Saturday, 11 December 2010

William Donahue of the catholic League can't cope with an old David Wojnarowicz art video

An already 24 years old video piece from defunct artist David is currently censored at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery!

David Wojnarowicz, who died in 1992 at the age of 37, used art to keep a grip on the world. He was the quintessential East Village figure, a bit of a loner, a bit crazy, ferociously brilliant and anarchic. He was a self-educated dropout who made art on garbage can lids, who painted inside the West Side piers where men met for anonymous sex, who pressed friends into lookout duty while he covered the walls of New York with graffiti. In 1987, his former lover and best friend, Peter Hujar, died of complications from AIDS, and Wojnarowicz learned that he, too, was infected with HIV.

Wojnarowicz, whose video "A Fire in My Belly" was removed from an exhibition of gay portraiture at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery last week after protests from a right-wing Catholic group and members of Congress, was an artist well before AIDS shattered his existence. But AIDS sharpened his anger, condensed his imagery and fueled his writing, which became at least as important as his visual work in the years before he died.

In the video that has now been censored from the prominent and critically lauded exhibition "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture," Wojnarowicz perfectly captured a raw Gothic, rage-filled sensibility that defined a style of outsider art that was moving into the mainstream in the late 1980s.

Wojnarowicz's work captures the contradiction, speed and phantasmagoria of a time when it was reasonable to assume that all the political and social progress gay people had achieved in the 1960s and '70s was being revoked - against the surreal, Reagan-era backdrop of Morning in America, and a feel-good surge of American nostalgia and triumphalism.

The image that provoked William Donahue of the Catholic League, a relatively small organization that has leveraged a remarkable amount of influence in the culture wars over the past two decades, was part of a repertoire of Catholic imagery used by Wojnarowicz over his career. Excerpted from the grainy, stream-of-consciousness video with a hard-edged soundtrack was a brief clip of a crucifix with ants crawling on it.

Ants, for Wojnarowicz, were a mysterious stand-in for humanity and part of a lifelong fascination with the natural world that his friend, artist Kiki Smith, recalls was part of a charmingly boyish rapture with creepy, crawling things. When asked what he thought of God, he responded by wondering rhetorically "why ants aren't the things that destroy the world instead of people." There is a host of theological possibility in that thought: Is God as indifferent to humans as humans are to ants? Should we love the small things of the planet as we hope to be loved by God?

Prominent Catholic leaders were also in the forefront of a cultural counterattack on homosexuals in the late 1980s. Buckley, the founder of the National Review who was lavishly praised upon his death as a genial and erudite gentleman, wrote in 1986, "Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm, to protect common-needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of other homosexuals." It was a chilling and apparently intentional reference to Nazi treatment of the Jews, and it was entirely within the mainstream for public commentary on the disease the year before Wojnarowicz found out he was HIV-positive.

"I thought about what I had been taught about Jesus Christ when I was young and how he took on the suffering of all people in the world," Wojnarowicz said in the trial transcript. "And I wanted to create a modern image that, if he were alive before me at that time in 1979 when I made this, if he were physically alive before me in the streets of the Lower East Side, I wanted to make a model that would show that he would take on the suffering of the vast amounts of addiction that I saw on the streets."

Source: The Washington Post

Worth reading too: The Smithsonian, the Cross and David Wojnarowicz by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush (Huffington Post)