Fire in my Belly: Or how the Smithsonian capitulated to right-wing interests.

Untitled (One Day This Kid…), 1990, by David Wojnarowicz. (Image courtesy of PPOW.)

In the event that you haven’t been following, the Smithsonian engaged in a spectacular act of cowardice this past week. The short of it is that the museum removed a video by artist David Wojnarowicz from Hide/Seek, a queer-themed show at the National Portrait Gallery, after the Catholic League complained that the work was anti-Christian. Since then, the artist’s work has turned into a whipping boy for the far right (namely, no one who has seen the video or the exhibit).

Following the hubbub, the Smithsonian removed the piece, despite the fact that not a single museum attendee had complained about it. The video, titled Fire in My Belly, is a meditation on the AIDS epidemic, created in 1987, when the pandemic was in full and fatal swing. Needless to say, it’s extremely worrisome (and enraging) to see a museum buckle to special political interests in this way. Not to mention that it’s anti-intellectual and censorious.

I’m on a crazy deadline, so I haven’t been able to give this the focus it deserves, but if you’re looking for more reads, here are a few links:

  • ArtInfo has background on the story.
  • PPOW, the gallery that manages Wonjarowicz’s estate has issued a statement criticizing the move. They also have Wojnarowicz’s video online for viewing.
  • The Smithsonian has released a pathetic response on why it capitulated to a political interest group.
  • Over the weekend, a couple of protesters got arrested detained at the National Portrait Gallery for playing the video on an iPad and handing out fliers. See a video here.
  • The New Gay has direct e-mail addresses to the Smithsonian officials in charge of this mess. Let ‘em know what you think.
  • If you live in New York, you can check out the video at the New Museum, now playing in the lobby – for free!
  • If you read one story about this, make sure it’s Christopher Knight’s take over at the L.A. Times, in which he explores the anti-gay nature of the right-wing protest over the show.
  • LATE ADDITION: My 101 on the controversy over at WNYC.


  1. vanderleun

    I watched it. Pretty awful bit of work really. I kept waiting for the frames that popped in those gay teenagers being strung up by the neck in Iran, but I must have missed them. Until we get some of these “passionate” artists working in the virulent homophobia of Islam into these vids I think we can safely dismiss them as the work of moral and physical cowards.

  2. vanderleun

    Well, I’m sure that in 1987 under the Islamic Republic of the Mullahs LGBT Iranians lived a full and open life untainted by fear and persecution.

    Oh, wait, I was wrong. I looked it up and was shocked to find that, “The new religious government that came to be established after the 1979 Iranian Revolution classed transsexuals and transvestites with gays and lesbians, who were condemned by Islam and faced the punishment of lashing and death under Iran’s penal code.”

    The point was that it’s easy to be “artistic” in societies where there are no consequences other than rapt adulation for edge.

    Strange that you would be so otiose as to miss the point so widely, but that’s the way it is with colonized minds.

  3. c-monster

    i still have no idea what this has to do with wojnarowicz. is he as an artist obligated to cover this subject?

  4. Jonathan

    I find it strange that almost any very small racial/religious/political, etc.-based group can raise an objection to something and have their wishes granted without question, yet the moment Christians make the slightest defense of their religion, it is spot-lighted, blown out of proportion, generally stripped of context, and harshly criticized. But Christians still constitute the religious majority on a global scale. Yes, we all should be concerned for the underdog, but what about the majority? Everyone WILL NOT be pleased, that is impossible, but is it right to overlook what the majority is asking and censor THEIR desires and beliefs?

    I will concede that the majority of Christians abandon the teachings their one and only sacred text gives on homosexuality for a more PC position, and in that is a certain irony that I call for the majority to be attended to yet turn around and assert that the smaller group remaining truer to their faith be heard. Perhaps, then, you who seems to be pro-underdog should try to understand this waning belief on homosexuality and respect the fact that there are truly intelligent people out there willing to throw away their reputation for the sake of their beliefs. Because the Biblical attitude toward homosexuals is not militant but one of loving, kind, patient help. We of this camp are indeed the underdog of the underdogs, hated by those who call homosexuality acceptable as well as the shrinking group who call it an abomination.