Freedom of Expression,

In Memoriam!

January 20, 2011

Another LA RAW Performance

Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Museum, removed David Wojnarowicz’s 1987 video, “A Fire in My Belly,” from a critically acclaimed exhibition about gay-themed portraiture. LA RAW invited Artists and activists, along with supporters of free speech and free expression, to gather at the Biltmore where he was to speak at the Town Hall Los Angeles public issues series, to protest against the escalating art censorship from the Smithsonian to MoCA.

Performers carry a coffin draped in a Dollar bill, a recreation of the censored BLU image on MOCA wall
© Shervin Shahbazi


Around 11:00 am LA Raw along with volunteers, activists and  community members arrived in front of the Biltmore Hotel carrying a coffin draped in a one dollar bill with a person holding a crucifix with a still image from David Wojnarowicz’s “Fire In My Belly” video pasted on. Media from LA Times, New York Times and Associated Press along with other art blogs all showed up, at one point there were about forty protesters who walked back and forth in front of the Biltmore entrances on 5th/ Grand around to 5th/Olive for one hour prior to the begining of the talk. At noon as the talk was about to begin, some of the protesters went into the talk.

LA RAW Protests Museum Censorship during Wayne Clough’s visit to L.A.

Performers carry remake of a still image from David Wojnarowicz’s 1987 video, “A Fire in My Belly”.
© Shervin Shahbazi

A brief report of Wayne Clough’s presentation at the Los Angeles Town Hall

At least 5 people from the demonstration also attended the Los Angeles Town Hall meeting at the Biltmore Hotel where Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian delivered the keynote address. Before reading from his prepared speech, Clough spent the first ten minutes of his 30 minute presentation focusing on the demonstration being held outside the hotel, and supporting the protesters right to demonstrate and their right to exercise free speech.  During the presentation he also praised the Smithsonian for producing Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture. Paraphrasing what he said, he was under pressure to close the entire exhibition, and believed that removing the David Wojnarowicz video was a small price to pay to keep the rest of this important exhibition open.

During the question and answer session—all of the questions had to be written out ahead of time and handed in—the vast majority of the questions focused on the ongoing censorship controversy.  The first question was whether the exhibition could travel to Los Angeles . Clough replied that it wasn’t intended to travel but certainly could.  At that point, someone from the audience yelled out, “Would it travel uncensored?” but the question was ignored.  Another person who attempted to ask a question from the audience was escorted out by security. 
In response to an additional question, he admitted that the controversy around Hide/Seek could have been handled better, and instead of having removed the piece, there could have been other ways for people to have expressed their objections and opinions.
Carol Wells, Founder and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics who was also inside states:
“In spite of Secretary Clough’s defense of his removal of the David Wojnarowicz video, and his admission that in retrospect the situation could have been handled differently, we are unwavering in our position that it is the fundamental obligation of museums and all public institutions to uphold the indispensable American values of free speech and free expression. The current controversy is not the first time the Smithsonian has censored an exhibition, but we are demanding that it is the last.”

Center for the Study of Political Graphics: