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Art, lies, and existence.

December 19, 2010

For those who haven’t heard, the Smithsonian Institution has a controversy on its hands. The subject of which is the privately funded exhibit “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture”. The exhibit showcases “a survey of portrait art by and about lesbian and gay artists”. Basically, this is an historic exhibit that examines art from 1891–2003 in light of homosexual and lesbian representation. It’s ironic then that an exhibit giving voice to these men and women has been compromised by the Smithsonian itself. At the objection of no-one but the Cyber News Service (and later reiterated by John Boehner and Glenn Beck, who were praised for this opposition by the Family Research Council), a video piece by David Wojnarowicz called “A Fire In My Belly” was removed from the exhibit. Now, I say ironic because this exhibit is about the representation of gay artists. Removing Wojnarowicz’s piece disrupts the reason for the exhibit. As a matter of fact, it even more selectively indicates who and what deserves representation. For all intents and purposes, David Wojnarowicz does not exist here. Coming from the Smithsonian, this is a chilling and dangerous notion.

Again, opposition to this art exhibit came from no-one until the Cyber News Service decided to weigh in with an article written by Penny Starr. Seeing an opportunity for demagoguery and bullshit, many Republicans joined the fray. For the people who saw the exhibit, the artwork is not an issue. For the people who didn’t see the artwork (and most likely never will), the “message” is the issue. Of course, many will say that this exhibit was federally funded – the building is federally funded but the exhibit was not – therefore a cause for debate on tax spending. I see the issue differently, however. This is a matter of free speech. Again, the irony of this fracas is that people are shocked that sexuality is representing gay artists. Granted, sexuality also gets used to represent straight artists, but we all know the key difference is that those gay artists are really just a bunch of perverts. Perversion is incredibly unAmerican so these people aren’t actually Americans, either. They probably aren’t even humans, either. Why on earth should they be given a right to free speech? Well, because many Americans insist that our fellow Americans don’t deserve it. They are unduly being told to shut up.

Even if the issue isn’t homosexuality per se, the larger issue of free speech remains. The Smithsonian caved in when they removed “A Fire In My Belly” – an action just as cowardly and pathetic as the one Yale University Press faced in response to one of their books about the Danish Mohammed cartoons – and set a precedent that there is acceptable and unacceptable speech. All of us with minority views are in danger here. Not everyone expresses their thoughts with photographs or paintings, but many of us do so by other means. Means of which that may or may not meet the approval of society. Peaceful means that harm no-one, but hopefully win us friends and allies. The response of the Smithsonian indicates that even if they have the high ground, they can still decide against it. As Wojnarowicz once wrote, “Do not doubt the dangerousness of the 12-inch-tall politician.” We see them on television all the time – and they want our museums, again.

See Wojnarowicz’s video here.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Selena permalink*
    December 20, 2010 11:35 am

    Fantastic and thought provoking. Thanks for bringing this to light. I had not heard about this.

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