03
Dec
10

Art and Censorship

I’m unsure how to begin this post, mostly because I’m having a hard time coming to grips with this.  And by this, I mean the censorship of the David Wojnarowicz video at the National Portrait Gallery.  The gallery pulled the video out of the exhibition “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” that runs from Oct. 30, 2010 – Feb. 13, 2011.  And they pulled Wojnarowicz’s video (a four minute excerpt of his 30  minute piece from 1987, “A Fire in My Belly”) because of outrage on the part of the Catholic League and some members of the Republican party.

video still from the disputed piece that was pulled

I’ve ended up reading a fair bit on this today.  It started with Jerry Saltz’s note that he posted on his Facebook page.  Then the Tyler Green piece on ArtInfo.  Then Blake Gopnik’s article in The Washington Post.  Which led me to this post on CNSNews.com written by Penny Star.  I won’t rehash these pieces or the countless others that are out there.  But it’s definitely worth looking into if you value freedom of speech and particularly if you are an artist who hopes to be able to express your thoughts without censor.

So after all this reading I am now shell-shocked.  Frozen.  Not from all of the reading, not from slight sense of disbelief that it only took a few hours for a major museum to pull a piece when complaints were issued.  No, I’m literally numb right now as I type this because of the comments that everyday people have been posting regarding this exhibition and this piece specifically.

Yes, I’m horrified that a very vocal faction of our society can scare a major institution into censoring itself.  Terrified.  Yes, it is incredibly ironic that this all happened on World AIDS day, when AIDS is the disease that killed both Wojnarowicz and his lover and fellow artist, Peter Hujar who the piece was made in honor of.

But the moment I went from reading these stories to feeling compelled to write something was when I got to the comment section of the CNS post.  The level of disgust, bile, hatred, and outrage that is displayed there shook me.  Someone called the exhibition a “Hate Crime against Christians & their children & should be prosecuted as such.”  So many of the comments reference the fact that the Smithsonian Institute is in part publicly funded with tax-payers dollars, and therefore the public should have a say in what can and cannot be exhibited.  Others refer to the “smut peddlers,” the “depravity,” and other adjectives such as sick, disgusting, rubbish, sickos, trash, degenerate, perversion, porn and I could keep going, but I won’t as I’m sure you get the idea.

This is really weird for me.  I’m so upset, so angry, so ashamed that I can’t quite put into words my own opinion here.  And that word there, opinion, I think is crucial.  Art, when created, is one person’s view, one person’s opinion.  It is normal and healthy to disagree.  It would be a dull world indeed if everyone held the same opinions and beliefs.  And there is a lot in this world that I disagree with.  But I don’t wish violence, pain and ostracism on people I disagree with.

I’m also really disturbed by the fact that there is still so much hatred towards other human beings in America, a supposedly enlightened and educated society.  Moments like this make me feel pessimistic.  There is no way that humanity will ever evolve beyond senseless violence if these views are still held so tightly in the year 2010.

Enough brooding for one day.

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