Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December 1st - World AIDS Day - Why Not A Little Censorship to Celebrate?

So remind me again, what is the Republican agenda so far?
  • cut off employment benefits for the longterm unemployed while the unemployment rate is over 10%
  • get the wealthy-benefiting Bush tax cuts extended, at a cost of $700 billion
  • punish Federal workers by denying them raises for the next two years (when they already make less than the public sector)
  • raise the eligible age for Social Security
  • cut Social Security benefits
  • cut Medicare payments to doctors and hospitals
  • cut Medicare eligibility
  • keep those two Bush wars going so we (and the poor schlubbs whose countries we're fighting in) are drained of people, money, respect, patience, etc.
  • keep Don't Ask/Don't Tell despite support for repeal by more than 70% of active military members
  • keep mealy-mouthing about the deficit while not doing anything to lower it that is not on the backs of the sub-millionaires
  • keep the focus on the concerns of the 261 millionaires in Congress - nearly half the members* 
And, of course, reignite the Culture Wars and, start censoring art exhibitions again!

Yes, the Right Wing wants to wield their ugly political clout again by threatening to withhold funds if it sees something in an exhibition that offends their delicate, usually Christian sensibilities. This time it's a show at the National Portrait Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Museum. The show,  Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, includes a 4-minute excerpt from the video, Fire in My Belly by David Wojnarowicz and Diamanda Galas made in 1987 in honor of a friend who died of AIDS. (Wojnarowicz himself died of AIDS-related illness in 1992.)

Video Q and A
Are there genitals shown in the video?  NO (Whoops - I would say that I stand corrected, but maybe that's not an appropriate choice of words in this case. Correction: There is a brief, semi-obscured view of a penis at 2+ minutes. I must have blinked while watching or maybe I'm just not used to seeing those things.)

Are there sex acts shown in the video?  NO (Correction again: there does seem to be a sex act happening with the reported penis, but, again, very brief and pretty much obscured.)

Are there flag or cross burnings in the video?   NO, except I think there is a cross-shaped candle

Are there bodily fluids in the video?  NO 

Are there ants crawling on a crucifix?  YES. You guessed it. You win the prize of a forced withdrawal from the show!

(Thanks to an eagle-eyed viewer for the corrections. Who knew?)

The Censored Video:  Fire in My Belly by David Wojnarowicz and Diamanda Galas
Prepare to be shocked, I tell you, shocked

Get those ants off my crucifix, you hate-mongerers
The Catholic League (for Religious and Civil Rights), an organization that describes itself as "the nation's largest Catholic civil rights organization," led the protest against the video's inclusion in the show. On their website they call it a "Vile Video" but elsewhere they have called it "hate speech." This strikes me as pretty ironic because the whole show is a comment on the hateful practice of excluding LGBT portraiture from public viewing - especially at the National Portrait Gallery and other bastions of officialdom. Naturally, the staunch Conservative legions in Congress, apparently led by the weepy, orange John Boehner, jumped on this as an opportunity for the meaningless grandstanding that passes for congressional business these days.

Are those like the tears of a weeping crucifix?

Objection to Censorship by the National Portrait Gallery

(this space intentionally left blank)

A Study in Speed Caving 
They folded like a cheap suit, as the '40s expression goes, and pulled the video. Jonathan Katz, one of the co-curators of the exhibition, has issued a statement on a Facebook page protesting the censorship. Here's an excerpt from it:

I curated, with David C. Ward of the National Portrait Gallery, the groundbreaking exhibition Hide/Seek. Sadly, I was not consulted when the Smithsonian elected to censor a work by David Wojnarowicz, and then redoubled that insult by referring to “AIDS victims” in their statement—employing the very victimizing locution Wojnarowicz fought with his dying breath to oppose. (Ward was "consulted" but his objections were ignored.) An exhibition explicitly intended to finally, in 2010, break a 21-year-old blacklist against the representation of same sex desire in America’s major museums now, ironically, finds itself in the same boat. In 1989, Senator Jesse Helms demonized Robert Mapplethorpe’s sexuality, and by extension, his art, and with little effort pulled a cowering art world to its knees. His weapon was threatening to disrupt the already pitiful Federal support for the arts. And once again, that same weapon is being brandished and once again we cower. When will it be time for the decent majority of Americans stand against a far-Right fringe that sees censorship as a replacement for dialog and debate? There are larger principles at work, and generations hence will judge our actions today. (See the full statement here.)

Join the Protest
You can go to the Facebook page for more information including the names and addresses of Smithsonian officials and bone-headed Boehner (oh, right, Bayner). If you go there and click Like at the top of the page, you will add to the numbers.

Recommended ***** (five stars)
Finally, here is the link to Frenchy But Chic, a blog written by "a Los Angeles-based displaced Frenchy." Today's post about the censorship of the Smithsonian exhibit was something that I wished I had written myself. Can I give it any higher praise?

*A report, [about millionaires in Congress] based on financial disclosures covering the calendar year 2009, finds that 261 House and Senate members reported a net worth of more than $1 million. Of those, 55 had an average wealth of $10 million or more, and eight lawmakers reported holdings of $100 million or more.


Frenchy but Chic! said...

thank you for the comment and the link. The post was very difficult for me to write, very emotional, I'm glad it touched somebody.

Ishita Bandyo said...

Nancy, I have been disturbed by this development as well.... I am planning on doing a blog on the same issue, in a more generic, Art and Censorship issue! This whole tirade against the gays is something that harks back to the time when Giuliani and the CL did the same thing with the Sensation exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum! And the Mapplethorpe exhibition at the late 80's! I thought we have moved on but apparently the GOP stayed where they were decades ago!

Anonymous said...

Thank you but please correct the misinformation. The original video did not contain a soundtrack by Galas. Wojnarowicz and Galas never collaborated.

Please see statement from the Fales Library:

Davids original work may be seen here. This is the correct version:

Anonymous said...

There is a secondary issue that is causing confusion. This includes two pieces of important but entirely false information that has been circulating since the censorship began.

#1 The video posted on Youtube (from 2007) is not the version pulled from the gallery. It is a posthumous re-mix and the soundtrack is not original.

#2 Galas and Wojnarowicz, though they may have admired each others work, never met, never collaborated and were not friends.

Refer to these articles, please:

For authorized, original versions of the film, see the P.P.O.W. Gallery on Vimeo.