Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Censorship of the Arts

Historically censorship vs. freedom of expression has been a central theme of debate in the United States of America.  It seems to me that censorship as a "solution" to the "problem" of controversy is occurring with greater and greater frequency.

Most recently, a four-minute edited version of  A Fire in My Belly, a 1987 video by the late David Wojnarowicz,  being shown at the National Portrait Gallery  as part of the Hide/Seek, Difference and Desire in American Portraiture3 exhibit was the object of controversy.8    

According to a statement published by the Smithsonian, a "short segment" in the A Fire in My Belly video- "...created as a complex metaphor for AIDS—was perceived by some to be anti-Christian." 5  According to a Washington Post Article, U.S. House Rep. James P. Moran  believes that 11 seconds of video is being used by right wing critics for political gain.2  Thirty days after the exhibition opening and after threats of loss of funding from congress persons, the piece was removed from the exhibit on November 30, 2010.4  A silent protest march, organized by the Washington D.C. based non-profit, Transformer, was called for December 2nd in which protesters displayed 'masks' taken from the film, Silence = Death; 6 a still from that Wojnarowicz film can be seen on the blog BmoreArt.1  

Transformer's official response also included publicly screening the Wojnarowicz' video removed from the Hide/Seek exhibit.7  The end result was that instead of the video being "optionally accessed by visitors on a small touch screen in the exhibition"4 (per a Smithsonian Q&A Regarding the "Hide/Seek" Exhibition document) inside the National Portrait Gallery, it was played in a continuous loop in a storefront window at the Transformer project space in Washington, DC.  Additionally, the 4-minute segment, containing the 11-second controversy from the 30-minute video A Fire in My Belly, can now be seen freely on the Internet: A Fire in My Belly on YouTube.9 
The obvious question: what is the goal of censorship in general and in this instance was that goal achieved?

Please post your contribution by clicking 'comments' below.

"Censor." Def. 1., Def. 2. Websters Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. 1996. Print.
1. Bmoreart. “Join Transformer tonight in a silent protest!” Web. 2 Dec. 2010. < >

2. Dawson, Jessica. “Transformer letter to Smithsonian decries artwork's removal.” The Washington Post. 3 December 2010: n. pag. Web. 5 Dec. 2010. < >

3. National Portrait Gallery. Smithsonian Institution. Home page. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. < http: >

4. National Portrait Gallery. “Smithsonian Q&A Regarding the "Hide/Seek" Exhibition.” Smithsonian Institution, 2010. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. < >

5. National Portrait Gallery. “Smithsonian Stands Firmly Behind "Hide/Seek" Exhibition.” Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Smithsonian Institution, 2010. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. < >

6. Transformer. Home page. Web. 5 Dec. 2010. < http: >

7. Transformer. “Transformer Provides Immediate Response to Recent Censorship.” Web. 2 Dec. 2010. < >

8. Wojnarowicz, David.“ Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 2010. Web. 15 Dec 2010. < >

9. Youtube. Fire in My Belly by David Wojnarowicz, Diamanda Galas. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. < http: verify_age?next_url="http%3A// >


  1. Thank you for posting this Julie, I had heard about the controversy on NPR and seeing your post reminded me to look at the video. Hypocrisy itself is just as disturbing to me that then content of David Wajnarowicz' video.
    But it is DW video that holds up a mirror to our society that some people just can't stomach. I applaud the comment from YouTube I copied below:
    "Interesting... rightwing christians wanna censor art? I though you guys claimed going to war in afganistan to prevent that?"

    robertnilsson76 4 days ago 6

  2. Nanci-

    Interesting point you bring up about hypocrisy. We often shout the loudest about that which we can neither see in ourselves nor accept in ourselves. The quote you cited illustrates one example of this.

    Additionally the censorship of art for the reason of 'blasphemy' has not been uncommon. However, in my opinion, this censorship is inconsistent with first amendment freedom of speech rhetoric.

    ~~julie susanne


Link Within

Related Posts with Thumbnails