- Cultural activist Carlos Celdran dies in Madrid at age 46
- His wife Tesa confirmed his passing on her Facebook account, saying that the performance artist died of natural causes
- Known for both his ‘Damaso’ protest and his numerous art performances, many have paid tribute to the Celdran
Cultural activist and performance artist Carlos Celdran has died on Tuesday, October 8, 2019, his wife Tesa confirmed. He was 46 years old.
“As the family is making arrangements to bring him home, no details can be announced yet. Only that he passed from natural causes,” his wife Tesa said in a Facebook post.
Since the late January 2019, he had lived in Madrid; 5 months after the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeals that found him guilty of violating Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code (offending religious feelings).
On Sept. 30, 2010, Celdran staged a protest inside the Manila Cathedral during an ecumenical service attended by Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, the Papal Nuncio, former Ambassador to Rome Henrietta De Villa, and leaders of different Christian denominations.
Dressed as the Filipino national hero Jose Rizal, the reproductive health advocate held up a sign with the words “Damaso” written in big bold letters. This sign was in reference to the villainous priest in Rizal’s famous novel “Noli Me Tangere,” who stood for the ills of the Catholic Church in the Philippines while under Spanish rule. Celdran was protesting the church’s interference in efforts to pass the reproductive health law.
Lay Catholics had filed a blasphemy case against Celdran and filed a case against him. The decision to send Celdran to prison was criticized by human rights advocates and called it “a setback for free speech in the Philippines,” when in fact the country prides itself for its outstanding democracy.
HIS WORKS AND HIS LEGACY
While not dressed as Jose Rizal, he was known for “If These Walls Could Talk,” a performance experience in the guise of a walking tour in Intramuros, Manila, which ran for 17 years.
“It is a show that fuses historical narratives, video art, and immersive theater to enlighten viewers about Manila’s history between the 14th century until World War II,” Celdran said in his official website.
According to reports, a sequel titled “Livin’ La Vida Imelda,” an hour-and-a-half long monologue, was featured in New York, Toronto, Copenhagen, Penang. However, it was censored at an art fair in Dubai in 2012, where his show was canceled for alleged “un-Islamic” content.
In February 2016, he collaborated with Viva Manila and the Intramuros Administration to spearhead the Manila Transitio 1945, a multimedia art event to commemorate the Battle of Manila. And like most of Celdran’s projects, the event was “pay-as-you-can” – a great effort to reach out to a wider group of people.
Celdran was known as a performer and an artist through and through. The case prompted Celdran to move to Madrid, where he gave walking tours he called “The Jose Rizal Walking Tour of Madrid.” He wrote a note on his Facebook page called “Manila Man in Madrid,” explaining what made him leave the country.
“There are many reasons why I left my beloved Intramuros, but it is mostly due to an aggressive political climate and the personal risks upon my basic right to freedom of speech and expression,” he wrote.
He thanked those who have supported his advocacies over the years, and said “Abrazos fuertes (big hugs) and hope to see you all in Madrid where I begin a new chapter of my life.”
Many have extended their condolences to the Celdran’s family, including Vice Presient Leni Robredo. In a tweet, she also thanked Celdran for his contribution to promoting the country’s rich history and culture.
“My deepest condolences to the family and friends of Carlos Celdran. I will always be grateful for his support and appreciative of his contributions to raising the awareness of our fellow Filipinos regarding our history and culture. He will be missed,” she tweeted.
Senator Risa Hontiveros also mourned the death of the activist, commemorating that he was an integral part of the reproductive health law.
“Will surely miss you, @carlosceldran. You marched w/ us, fought w/ us for the Reproductive Health Law. This photo was taken in 2014 in Baguio, kasama natin @ffreethinkers, men for women’s rights. Nakakalungkot, gone too soon. But rest in peace. Itutuloy namin ang laban mo,” -ABS CBN/Rappler