We at GLAAD are adding our voices to the chorus of others who have strongly and rightfully criticized the Smithsonian's decision to hide a piece of LGBT-themed artwork from the public.
Most of us know the story by now. Following a brief series of high profile, far-right attacks-- and despite having not received a single complaint from the public-- the Smithsonian Museum pulled the piece "A Fire in My Belly" from an exhibition titled Hide/Seek at the National Portrait Gallery a few weeks ago.
The work in question is a 10-second video that shows ants crawling on a cross. The work is meant to illustrate the suffering of an AIDS victim in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The artist of the piece is David Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS-related complications in 1992, at the age of 37.
This piece was considered important and valuable to the Hide/Seek collection when it was curated and when it opened in October. What changed on November 30, when the piece was taken out of the display? Whose voices did the board of the Smithsonian place above its own professional judgment?
As it happens, they were listening to people like Bill Donohue, Glenn Beck and John Boehner, who were once again using gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people for social division – and of course, fundraising. These are the same people who have been fighting tooth and nail against employment protections for LGBT people. These are the same people who didn't want the LGBT community added to hate crimes protections. These are the same people who are trying to keep the men and women of our military in the closet - and now they're throwing works of art in there with them.
Anti-gay activists and politicians are now setting their sights on the entire LGBT exhibit and the Smithsonian itself. Opponents of the Hide/Seek exhibit have since also shared their disgust at images in the exhibit that feature men kissing.
Throughout the course of history, art has served to provoke thought and challenge opinion. This work is a powerful statement about a critical period in the history of America's LGBT community, which should not be hidden from public view because of the grandstanding of a few disingenuous critics and politicians.
Several weeks ago, GLAAD placed an op-ed in the Washington Post by a faculty member of Yale's Divinity School who said, "The truly blasphemous abomination is the church's initial reluctance, even refusal to care for, speak out about, and show dignity to literal bodies of real people with HIV/AIDS." Patrick Evans wrote, "The religious and political leaders who used World AIDS Day in this holy season of Advent to cultivate political power and raise money by focusing on 11 seconds of an artistic work by a man who died of AIDS in 1992 would do well to remember the clear and unequivocal words of the savior whose wounds they are so quick to save from crawling insects."
But we all need to do more and raise our voices even louder. Tell the Smithsonian that anti-LGBT bias and political opportunism have no business in our treasured institutions.
- Deputy Director and Chief Curator
Carolyn K. Carr
- NPG Commission Co-Chair
John O. Boochever
- NPG Commission Chair
- Director of Exhibitions and Collections Management
Martin E. Sullivan
- Smithsonian Secretary
G. Wayne Clough
- Smithsonian Institute Chief Spokesperson
Linda St. Thomas
- National Portrait Gallery Director of Development and External Affairs
- National Portrait Gallery
- National Portrait Gallery Public Affairs Specialist
It is clear that your curators viewed the piece 'A Fire in my Belly' by artist David Wojnarowicz as the important statement that it is, when it was chosen for inclusion in the exhibit. Therefore, it is also clear that your decision to remove the work was based solely on the complaints of a few well-known anti-gay activists and a handful of far-right politicians seeking to use this controversy for political gain.
Had Wojnarowicz not died of AIDS-related complications in 1992 at the age of 37, one has to wonder how he would depict your decision to bow to this pressure.
The opinions, on which you made your decision, were based in anti-gay animus and political opportunism. As such, your decision has been harshly criticized not just in the LGBT community and the arts community, but also in the faith community.
I am now adding my voice to the chorus of those who think anti-LGBT bias has no place in America's museum.
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