Fired Up: The Wojnarowicz Controversy Lives On
When the decision-makers at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery decided to drop David Wojnarowicz’s 1987 video “A Fire in My Belly” from their exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, they did it hoping to end the controversy. To the credit of the American art community, that act ignited a much larger conflagration. Opponents of the censorship have responded with full force—moral, aesthetic, and financial. Instead of banishing Wojnarowicz’s video to obscurity, conservatives calling for its removal have instead given the late artist a second life and the widespread media attention that comes equally from fame or infamy. Removing “A Fire in My Belly” has fired up those dedicated to the arts and, perhaps, awakened them to the seriousness of the latest battle in the American culture wars.
As I discussed here earlier, several conservative commentators looking to stir up the annual farce of the secular “War on Christmas” first misrepresented Hide/Seek as a “Christmas” exhibition, even though it opened on October 30th, and then misrepresented the exhibition as being funded by tax dollars rather than private funds. When the financing source was corrected, the same opponents objected on the grounds that the gallery itself operated using “their” tax dollars, thus giving them the right to object. Fortunately, supporters of Hide/Seek and the work of artists such as Wojnarowicz (shown above) want “their” tax dollars to speak as loudly as those of The Catholic League and friends.
When the show’s two curators, Jonathan D. Katz and David C. Ward, appeared at The New York Public Library, their previously scheduled presentation soon became an extension of the debate over the censorship. The National Portrait Gallery’s Director, Martin Sullivan, joined the fray from his seat in the audience. “Was it a great decision? Absolutely not,” Sullivan said in defense of the removal. “Is it one that we’re happy about? No.” But, claiming a need to look at the larger financial picture and not just this single exhibition and artwork, Sullivan concluded his defense by saying, “Sometimes you don’t get what you want entirely.” Ward decried the decision as “abhorrent” and wished there had been at least “a fighting retreat” by the National Portrait Gallery instead of the hasty, unconditional surrender.
That quick surrender caught the eye of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, one of the private foundations that funded Hide/Seek. The Warhol Foundation now will think twice about funding exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery or any Smithsonian institution. Where the Warhol goes, hopefully other institutions will follow suit. If financial force in the form of tax dollars can influence events in one direction, perhaps private funds can influence events in a more positive way.
The specter of the upcoming Republican-controlled House of Representatives choking off federal funding of cultural institutions that don’t toe the line was hinted at during the Katz/Ward appearance. Sadly, the long-term culture wars waged by the Republican Party since the 1980s have now become overtly homophobic rather than coded. Homophobia, the last “acceptable” prejudice in polite American society, is the real reason for the ban on Wojnarowicz in particular and the Hide/Seek exhibition in general.
Fortunately, other art museums have joined in the fight by showing “Fire in the Belly” when the National Portrait Gallery won’t. “We chose to show it as a way of not letting it become just a news story, a scandal,’’ explains Boston ICA chief curator Helen Molesworth yesterday. “We want to reclaim it as art, and to allow for the possibility of having an experience with it in a public museum.’’ (A great irony of the conservative ban is the wider recognition this controversy has given Wojnarowicz posthumously.) I can appreciate how Molesworth and others are trying to defuse the political situation by returning to the aesthetic plane, by “reclaiming” the video as art. However, those who reject “Fire in the Belly” do not care about what is or isn’t art. They serve an agenda that rejects art based solely on the sexual orientation of the artist. The percentage of opponents who actually have seen the video is probably very small. They don’t need to see it; they’ve already decided (or had others decide for them). Their minds are closed, perhaps for good. This cultural battle will be won by reaching those who still believe in freedom, artistic and otherwise. They are the ones who need to see this video, or at least know why it was suppressed. Now is the time for defenders of freedom to get fired up, and to get more good people fired up to finally reject the last acceptable prejudice of homophobia once and for all.
Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!
As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.
Lumina Foundation and Big Think have partnered to bring this entrepreneurial competition to life, and we hope you'll participate! We have narrowed down the competition to four finalists and will be announcing an audience's choice award and a judges' choice award in May.
The creator of the winning video — chosen by Big Think's audience, the Lumina Foundation, and an independent panel of experts (bios below) — will be flown to New York for a taping in the Big Think studio as a way to further promote their vision for a new, disruptive idea in post-secondary education.
Thank you to all of the contestants who spent time submitting applications, and best of luck to our final four competitors.
Finalist: Greater Commons - Todd McLeod
Greater Commons, founded by Todd McLeod and Andrew Cull, is an organization that helps people live happier, more successful and fulfilling lives through agile learning. The current education system is inefficient and exclusionary, in which many students who end up earning a degree, if at all, enter a career not related to their field of study. Greater Commons solves this problem and gap in post-high school secondary education in a variety of ways. Passionately and diligently, Great Commons helps others obtain skills, knowledge, wisdom, motivation, and inspiration so that they may live better lives.
Finalist: PeerFoward - Keith Frome
PeerForward is an organization dedicated to increasing the education and career success rates of students in low-income schools and communities by mobilizing the power of positive peer influence. PeerForward works with partner schools to select influential students as a part of a team, systemizing the "peer effect." Research in the fields of sociology of schools, social-emotional learning, adult-youth partnerships, and civic education demonstrates that students can have a positive effect on the academic outcomes of their peers. PeerForward is unique through its systemic solutions to post-secondary education.
Finalist: Cogniss - Leon Young
Cogniss combines technology and best practice knowledge to enable anyone to innovate and share solutions that advance lifelong learning. Cogniss is the only platform to integrate neuroscience, through which it solves the problem of access by providing a low-code platform that enables both developers and non-developers to build sophisticated education apps fast, and at a much lower cost. It addresses the uneven quality of edtech solutions by embedding research-based learning design into its software. App creators can choose from a rich set of artificial intelligence, game, social and data analytics, and gamification to build their perfect customized solution.
Finalist: Practera - Nikki James
Practera's mission is to create a world where everyone can learn through experience. Today's workplaces are increasingly dynamic and diverse, however, costly and time-consuming experiential learning is not always able to offer the right opportunities at scale. Many students graduate without developing the essential skills for their chosen career. Practera's team of educators and technologists see this problem as an opportunity to transform the educational experience landscape, through a CPL pedagogical framework and opportunities to apply students' strengths through active feedback.
Thank you to our judges!
Our expert judges are Lorna Davis, Dan Rosensweig, and Stuart Yasgur.
Lorna Davis is the Senior Advisor to Danone CEO and is a Global Ambassador for the B Corp movement. Lorna has now joined B-Lab, the non-for-profit that supports the B Corporation movement on an assignment to support the journey of large multi nationals on the path to using business as a force of good.
Dan Rosensweig joined Chegg in 2010 with a vision for transforming the popular textbook rental service into a leading provider of digital learning services for high school and college students. As Chairman and CEO of Chegg, Dan commits the company to fulfilling its mission of putting students first and helping them save time, save money and get smarter.
Stuart Yasgur leads Ashoka's Social Financial Services globally. At Ashoka, Stuart works with others to initiate efforts that have mobilized more than $500 million in funding for social entrepreneurs, engaged the G20 through the Toronto, Seoul and Los Cabos summits and helped form partnerships with leading financial institutions and corporations.
Again, thank you to our incredible expert judges.
- Beethovan and Picasso are the perfect examples for mastering the creative process.
- Behind each of their works are countless studies and sketches.
- The lesson? Never erase anything, keep iterating, and find new paths to familiar destinations.
Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."
- Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
- Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
- Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.
- The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
- Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
- Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.