi.

8:37 AM  
Blogger rolly said...

batjay nainis ka rin? Ako din eh

9:16 AM  
Anonymous BlogusVox said...

NPC officials acted like Potemkins, trying to ingratiate themselves on our dear “Catherine”. Even to the point of sacrificing the institution it supposes to uphold.

I was an editorial cartoonist in our school newspaper. But my work sometimes undergoes several revisions before being approved. Our Chief will cite “this is against the school admin”, “this is against the government”, “to political” etc, etc. In the end I resort to draw “Sanrio” type cartoons. Pa-cute na lang rather than waste my time.

5:43 PM  
Blogger rolly said...

blogusvox Welcome to my blog.

you have just shared the nightmare of an artist who wants to say something but can't because the powers that be wouldn't allow him/her. Very frustrating indeed

9:20 PM  
Anonymous BlogusVox said...

“the artist retains the copyright or economic right of his work and therefore only he and he alone can alter, or create a derivative work, or an adaptation based on, the original.” - siu

Mr. Rolly, based on siu’s comment, does the artist’s right have time limit (expiration) like patent rights of an invention?

Twenty years ago I did an illustration used as a background for a “love poem” in our school newspaper. It portrays two doves perching on a tree branch. They huddle in such a way that their bodies form a heart. Two years back, while I was on vacation in the Philippines, I saw that same drawing on a greeting card.

6:33 PM  
Blogger rolly said...

blogusvox Siu knows the law well as he is a lawyer. Anyway, re your question, I think the answer is yes. As far as I remember, a work of art starts to be public domain after 50 years. The thing is, handa ka bang gumastos and fight it through? Kilala mo ba kung sino ang gumawa/kumopya? Do you have the resources, financially and the emotional burden a litigation would bring? After all, ang dove naman e matagal na ring ginamit to signify love e sa kasimplehan ng structure nito, pwedeng pwede na isiping gawing heart ang dalawa. Kaya baka mahirap patunayan sa korte.

6:57 PM  
Anonymous BlogusVox said...

Yes, you’re right. Headache lang ito. “Sour graping” aside, I got a hundred more sketches and drawings in my scrapbook. Ipamana ko na lang sa daughter ko. Thanks for the advice.

Ka Rolly, its frustrating that I can’t view your works. There’s a firewall in the kingdom that filter out pictures on some web sites. I content myself na lang on reading the praises you got from other commenters.

3:45 PM  
Blogger rolly said...

blogusvox buti ka pa nakapagtago ng sketches. Wala ako nyan kahit isa. Patingin.

Subukan mo sa isang cybercafe. Makikita mo yung mga yun and tell me what you think. Okay? :-)

10:44 AM  
Anonymous BlogusVox said...

My scrapbook is there in the Philippines. If go on vacation, I'll digitize it and send some to you.

I'll be back here as soon as I find your works.

2:51 PM  

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