AIDS Victim’s Art Censored on World AIDS Day

An important angle was missing from The Washington Post‘s article titled, “Ant-covered Jesus video removed from Smithsonian after Catholic League complains.” The dateline read today, “December 1, 2010,” but the article failed to make the ironic and disturbing correlation that today — and every first day of December — is World AIDS Day. David Wojnarowicz, the artist whose work has been censored, died of AIDS in 1992 at the age of 37.

The allegedly-offensive segment — I say “allegedly” because cynical, calculated “fake outrage” is so rampant in our culture — lasts only 11 seconds within a video that is 4 minutes in runtime. Since Wojnarowicz is not longer alive to speak on behalf of his art, a representative from the Smithsonian provided some context for the film: “The artist was very angry about AIDS and he was using that style to create a statement about suffering. His approach was based on a lot of imagery that is very Latin American, and it can be garish and unsettling.” Now, a promising young artist, who was silenced far too early by AIDS, has been unjustly silenced again.

If you will be in the D.C. area, consider patronizing the exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery to show your support for artistic freedom. My hope is that this controversy serves as free advertising to draw crowds to the museum. I plan to visit next week. “HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” will be on display through February 13, 2011. You can also view the video to judge for yourself, but my bias is against censorship and for artistic freedom.

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