The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, an institution set up by Mapplethorpe himself shortly before his death and which perseveres today as a body to promote creativity in the arts, has an idea. They think Mapplethorpe would be offended that the nation's largest museum would refuse to stand up for the integrity of art, and cave in to bigotry. That's why the Mapplethorpe Foundation has announced that they are pulling funding from the Smithsonian. After all, if the institution can't stand up for bold and provocative art, what's the point in giving it heaps of money?
The Mapplethorpe Foundation joins the Warhol Foundation in announcing that no more funds will go toward the Smithsonian, unless the work of art pulled by the museum -- A Fire in My Belly, a video portrait by Wojnarowicz -- is reinstalled. It was pulled last month after anti-gay activists with the Catholic Church and a right-wing news site, CNSNews.com, suggested that the piece was offensive to social conservatives.
What they found offensive in particular was a scene in the video where ants crawled on top of a crucifix. The work is meant to symbolize the persecution and stigmatization that those living with HIV/AIDS experienced in the mid-1980s. But for CNSNews.com and folks like Bill Donohue with the Catholic League, there was no explaining the metaphor. Perhaps that's not shocking, given the politics of these two entities. But the shock came when the Smithsonian and the National Portrait Gallery decided to agree with Donohue and CNSNews.com, and pull the piece. Talk about a failure to live up to the integrity of art, and giving a voice to people who would like to silence those with HIV/AIDS.
And proving that this fracas isn't going away, activists in New York City are staging a demonstration this weekend (pdf) to call attention to the Smithsonian's poor decision to censor Wojnarowicz's piece. This Sunday, activists will gather at the Met and march over to the Cooper-Hewitt, the only Smithsonian institution located in NYC. Organizers of the march said that the censorship of Wojnarowicz's piece is truly tragic, given that the exhibit it was a part of, "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture," was groundbreaking. Now it's being remembered as an exhibit that fosters the type of discrimination and stigmatization that so many artists who have works included in the show sought to dismantle.
"No one religion, no one party, no one segment of our society can be allowed to restrict access to works of art in our public institutions, which are funded by our taxes," say demonstration organizers. "
They then echoed the New York Times, in calling the decision to remove A Fire in My Belly "an act of political cowardice."
And that's probably the best five-word description of the Smithsonian's actions that anyone could deliver. Send the institution a message that they're permanently damaging their reputation, and should reinstall Wojnarowicz's piece. There are still about two months left of the show, which means that there's time left to make amends for this utterly poor and widely-criticized decision.
petition text -
Congress has no business censoring art and free creative expression, and threats to go after the Smithsonian Institution's public funding over a privately-funded art exhibit are inappropriate. That these threats are in response to attacks by Far Right activists like Bill Donohue, who has made a career of manufacturing controversies over false claims of attacks on Christians, is outrageous.
I urge you to end the hostile rhetoric and respect America's standards of honoring free speech and creative expression. As the leaders of incoming majority of the House of Representatives in the coming year, your job should be to work with the Senate and the White House to advance policies that will help Americans, not to chase political straw men at the behest of the Far Right.
[Your name here]