Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Flyer the Smithsonian Told People They Shouldn't Read

In case anyone's curious, this is the text from the flyer I was holding for people to read. It talked about the art and why I was standing there with an iPad around my neck.

Whenever somebody took one, security guards would swarm them intimidatingly and tell them they were "not allowed" to take it. Everyone who took a flyer gave it back.


I am standing here with this iPad around my neck…
…because politicians and pressure groups don’t want you to see this work of art
…because this work’s detractors have every right to interpret it any way they want
…because so do you
…because I’m tired of people who know better caving in to the hysterics of the misinformed
…because the time our politicians waste vilifying a dead man is time they should be seizing to fix the problems of the living
…because I never believed that the same forces that marginalized this artist twenty years ago would try to silence him today
…because I was wrong
…because by marginalizing the work of the marginalized from an exhibition about marginalization, the censors themselves have provided the ultimate validation of the artist’s work
…because too many gay people—myself included—too often forget that any acceptance we enjoy today was paid for in blood, bruises, and unimaginable suffering by those who came before us
…because suffering is human
…because we are human
…because there are those who will stop at nothing to suppress that
…because I refuse to let them
…because silence still equals death.

[on other side]

A Fire In My Belly, 1987 (excerpt). David Wojnarowicz. Music by
Diamanda Galás.

The Images
David Wojnarowicz created this video in 1987 as a tribute to his colleague and lover, Peter Hujar, who died of AIDS that same year. The video contains some grisly images: Mummified bodies, bloody icons, lips being sewn shut, and 11 seconds of ants crawling on a crucifix. These images represent Wojnarowicz's feelings of isolation and marginalization as an openly gay man living with AIDS in the 80s — an era in which carriers of the virus were demonized. They are a memento mori, or a reminder of our mortality.

Adapted from

The Music
The music heard on the video is an excerpt from The Plague Mass by Diamanda Galás, which she composed in response to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. The words for the piece heard here, “This Is the Law of the Plague,” are taken from chapter 15 of the biblical book of Leviticus:

When any man hath an issue out of his flesh,
Because of his issue he is unclean
Every bed whereon he lieth is unclean
And everything whereon he sitteth, unclean.
And whosoever toucheth his bed shall be unclean,
And he that sitteth whereon he sat shall be unclean.
And he that toucheth the flesh of the unclean becomes unclean,
And he that be spat on by him unclean becomes unclean.
And whosoever toucheth anything under him shall be unclean.
And he that beareth any of those things shall be unclean.
And what saddle soever he rideth upon is unclean
And the vessel of earth that he touches, unclean.
And if any man’s seed of copulation go out from him, he is unclean.
Every garment, every skin whereon is the seed, unclean.
And the woman with whom this man shall lie with will be unclean.
And whosoever toucheth her will be unclean.
This is the law of the plague,
To teach when it is clean and when unclean.
And the priest shall look upon the plague.
For a rising and for a scab and for a bright spot.
And the priest shall shut up he that hath the plague.
He shall carry them forth to a place unclean.
He shall separate them in their uncleanness.
This is the law of the plague:
To teach when it is clean and when it is unclean.

Adapted fromás


  1. While I agree that removing a piece of art from a gallery due to political pressure is wrong, please don't frame the NPG as anti-LGBT. You failed to mention that this piece was originally part of "the first major museum exhibition to focus on the questions of gender and sexual identity in the making of modern American portraiture". It was removed because it was deemed anti-Christian by John Bohner and his merry band of fools who threatened to cut off funding to the NPG.

  2. Orly?

    "The curator elites at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery were happily abusing the trust of the American taxpayer, with radical gay activists pushing a gay agenda, replete with the religiously bigoted, sadomasochistic and homoerotic fare, all under the auspices of “art.”

    Then something happened. The public complained. Now these radicals are shocked – shocked! – that the “censors” are out to destroy their “artistic freedom.”

    Brent Bozell.

    The whole thing stems from an anti-gay agenda. Get real.

  3. You have inspired me and my sister beyond belief. Thank you so much for your courage. We want to do something of our own, and we are on your side. So much love and solidarity - also, I would love to be in touch -

  4. Thank you so much! You can always start out by sending your representatives in Congress a letter. Since I live in DC I don't have a voting representative, so you're lucky :)

    Feel free to send an email to, and let me know when you're in DC -- I see from your site that you have a show in town next week. Where are you playing? Black Cat, Rock & Roll Hotel?

  5. @Brian: I'm not denying an anti-gay agenda that exists in the world. Bozell is certainly off base. I was referring the the statement by the director of the NPG as to why the piece in question was removed:

    My suggestion is that the protests be aimed at Bohner, Bozell and company rather than the NPG whose funding was threatened by these fools.

  6. There is an excellent audio interview with Marty Sullivan of the NPG discussing the decision to remove the piece here:

  7. @Jonathan, your point is well taken, but I think the Museum needs to be held accountable too. Am I being too idealistic to think somebody at the NPG should have stood up to this? Maybe.

  8. @Brian: Probably. It happens :)

  9. Not too idealistic in the least. The words of your flyer are beautiful. The NPG staff/board should have had the guts to stand up against a veiled threat. This type of cultural war issue is such a throwback that I'm sure tat the clowns in Congress would've shut up.

    However, I just spend a lot of time on the NPG site about the show and it seems like a great show even withou the video. If they had the guts and integrity and intellect to create the show in thefirst place, it's so sad that they didn't follow through.

    Best from Chile,