The Santa Fe Art Institute has been screening David Wojnarowicz’s controversial film A Fire in My Belly in a continuous loop since Jan. 18. Made 25 years ago, the artwork, like the artist, has had a controversial life, moving from the margins to the center and back again. Late-1970s through 1980s: Wojnarowicz becomes a well-known figure in New York’s vibrant downtown art scene, producing Super 8 films and stencils and collaborating with underground artists like Nan Goldin and Kiki Smith. 1985: Wojnarowicz’s work is exhibited in the Whitney Biennial alongside that of many street and graffiti artists. 1986-1987: Wojnarowicz creates A Fire in My Belly, an original 13-minute film as a reaction to his HIV-positive diagnosis and the death of his lover and mentor, photographer Peter Hujar. The film evokes the suffering of AIDS victims at the height of the crisis in the U.S. and features vivid depictions of the frailty of human flesh alongside a provocative image of ants crawling over a crucifix. 1989: The National Endowment for the Arts cancels funding for a catalog of Tongues of Flame, a Wojnarowicz exhibit at Illinois State University.
in 1990: Tupelo, Wojnarowicz Mississippi, successfully for using cropped sues the images American of his Family work Association in a pamphlet criticizing the National Endowment for the Arts.
July 22, 1992: Wojnarowicz dies of complications related to AIDS.
Oct. 30, 2010: In Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery debuts Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, which explores lesbian and gay identity in American art throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and includes a four-minute excerpt of A Fire in
Nov. 30, 2010: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) condemns the film, and, along with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), calls
for Hide/Seek to be shut down. A representative for Cantor calls the exhibit “an outrageous use of taxpayer money and an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season.”
Dec. 1, 2010: The Smithsonian removes the film after criticism from the Catholic League, a nonprofit which is not an official part of any Catholic diocese. League president William A. Donohue calls the film “hate speech.”
Dec. 4, 2010: Mike Blasenstein enters the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery with an iPad hung around his neck displaying A Fire in My Belly. For his actions, Blasenstein is banned for life from the institution.
Dec. 13, 2010: The Andy Warhol Foundation announces that, unless Wojnarowicz’s work is restored to the exhibit, it will cease funding Smithsonian exhibits. Over the last three years, the foundation has given approximately $375,000 to the Smithsonian, including $100,000 to fund
the Hide/Seek exhibition.
Jan. 21, 2011: Smithsonian chief executive G. Wayne Clough admits to
the Los Angeles Times that he gave the order to remove the film without having viewed it. Continuous screenings of A Fire in My Belly take place at the Santa Fe Art Institute’s Projection Room, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. On Feb. 25, the institute hosts C*nsorship: A P*nel Discuss**n, featuring Robert Atkins, Roberto Bedoya, Harmony Hammond, and Lucy Lippard, who examine the Smithsonian case as well as other examples of censorship in the art world. The talk starts at 6 p.m. at Tipton Hall on the campus of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, 1600 St. Michael’s Drive. Tickets are $10, $5 for students and seniors. For information, call 424-5050.
— Casey Sanchez
Left, David Wojnarowicz: Untitled (Face in Dirt), circa 1990, gelatin silver print; above, screening of Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly at the New Museum in Manhattan; images (except above) courtesy The Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P. P. O.W. Gallery, New York