Thank you to Tamara Wyndham for calling attention to this
Bullying and Censorship
In an appalling act of political cowardice, the Smithsonian Institution last
week removed "A Fire in My Belly," a four-minute video clip, from an exhibit
called "Hide/Seek" at the National Portrait Gallery. The privately financed show
explores identity, gender and homosexuality in American portraiture.
The video, by David Wojnarowicz, is a moving, anguished reflection on the
artist's impending death from AIDS. It shows very quick glimpses of challenging
and, at times, disturbing images, including masks, a meatpacking plant, various
objects on fire and the artist undressing himself.
One of those images, 11 seconds of ants crawling on a crucifix, drew an outraged
denunciation from the Catholic League, a lay civil rights organization that
receives no church financing. It called the video "hate speech" and said it was
designed to "assault the sensibilities of Christians." A spokesman for
Representative John Boehner, the incoming House speaker, called for the
Smithsonian to shut down the exhibition or "be prepared to face tough scrutiny"
under the new Republican majority.
Secretary G. Wayne Clough of the Smithsonian immediately yielded, removing the
video from the exhibit. His excuse was that the video "was detracting from the
entirety of the exhibition." That is absurd. The exhibition is supposed to deal
with culturally challenging images. Indeed, some of the most important roles of
art and of museums are to challenge, disturb and enlighten.
The Catholic League is entitled to protest, as are members of Congress, although
the bullying from Mr. Boehner's office was chilling. Mr. Clough had a
responsibility to defend this work and to reject censorship. He failed. On
Monday, the Smithsonian announced that the exhibit will remain open, as planned,
until Feb. 13, but without Mr. Wojnarowicz's video. That is not remotely good