Groups protest GOP censorship at Smithsonian

Decrying censorship angry protesters called for the resignation of the Smithsonian Institution’s secretary G. Wayne Clough, at its Board of Regents meeting on Monday in Washington. Clough, under pressure from  Republican lawmakers and Catholic conservatives, took down a video exhibition entitled “A Fire in My Belly” by David Wojnarowicz, a gay artist who died of AIDS. 

The video was part of a larger exhibit “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” that remains at the Smithsonian until mid-February. 

Wojnarowicz’s video which featured nude scene of men along with ants crawling on a crucifix was viewed as sacrilegious by  right-wing groups. 

People for the American Way, joined the call for Clough’s resignation saying in a statement, “In making the decision to remove a controversial work of art from one of the Smithsonian’s museums, and bungling the institution’s response since its removal, Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough has shown that he cannot adequately uphold the mission and the legacy of this American institution.”

Clough’s decision sent a chill through the artistic community. Trustees at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden last week issued an open letter saying they were “deeply troubled by the precedent.”

In a December editorial, the New York Times called Clough’s decision “an appalling act of political cowardice.” According to the Times, the Smithsonian, which receives 70 percent of its funding from the government, removed the clip, after “A spokesman for Representative John Boehner, the incoming House speaker, called for the Smithsonian to shut down the exhibition or ‘be prepared to face tough scrutiny’ under the new Republican majority.”

GOP Representative Eric Cantor, of Virginia, joined the fray, calling the film “an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season.” 

The exhibit was privately financed. 

At its Monday meet, the Smithsonian board, stood by its secretary. “G. Wayne Clough, the point man in the controversy that has rocked the Smithsonian Institution for the past two months, received enthusiastic support from his board” writes the Washington Post. 

A committee convened to review the decision says, “in the absence of actual error” an exhibit should not be changed, leaving open the possibility of a reversal. 

The LA Times writes, “According to a Smithsonian spokesman, there is no plan at present to reinstall the work.”

Former Army Officer Dan Choi joined the rally at the Smithsonian. The protest was called  by ArtPositive. 

Image: Still from an Artnet book of photos, David Wojnarowicz, by Timothy Greenfield Sanders, CC 2.0



Joe Sims
Joe Sims

Joe Sims is co-chair of the Communist Party USA. He is also a senior editor of People's World and loves biking.