Fire in My Belly
David Wojnarowicz, USA, 1987, 4 min

‘This is the David Wojnarowicz’s video that was removed from an exhibition called “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” at the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian in Washington after it was criticized by the Catholic League and members of the House of Representatives for being offensive to Christians’.


Officials at the National Portrait Gallery on Tuesday removed a work of video art depicting Christ with ants crawling over him after complaints from a Catholic organization and members of Congress.

The four-minute video, created by the late artist David Wojnarowicz, had been on exhibit since Oct. 30 as part of a show on sexual difference in American portraiture.

The piece was called “hate speech” by Catholic League president William Donohue and a misuse of taxpayer money by a spokesman for Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), the presumptive incoming House speaker.

Officials at the museum and the Smithsonian Institution, which includes the Portrait Gallery, said they had not intended to be offensive by showing the work and removed it to better focus on the exhibit’s strengths.

“The decision wasn’t caving in,” said Martin E. Sullivan, the museum’s director. “We don’t want to shy away from anything that is controversial, but we want to focus on the museum’s and this show’s strengths.”

An 11-second portion of the video shows a small crucifix covered with ants. The video is included in the exhibit, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture“.

Boehner’s spokesman, Kevin Smith, said in a statement that the congressman was monitoring the episode. “American families have a right to expect better from recipients of taxpayer funds in a tough economy,” Smith said. “While the amount of money involved may be small, it’s symbolic of the arrogance Washington routinely applies to thousands of spending decisions involving Americans’ hard-earned money.”

“Hide/Seek” is the first survey at a national museum to examine same-sex portraits and intimacy. Artists represented include contemporary names such as Andy Warhol and Annie Leibovitz as well as works from 19th-century artists including Thomas Eakins …

Read the full story in the Washington Post.


Diamanda Galás Responds to the Smithsonian’s Removal of David Wojnarowicz’s Work
Jonathan L. Fischer, Washington City Paper, Dec. 3, 2010

The avant-garde composer and artist Diamanda Galás was an inspiration for David Wojnarowicz’s video artwork A Fire in My Belly, and her music was part of a seven-minute edit of the 13-minute work made after Wojnarowicz died in 1992. Galas wrote a statement responding to the Smithsonian’s removal this week of a four-minute version of A Fire in My Belly. She had hoped the statement would be read aloud at a protest Thursday night outside the National Portrait Gallery, although it was not read. She permitted Arts Desk to publish it.

I am the composer and librettist for THIS IS THE LAW OF THE PLAGUE, the work from my mass for PWA’s, performed at ST JOHN THE DIVINE’S in 1991 against the wishes of John Cardinal O’Connor, who tried to prevent its performance.

THIS IS THE LAW OF THE PLAGUE was composed in 1986. I will presume this is the music composition upon which David’s film FIRE IN THE BELLY was based, or with which he felt a strong affinity, because I have been asked to defend our work, this collaboration. And I shall do so now.

Read the full article here.