Censoring Wojnarowicz   01.21.11

In the Life produced a brief documentary about the censorship of the Wojnarowicz video form the National Portrait Gallery's exhibition Hide/Seek. The video is included below for your consideration.

Recently, Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough has stepped forward to talk about the controversy surrounding the piece and its subsequent removal from the exhibition ( Up to this point, the Smithsonian has remained tight-lipped about their decision, thereby creating an information vacuum. Most of the news and information about the issue have been coming from the viewpoint of the protesters.

At the heart of censorship is a refute of dialog. It is a removal of one viewpoint, so that viewpoint cannot be expressed. By removing Wojnarowicz's work, the Smithsonian censored themselves once. By then not speaking about it, they willfully censored themselves a second time. In the remaining information vacuum, what is left is often only dogma and sound bites—from both sides.

The In the Life documentary is a good example of what happens when a dialog is shut down. It is a one-sided presentation. It is perhaps more level-headed than the protests that resulted in the pulling of the video, but it is still heavily biased and makes no concessions for the Smithsonian.

What seems to be missing form most all the coverage and statements made by individuals and organizations regarding the Wojnarowicz/Smithsonian issue is actual dialog. There has been a lot of posturing, a lot of accusations, and a lot of lines drawn in the sand, but acknowledgment of difficulties, collegial attitudes, and a healthy back-and-forth have been missing. Censorship negates a back-and-forth exchange, and therefore teaches intolerance.

I commend PPOW Gallery for getting the video out into the public in a very egalitarian and open way to allow people to see the work and make decisions for themselves about the merit of the work. They gracefully have been able to navigate this political storm to shine more light on Wojnarowicz's key issues and keep a dialog open.

At least the Smithsonian's Clough stated, "We needed to spend more time letting our friends know where this was going. I regret that." Hopefully, moving forward, that lesson learned is applied and the Smithsonian (And other organizations) don't censor themselves twice.

This Just In (01.21.11, 12:30 p.m.): G. Wayne Clough speaks out in L.A. about the controversy (

Note (01.27.11): The New York Times reports on the European reaction to the Smithsonian's removal of the work. It's interesting to see how the political systems result in different citizen response. (

Keywords: aids, censorship, david wojnarowicz, film, h.i.v., queer, smithsonian, video art
Author: Christopher Lynn, Executive Director
Category: General


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