Friday, December 17, 2010

that niggling feeling

In recent weeks, a lot of artists have been thinking about and discussing the late David Wojnarowicz and the Smithsonian Institution’s decision to remove his video “Fire in My Belly” from  "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture." Hide/Seek is the current exhibition of gay portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

As an artist and an American, I am mortified by the removal of the work that came in response to the protests of a small conservative Catholic organization and certain members of Congress. The decision is, in effect, censorship that violates any notion of the separation of church and state; that denies the value of individual vision and opinion; and that refuses to acknowledge that those offended by the work may not at all understand it.

Frankly, I don’t think the removal of the work has anything to do with God. I have a niggling feeling that it comes from money and fear. The fear that someone could be questioning another’s faith and that that question will cause the fearful to stop giving money. What a lack of faith indeed.

As a Catholic, I am deeply saddened by the move. If you have read any of Wojnarowicz’s biography, it is obvious that he was disenfranchised his entire life. Given the cultural response to and paralyzing fear around AIDS in the late 1980’s, his diagnosis could only have exacerbated his anger and disillusionment.  As a Catholic, I also believe that God is love and loves the angry, doubtful and disillusioned most. In the garden, even Christ questioned his Father.

Thus, I also must believe that God loves those that demanded the removal of the work. By imposing their desire that the work be removed, they are certainly demonstrating their own doubt. Emerson said, “The faith that stands on authority is not faith.” [1] My hope is that these individuals could open themselves up to that which they are so afraid of.

My own experience has taught me that my deepest hours of doubt are often followed by profound experiences of faith and in those moments of faith I am most open to the emotions, thoughts and ideas of others. Museums and galleries across the country are now showing the video and it is widely available on the Internet. The funny thing is that, thanks to the censorship, “Fire in My Belly” has now been seen by hundreds of thousands of people that never would have travelled to the exhibit in the first place.

God is good.

[1] Emerson, Essays -First Series