The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC is currently presenting a groundbreaking LGBT arts exhibit, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. The Gallery describes the exhibit as “the first major exhibition to examine the influence of gay and lesbian artists in creating modern American portraiture.” As we’ve written, right-wing critics have attacked the exhibit and manufactured a controversy over a video installation by David Wojnarowicz (who died from AIDS-related illness in 1992). The video, created in 1987, is 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.
After Rep. John Boehner, Rep. Eric Cantor, Glenn Beck, and William Donohue misrepresented the work and whipped up a smear campaign against the installation, the Smithsonian backed off and removed the video.
Now one brave local gallery has taken a stand against censorship and began showing the video in its public space just up the road almost immediately after the video was removed.
The Transformer Gallery has been leading the charge against the blatant mischaracterization of the work and standing up for the integrity of Art, freedom of expression, and the need for dialog about culturally sensitive issues like this.
As a response to the censorship by the Smithsonian of Wojnarowicz’swork, and in honor of World AIDS Day & Day With(out) Art, the many alternative art spaces, visual arts organizations, artists, and activists around the world that have paved the path for freedom of expression & the existence of experimental arts venues like Transformer, we feel it is our job to champion all artists’ creative expression without constraints,and to continue the important dialogue Wojnarowicz’s work generates about aggression, hunger, community, love, loss, as well as religion” states Victoria Reis, co-Founder, Executive & Artistic Director of Transformer
The Gallery plans to continue to show the full video, with permission from the estate of the artist. In addition, they will further dialog around the work by organizing a large-scale public presentation and a panel discussion on the work.
This is an amazing example of the arts community fighting back against anti-intellectual bullying from lawmakers and fear mongering pundits. The turnout was great for such a spontaneous demonstration and it was wonderful to see the larger progressive and artistic community rallying around a LGBT issue. The Transformer Gallery has taken an immediate and aggressive stance against ignorance and injustice. They are doing fantastic work to highlight the issue and further dialog in the absence of such integrity from the Smithsonian.
See what people like John Boehner don’t understand is that censorship can’t silence our community anymore. The video may not be in the Portrait Gallery but more people have seen this work as a direct result of their intervention, and the message has gone further than even the curators of the exhibit could have foreseen. In the age of the internet, and with savvy and courageous arts organizations like Transformer, they can’t stop creative expression and arrogantly bully us into silence.