Friday, December 3, 2010
In 1990, a lawyer sued the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), claiming that a $15,000 grant given to the artist David Wojnarowicz for the exhibition "Tongues of Flame" displayed "open and notorious hostility toward religion." Much of the work in the exhibition demonstrated outrage at the silence of the government and religious right and their inaction regarding the AIDS crisis. I don't want to get into "the open and notorious hostility" toward victims of AIDS or gay people in general, in particular during the first decade of the crisis, but I do think it's worth remembering that in 1990 it was illegal for HIV positive people to travel to the US, Reagan was advising mandatory HIV testing and quarantine, and nearly half the American population believed that "AIDS might be God's punishment for immoral sexual behavior."
In the past 20 years, it's important to note that a lot of progress has been made regarding HIV/AIDS (for example, as of 2007, only a quarter of the American population believes that AIDS is God's punishment), so it's a bitter surprise to hear that David Wojnarowicz's video "Fire in My Belly" (1987) has been pulled from the current exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian in Washington D.C. The reason? The Catholic League has complained that the video was "designed to insult and inflict injury and assault the sensibilities of Christians."
Blake Golpnik wrote an excellent summary and response to this action for the Washington Post. I haven't yet seen any organized response to the censorship, although I have written an email to the National Portrait Gallery Director Martin Sullivan. As of 2009, an estimated 35 million people are living with HIV, and nearly a quarter of HIV/AIDS care is provided by Catholic ministries. A lot of progress has been made since Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell's hate mongering (at least with regards to AIDS)--hopefully this bullying is a misstep, rather than a indicator of things to come.
PS Former Ghosts was amazing last night!
Posted by Ethan Swan