David Wojnarowicz Censored on World AIDS Day

image courtesy of the Queer Cultural Center

Adding insult to injury, I got this news about the censorship of a David Wojnarowicz piece at the National Portrait Museum on World AIDS Day. David Wojnarowicz was an artist who passed away in 1992 due to AIDS-related illness; he used a variety of media, like collage, text, and video, to share his experiences as a working-class prostitute and young, gay man with a world that was largely not ready to hear these stories. He inspired me as a high school student while I attempted to use the art media around me to construct narratives that I didn’t find in the mainstream.

My fellow queer/feminist art enthusiast and librarian pro, Kate Angell, sent me this article by Blake Gopnik at the Washington Post. Gopnik makes great arguments against censorship in art and highlights a different interpretation of Wojnarowicz’s video piece in question, “A Fire in My Belly.” The piece is a 30-minute meditation on Peter Hujar, an artist, colleague, and former lover of Wojnarowicz’s, who also passed away due to AIDS complications.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has said that taxpayer-funded museums should uphold “common standards of decency.” But such “standards” don’t exist, and shouldn’t, in a pluralist society. My decency is your disgust, and one point of museums, and of contemporary art in general, is to test where lines get drawn and how we might want to rethink them. A great museum is a laboratory where ideas get tested, not a mausoleum full of dead thoughts and bromides.

In America no one group – and certainly no single religion – gets to declare what the rest of us should see and hear and think about. Aren’t those kinds of declarations just what extremist imams get up to, in countries with less freedom?

Read Gopnik’s full article at the Washington Post.

— Kate Wadkins

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