Thursday, December 2, 2010
Fire in My Belly by David Wojnarowicz, Diamanda Galas
This got censored, in Washington, D.C.
Just like Mapplethorpe in 1989. and the Gang of Four.
Robert Mapplethorpe. Wojnarowicz, Diamanda Galas.
If you don't know who they are, first of all, you're clueless; second, find out about them if you don't.
Two trillion on wars, and some 20-year-old East Village poverty super-8 classic with chilling vocals by the most piercing clarity, combined with a frenetic montage of the experience of their abuse during the AIDS war, SCARES the reichwing into censoring this art.
Because they have nothing better to do? Now?
This fuss is about the larger topic of the show: Gay love, and images of it. The headline that ran over coverage of the matter on the right-wing Web site CNSnews.com mentioned the crucifix - but as only one item in a list of the exhibition's "shockers" that included "naked brothers kissing, genitalia and Ellen DeGeneres grabbing her breasts." (Through a bra, one might note, in an image that's less shocking than many moves by Lady Gaga.) The same site decries "a painting the Smithsonian itself describes in the show's catalog as 'homoerotic'. "
Against all odds, the stodgy old National Portrait Gallery has recently become one of the most interesting, daring institutions in Washington. Its 2009 show on Marcel Duchamp's self-portrayal was important, strange and brave. "Hide/Seek," the show about gay love that it opened in October, was crucial - a first of its kind - and courageous, as well as being full of wonderful art. My review of it was a rave.
Now the NPG, and the Smithsonian Institution it is part of, look set to come off as cowards. Tuesday, after a few hours of pressure from the Catholic League and various conservatives, it decided to remove a video by David Wojnarowicz, a gay artist who died from AIDS-related illness in 1992. As part of "Hide/Seek," the gallery was showing a four-minute excerpt from a 1987 piece titled "A Fire in My Belly," made in honor of Peter Hujar, an artist-colleague and lover of Wojnarowicz who had died of AIDS complications in 1987. And for 11 seconds of that meandering, stream-of-consciousness work (the full version is 30 minutes long) a crucifix appears onscreen with ants crawling on it. It seems such an inconsequential part of the total video that neither I nor anyone I've spoken to who saw the work remembered it at all.
But that is the portion of the video that the Catholic League has decried as "designed to insult and inflict injury and assault the sensibilities of Christians," and described as "hate speech" - despite the artist's own hopes that the passage would speak to the suffering of his dead friend. The irony is that Wojnarowicz's reading of his piece puts it smack in the middle of the great tradition of using images of Christ to speak about the suffering of all mankind. There is a long, respectable history of showing hideously grisly images of Jesus - 17th-century sculptures in the National Gallery's recent show of Spanish sacred art could not have been more gory or distressing - and Wojnarowicz's video is nothing more than a relatively tepid reworking of that imagery, in modern terms.
An indictment on Super8, scaring the bejeezus out of the rightwing.