Friday, December 03, 2010

Take action: tell the Smithsonian that censorship offends you!

Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough's willingness to cave in to right-wing extremists and censor the work of David Wojnarowicz should not go unpunished. Email Clough and NPG director Sullivan to let them know that the majority can be just as vocal as the minority! Send your message to and

Here is what I wrote:

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to express my grave concern at your recent decision to remove David Wojnarowicz's important work, "A Fire in My Belly" from the National Portrait Gallery's "Hide/Seek" exhibition.

As an arts educator, I am both disturbed and offended by the Smithsonian's haste to acquiesce to the bigoted wishes of a small but vocal group of extremists seeking to once again silence those who would speak out against the Catholic church's ongoing characterization of basic AIDS prevention as sinful. I am even more distressed that this censorship appears to be motivated either by a gross misreading of Wojnarowicz's artistic intent, or the more craven possibility that this move is prompted entirely by budgetary self-preservation. It is widely known that this exhibition was largely funded by private donors; moreover, as a taxpayer, I am less inclined to support government investment in the Smithsonian as a result of your evident willingness to abandon your scholarly responsibilities at the first sign of political fallout. I fear this action sets a precedent that will lead to censorship of other scholarly research at the Smithsonian that runs counter to conservative political interests, such as evolutionary science.

The National Portrait Gallery has in recent years developed a well-deserved reputation for excellence and progressive institutional programming - one which you have compromised in an instant with this regrettable decision. I stand in solidarity with the curators of "Hide/Seek", the formidable scholars of the Portrait Gallery's curatorial staff, the Wojnarowicz estate and the whole of the international contemporary art community in condemning your decision to censor "A Fire in My Belly".

Lastly, I regret that when I visit my family in DC this holiday season, I will be unable to share with them this important work of art. For many Americans, this time of year is about opening our own minds and hearts, and those of the people we love, to have compassion for those who suffer while we celebrate.

I will be showing "A Fire in My Belly" to my students for years to come, and hope that your shameful censorship will likewise prompt my colleagues to reconsider and represent this work.

Yours truly,
Anuradha Vikram
UC Berkeley Department of Art Practice

More info about this controversy can be found at the website of Wojnarowicz's gallery, PPOW.

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