P.P.O.W and The Estate of David Wojnarowicz disagree with the Smithsonian’s decision to withdraw the artist’s 1987 film piece “A Fire in My Belly” from the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition entitled “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.” P.P.O.W has represented Wojnarowicz’s work since 1988 and maintained a close working relationship with the artist until his death in 1992. The gallery now represents his estate.
On behalf of the estate, the gallery would like to offer the artist’s words to illuminate his original intentions. In a 1989 interview Wojnarowicz spoke about the role of animals as symbolic imagery in his work, stating, “Animals allow us to view certain things that we wouldn’t allow ourselves to see in regard to human activity. In the Mexican photographs with the coins and the clock and the gun and the Christ figure and all that, I used the ants as a metaphor for society because the social structure of the ant world is parallel to ours.”
The call for the removal of “A Fire in My Belly” by Catholic League president William Donahue is based on his misinterpretation that this work was “hate speech pure and simple.” This statement insults the legacy of Wojnarowicz, who dedicated his life to activism and the arts community. David Wojnarowicz’s work is collected by international museums including the Museum of Modern Art, NY, The Whitney Museum, The Library of Congress, The New York Public Library, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Reina Sofia in Madrid, Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, etc. Wojnarowicz is also an established writer; his most well known memoirs are Close to the Knives and Memories That Smell Like Gasoline, which are included on many university syllabi.
In 1990 the artist won a historic Supreme Court case, David Wojnarowicz v. American Family Association. The courts sided with Wojnarowicz after he filed suit against Donald Wildmon and the American Family Association, who copied, distorted and disseminated the artist’s images in a pamphlet to speak out against the NEA’s funding of exhibits that included art works of Wojnarowicz and other artists. We are deeply troubled that the remarks, which led to the removal of David’s work from Hide/Seek, so closely resemble those of the past. Wojnarowicz’s fight for freedom of artistic expression, once supported by the highest court, is now challenged again. In his absence, we know that his community, his supporters, and the many who believe in his work will carry his convictions forward.