The art warrior Carlos Celdran was in Vancouver in 2011 to do a sample of his walking tour. He is shown here in his signature Padre Damaso attire. ‘Damaso’ is the corrupt priest in Rizal’s novel, ‘Noli Me Tangere’. (All photos by Tulayan , Facebook)

Updated: October 9, 2019, 7:40 AM

Vancouver, B.C.

Art can change society – Celdran

Opinion

By Ted Alcuitas

One of the Philippines’ most iconic figures died yesterday (October 7) in Madrid, Spain, where he was in self-exile less than a year ago. He was 46.

Carlos Celdran, best-known for his popular walking tour of Manila’s Intramuros died of natural causes according to  his wife Tess, reports from Manila say.

Celdran with RJ Aquino in Vancouver. (Photo: RJ Aquino, provided)

Celdran left the Philippines earlier this year apparently disillusioned by the Catholic church’s persecution. He was convicted under an archaic law in 2010 for disrupting a  mass inside the Manila Cathedral while doing his tour.

He would have been sentenced to jail but the appeal has not been heard before he left for Spain.

Celdran in Vancouver in 2111. (Facebook photos by Tulayan)

He had started a walking tour of Madrid to retrace the life of the Philippines’ national hero, Jose Rizal, who lived in Madrid during his studies abroad.

The passionate and radical Celdran was in Vancouver in 2011 on the invitation of Vancouver’s Tulayan in partnership with Toronto’s Kapisanan. He did a well-attended mini-walking tour of Vancouver’s downtown dress in his signature ‘Padre Damaso’ outfit and top hat.

Social media is abuzz with speculations of foul play in his death. He has been hounded by pro-Duterte trolls and threatened with death in Facebook. 

In a 2013 interview in the TV program ‘Wasak’, he revealed that he had received death threats through his cell phone after his rift with the church.

Two days before he died, he twitted this:

Carlos P. Celdran

October 6 at 10:47 PM ·

Twitter removed my post sharing this article and expressing my feelings about it. Sharing it again. Will rephrase my sympathies. Don’t get well soon.

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We  were fortunate to take his walking tour before his departure for Spain. It was an enjoyable and revealing experience to be taken through the dungeons of Intramuros and see where Jose Rizal was imprisoned before he was lead to his death before a firing squad at the Luneta.

We also learned that it was Dominican friars who made sure that Rizal was dead and gave him his last rites.

I could sense Celdran’s passionate anger against the theocracy promoted by the church, ultimately resulting in his departure from a country he loved so much.

He believed strongly that art can change a country and for that reason he was obsessed with showing the ruins of Manila caused by World War 2.

He believed that the story of Manila’s forgotten total destruction by the American forces is an “urban psychological trauma” that still haunts Filipinos to this day.

Filipinos owe much to Carlos Celdran and hopefully his legacy will live on.

From his website:

About Carlos

Mr. Celdran is a visual artist, performance artist, writer, and activist from Manila, Philippines. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (Painting 1996), he is known for producing works that use the City of Manila as its primary subject and as his primary stage.

Much like the Philippine capital where he lives, Mr. Celdran’s works are melange of styles and influences; He utilises various artistic processes to express his relationship with the city that surrounds him. His ideas are rooted in art history and expressed though paintings, installations, performance art pieces and interventions around the city itself.

His art has brought him around the world, sometimes with much controversy along the way. His works have been produced on the Off-Broadway stage in New York City as well as censored by the morality police in the United Arab Emirates. His obsession with Manila has resulted in jail time for “offending religious feelings” and the creation of the first ever Manila Biennale inside Intramuros, Manila’s 400 year old Spanish citadel.

“If These Walls Could Talk”, his most popular work, is a performative experience in the guise of a walking tour, 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. At 17 years, It is easily the longest running one man show in Manila. This work has been featured in various travel publications like “Travel and Leisure”and consistently featured as one of the top three things to do in Manila on “TripAdvisor.”

“Livin’ La Vida Imelda”, is a continuation of “If These Walls Could Talk”. This one hour and a half long monologue is an architectural and geopolitical adventure from post-war Manila until present day. “LLVI” has been produced in Toronto, Copenhagen, Penang in 2015, and at the Clurman Theater on NYC’s Theater Row in 2014. This performance work was marked only once by a sobering incident of censorship at Art Dubai back in 2012 where his show was shut down for supposedly “un-Islamic” content. The charges were cleared the same day.

But his most shocking work to date was “Damaso”, a performance piece at the Manila Cathedral back in 2010. This work combines the imagery of Philippine National Hero Jose Rizal and that of Father Damaso – the antagonist friar of Rizal’s novel, “Noli Me Tangere”, that has become synonymous to the historical abuse and impunity of the Catholic clergy. On September 29, 2010. Mr. Celdran dressed up as Jose Rizal, brandished a placard with the friar’s name, “Damaso” and raised it over his head in front of the altar while all the Bishops of the Catholic Bishops Conference were presiding over an ecumenical meeting. After incarceration and a two-year trial, Mr. Celdran was convicted of Article 133 of the Philippine Penal Code in 2014. He faces one year, one month, and eleven days in prison for “Offending Religious Feelings”.

Mr. Celdran has worked as a set designer, cartoonist, illustrator, collage artist, before finding his place as the self appointed spokesperson and resident artist of Intramuros. Currently, he is working on doing a video installation for “If These Walls Could Talk” for the Yamaguchi Centre for Arts and Media (Opens December 15) and on a work called “Guadalupe de Manila”, an assemblage of paint, magazine cut-outs, wood, and video projection.

Today, Mr. Celdran lives and practices his art in Madrid, Spain.