Northside museums screen controversial video


A museum visitor watches David Wojnarowicz’s controversial video "A Fire in My Belly" at the Mattress Factory on Sampsonia Way. The video contains some disturbing images and was removed from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery after creating a controversy. (Photo courtesy the Mattress Factory)

Two Northside museums are showing a controversial video that the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery decided to remove from an exhibit after some members of Congress and religious organizations protested the video’s content.

The Mattress Factory and the Andy Warhol Museum, along with the Wood Street Galleries Downtown and other organizations around the country, are screening the video in protest of what Mattress Factory Spokesperson Lindsay O’Leary called censorship.

Incoming U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Oh., and incoming House Majority Leader Eric Canton, R-Va., were two of the Congressman who complained about the video’s content. The Catholic League, an organization that defends the rights of Catholics, also called for the video’s removal.

The video, “A Fire in My Belly” by the late artist David Wojnarowicz, at one point shows ants crawling over a crucifix, and was meant, according to a statement by National Portrait Gallery Director Martin Sullivan, “to depict the suffering of an AIDS victim.”

Wojnarowicz, a member of the gay community, lost his partner to AIDS in the late 1980s, and later died of the immune disorder himself in the early 1990s.

The Smithsonian website states that museum officials felt the complaints and controversy generated by Wojnarowicz’s video took away from the rest of the exhibit, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, which deals with gay and lesbian themes and their representation in American art.

“We don’t feel we should censor anything an artist wants to do,” O’Leary said. “We’re anti-censorship completely.”

O’Leary said the Mattress Factory plans to screen “A Fire in My Belly” until Feb. 13, when the Hide/Seek exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery ends. The video is being shown in the lobby, but out of the way so those who do not wish to view the video do not have to.

So far, O’Leary said, the museum has received only positive reactions from visitors about its choice to screen the video.

“[Wojnarowicz is] a person and an artist and he should still have an equal voice that everyone else does,” O’Leary said.

Officials from the Andy Warhol Museum were not immediately available for comment.

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