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Censored Art Film Draws Downtown Crowds

By Lauren Mattia
Published: Tuesday, December 14, 2010, at 02:38PM
Still from 'A Fire in My Belly' David Wojnarowicz / Courtesy CB1 Gallery

Still from David Wojnarowicz’s "A Fire in My Belly"

After the controversial censorship of David Wojnarowicz’s piece "A Fire in My Belly” from Smithsonian’s “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture” on December 1st, Downtown resident and CB1 Gallery owner Clyde Beswick decided to take a stand. Seeing his gallery as a venue to give audiences the opportunity to see the video for themselves, he began screening the film at Thursday’s Downtown Art Walk.

The reaction from residents and visitors has been positive. “It’s been an amazing past four days here in the gallery,” Beswick said Sunday. “I was completely blown away by the attitude of the people who came in.” While he was hesitant that audiences might not give the video the attention it deserved, when CB1’s visitors were watching the 13-minute video, “it was absolutely amazingly silent."

For Beswick, “A Fire In My Belly” is a particularly important piece of art. The film was Wojnarowicz’s response to the government’s lack of action during the 1980s AIDS crisis. “My brother died of AIDS in 1986, so it’s a very personal issue for me," he explained.

The Smithsonian removal was a case of “deja vu all over again,” said Beswick, referring to the video’s censorship from exhibits during the 1980s.

When Catholic League president Bill Donohue and several members of Congress demanded that the piece be removed for its “sacrilegious” content, “A Fire in My Belly” was removed from the Smithsonian’s exhibit, which highlights various representations of the LGBT community in art. Shortly after news of the removal went public, the video went viral, bringing worldwide attention from artists and LGBT activists.

The Warhol Foundation, which has donated nearly $400,000 to the Smithsonian’s various institutions and has supported the “Hide/Seek” exhibition, recently threatened to cease all funding if the video is not restored. The well-known foundation stated that the “decision to censor this important work is in stark opposition to our mission to defend freedom of expression” in an open letter to Smithsonian’s secretary Wayne Clough. The foundation claimed that the institution caved “to the demands of bigots who have attacked the exhibition out of ignorance, hatred and fear.”

Although the intention of the Catholic League was to hide the video from the public, ultimately the removal “has had the complete opposite effect,” according to Beswick. But what was the real reason for censoring Wojnarowicz’s video? According to Beswick, it was “homophobia, pure and simple.”

“A Fire in My Belly” will be showing at CB1 during regular gallery hours through Sunday, December 19th, alongside the exhibit “Mira Shor: Paintings from the Nineties to Now.”

CB1 Gallery / 207 W. 5th / 213-806-7889

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