David Wojnarowicz discusses arts funding

by - Thursday, January 13, 2011

I went to a brilliant panel tonight on censorship and the arts. It centered around two instances of extreme censorship, fueled by the crazies in the Catholic League over the past 6 months. In the more famous instance, a short film by David Wojnarowicz (found in his archive but never published by the artist... an interesting issue on its own) was taken down from an exhibit at the Smithsonian after the Catholic League, Fox News, and leading Republican politicians sensationalized the film's content. In the film, for maybe 30 seconds, it shows a crucifix which is being crawled on by ants.

Two months before, Enrique Chagoya (a member of the faculty in our department) was exhibited a seven year old project in a small city in Colorado. In the piece, modeled after Aztec books which were all but completely destroyed by Catholics, Chagoya voiced his legitimate concerns about the fruits of sexual repression within the church (this was at the height of the Catholic Church's scandal). Though no one is nude within the piece, and Chagoya is a married heterosexual, a city councilman perceived his work as being homoerotic and demanded it be removed. Again, the Catholic League and Fox News began to focus their energies on his work. Chagoya began receiving death threats and hate mail. Then, a female truck driver drove from Montana and destroyed the work with a crow bar.

I was struck by Chagoya's retelling of his story. He noted how many of the hateful letters called him gay, or a heathen, or criticized him for not satirizing Mohammad instead. All because he was trying to truly discuss the ways which humans highest spiritual ambitions could be distorted within institutions. Looking at the hateful way he was treated, I don't blame him for being critical. He did note, rather touchingly, that one pastor from the town wrote him, simply asking him to explain the work, so he could help his parishioners understand the violence that took place. Chagoya explained his opinion and the pastor thanked him and said he hoped to meet him someday. Chagoya then referred to him as a friend.

I want to be that kind of Christian; so often at school, I feel like the Church is antagonized, but its hard on nights like these to wonder if it isn't mostly right. I am happy pastors like that do exist, who can actually be a light of love and acceptance against a field of darkness. It solidifies my resolve to be a loving Christian, who can treat people with judgement-free love. That part of Chagoya's story, to me, was so powerful.

My friend Dorian Katz helped to organize the panel, and she bravely spoke as an up and coming artist who is both out and working on queer art. Every time I hear Dorian speak, I am struck at how brilliantly honest, funny, and incisive she is. I can't pretend to sufficiently recount her argument here (just as I didn't try to cover Chagoya's thoughts on the events which took place), but hearing her discuss the challenges she will face, but also the pride she felt for the community she was in, was an inspiring final note to the speakers. Maybe I will eventually write a whole blog on her (I am writing a catalog essay for her later this year and I have been thinking about her work a lot)- but google her, I think what she is making is really worth the seeing.

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