witnesses against our vanishing: erasure at the smithsonian

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

12.00 - 13.00, Research Forum South Room

effigy of Christ on a cross with ants crawling on himFilm still from David Wojnarowicz, A Fire in My Belly, 1987, 13 mins, colour, silent. Courtesy of the P.P.O.W. Gallery and The Estate of David Wojnarowicz

Speaker(s): Jonathan D. Katz (University at Buffalo, and co-curator of the exhibition Hide/Seek), Fiona Anderson (King's College London) and a panel of Courtauld Faculty members

Ticket/entry details: Open to all, free admission

Organised by: Thomas Scutt

Following pressure from the Catholic League president William Donahue, the Smithsonian Museum last week removed a 1987 film piece A Fire in My Belly by David Wojnarowicz from the National Portrait Gallery's exhibition entitled Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. The controversial material in focus is 11 seconds of footage from a 4-minute film featuring ants crawling over an effigy of Christ. With the threat of the withdrawal of 'public' funding from the museum, the Smithsonian's directors felt they had no option but to buckle to the hysteria of a minority of objectors. The work's removal, on the eve of World AIDS day, is worryingly reminiscent of the 1989 moment when Senator Jesse Helms demonized Robert Mapplethorpe’s sexuality and, by extension, his art, and with little effort pulled a cowering art world to its knees.

One of the great powers of art is its ability to foster both nuanced and heartfelt discussions about serious cultural issues. It is inherent to the nature of such discussions that they elicit strong, and often conflicting, feelings. It is crucial that museums and curators feel free to address such issues and to take intellectual, political, and aesthetic risks without fear of retribution (political, financial, or other). This event will attempt to explore these issues.

Two versions of A Fire in My Belly will be screened: the original 13-minute version edited by Wojnarowicz, and the 4-minute version shown at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, with an audio re-mix featuring Diamanda Galas and edited by curator Jonathan Katz. The screenings will be followed with conversation between a number of Courtauld staff.

12:00 Statement from Jonathan D. Katz, co-curator of the exhibition Hide/Seek via skype
12:10 Screening of David Wojnarowicz' A Fire in My Belly, 4-minute version as shown at the Smithsonian Museum, edited by Jonathan D. Katz. (courtesy of the P.P.O.W. Gallery and the Estate of David Wojnarowicz)
12:15 Screening of David Wonjarowicz' A Fire in My Belly 14-minute version as edited by the artist.(courtesy of the P.P.O.W. Gallery and the Estate of David Wojnarowicz)
12:30 Talk by Fiona Anderson (Kings College London) via Skype
12:40 Discussion between invited members of Courtauld staff
13:00 End

Back to Events Calendar