Smithsonian Removes “Sacrilegious” Jesus Video Art

The Smithsonian announced on Tuesday that they would remove a piece of video art that includes images of ants climbing over a statuette of Christ.  This was after pressure from legislators and the Catholic League, who said, respectively, that the piece was a misuse of taxpayer funds and “hate speech.”  Representative Eric Cantor claimed that the art was “an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season.”

The piece, “A Fire in My Belly,” is part of an exhibit on sexual difference in portraiture, and has been getting good reviews.  It cost about $750,000 and was funded by a large number of individual donors as well as foundations that support gay and lesbian issues.  This piece is the only one that has been pulled from the exhibit.  The 4-minute video has been excerpted into its first 30 seconds on most sites, but the whole piece is available here (be warned: it’s very disturbing).  The artist, David Wojnarowicz, died of AIDS in 1992.

Exhibit co-curator David Ward defended the piece, saying that it was a compelling reaction to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and early 1990s.  “That it is violent, disturbing and hallucinatory precisely replicates the impact of the disease itself on people and a society that could barely comprehend its magnitude,” he said.

The musem’s director, Martin A. Sullivan, had a less satisfying response, although he stood by the exhibit as a whole.  Claiming that they weren’t trying to offend anyone, he explained, “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.”

After seeing the entire video piece, I’m surprised that so many sites are choosing to excerpt it, because the first 30 seconds make sense only in the context of the rest of the film.  It’s certainly disturbing, but it also identifies Christ with gay men with AIDS – as well as indicting the way that Christianity has been coopted by people with homophobic interests – and emphasizes the gruesomeness of Christ’s death.  Christ’s blood is associated with pollution in the same way that gay men’s blood was “polluted” in a powerful and angry piece of art.

Is it disturbing?  Absolutely.  Should it be banned?  Absolutely not.  The artwork raises important questions about the way that we talk about AIDS, and reminds us that the stigmas attached to AIDS have only lessened slightly.  The fact that legislators are forcing curators to censor this work shows that they don’t spend a lot of time thinking either about art or Christianity, and that they’re more interested in political rhetoric than thinking about the marginalized and oppressed in American society.

Sign the petition to tell Republicans not to censor American art.

Photo from Flickr.


William C
William C1 months ago

Thanks for the information.

W. C
W. C1 months ago

Thank you for the article.

pam w.
pam w6 years ago

Walter Firth "....who cares?"

Anyone who values freedom of speech and expression should care. YOU should care...we all MUST care when civil liberties are oppressed by those who want to eliminate them.

Yvonne S.
Yvonne S6 years ago

The only thing I think about the video is that it is a waste of time.

Walter Firth
Walter Firth6 years ago

What an unimportant issue.Who cares.

Warren Webber
Warren Webber6 years ago

Art gets misrepresented, especially if it's politically profitable to do so!

.7 years ago

The exhibition was privately funded, and any museum visitor who might have taken offense at the images was free to look away and move on.

The artist made the film before his death in 1992 to portray the suffering of AIDs patients.

Here's what's evil- LYING about the message of the film, its funding, and continuing to allow thousands of innocent people to become infected with HIV because of ignorance and religious hypocrisy. I wish Christians would care about real people more than bugs on a cheap little religious knick-knack. It's really disgusting to see the most powerful group of people in the world pretend they are being persecuted. Most of you use images and symbols that are sacred to other religions as decorative objects, so if the US had a blasphemy law, it would be mostly Christians who would get sued.

Julie F.
Julie F7 years ago

so called "christians" offend me almost daily with their hate speech so i'm not feeling too generous when they feel offended. no one censors them and art shouldn't be censored either.

Emily P.
Emily M7 years ago

I'm having trouble seeing what's so anti-Christian about the video. Help?

Pedro Colon
Pedro J C7 years ago

Sorry, cannot see the video since I do not have an account with You Tube or Goggle. Goggle use spy-ware and I am not want to install it in my computer. I am understood that Art is a personal expression of individual or collective persons in many or one point of view. Those views could be a correct affirmation of a majority or just few individuals with the same type of intellectual and criteria according with their human experiences. For what is something is presenting as ART should not cover up just because disagreement in understanding what they conceive with their eyes and ears or touch. The differentials in perceptibility of each individual are a pretty pool of knowledge that increases the richness of our communication.