Fire in My Belly by David Wojnarowicz, Diamanda Galas
I'm sure most of you have already heard that yesterday David Wojnarowic's video Fire in My Belly was removed from the Smithsonian's National Portrait exhibition HIDE/SEEK. The reason? Some people were so offended by the content that gallery director Martin Sullivan said, "...people were leaping to a conclusion that we were intentionally trying to provoke Christians or spoil the Christmas season." Huh?
Religious bigots [not to be confused with Christians] lining up to see this show and then getting offended is the head-scratching equivalent of going to a haunted house and then complaining that it scared you. Art can't hurt you but it might make you think about complex things you'd rather ignore. I'm not exactly certain what the curators were thinking. Maybe they wanted to make sure to include something that represented the fear and outrage gay men were feeling in the late 80s: mistrust of the government (did Reagan wait too long to address the crisis?), public abandonment and vilification (including friends and family!) only to die alone in a hospital because people were afraid to touch you. This is what a generation of gay men endured. And folks can't even tolerate 11 seconds of ants crawling on a crucifix? You're...just...not...getting...it.
Untitled (One day this kid . . .), 1990, David Wojnarowicz
The first piece by Wojnarowicz that broke my heart was "Untitled (One day this kid...)"*. It's a simple photocopied image of artist as a boy, along with with an essay of how his life is already mapped out because he's gay. I remember reading it around the time I came out (around 1994) and feeling the same despair. And now in 2010 things seem so much brighter. We have the "It Gets Better" campaign, which I think will eventually be viewed as an historical event almost as important as Stonewall itself. But don't forget the entire reason this campaign started was because one pissed off faggot was tired of watching gay kids get bullied and kill themselves. And in that way, coupled with these regressive politics, it feels like the ACT UP days of the 80s all over again.
*“One day this kid will get larger. One day this kid will come to know something that causes a sensation equivalent to the separation of the earth from its axis. One day this kid will reach a point where he senses a division that isn’t mathematical. One day this kid will feel something stir in his heart and throat and mouth. One day this kid will find something in his mind and body and soul that makes him hungry. One day this kid will do something that causes men who wear the uniforms of priests and rabbis, men who inhabit certain stone buildings, to call for his death. One day politicians will enact legislation against this kid. One day families will give false information to their children and each child will pass that information down generationally to their families and that information will be designed to make existence intolerable for this kid. One day this kid will begin to experience all this activity in his environment and that activity and information will compell him to commit suicide or submit to silence and invisibility. Or one day this kid will talk. When he begins to talk, men who develop of fear of this kid will attempt to silence him with strangling, fists, prison, suffocation, rape, intimidation, drugging, ropes, guns, laws, menace, roving gangs, bottles, knives, religion, decapitation, and immolation by fire. Doctors will pronounce this kid curable as if his brain were a virus. This kid will lose his constitutional rights against the government’s invasion of his privacy. This kid will be faced with electro-shock, drugs, and conditional therapies in laboratories tended by psychologists and research scientists. He will be subject to loss of home, civil rights, jobs, and all conceivable freedoms. All this will begin to happen in one or two years when he discovers he desires to place his naked body on the naked body of another boy.” (via)