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Smithsonian Censorship Protested in D.C.

Smithsonian Censorship Protested in D.C.


The Smithsonian board of regents met for the first time Monday to discuss the controversy over the removal of a David Wojnarowicz video from the "Hide/Seek" exhibition in Washington, D.C., and a loud protest greeted them.

Some 30 protesters, many of them from the New York-based direct action group Art+ ("art positive"), picketed on the National Mall to call for the board to fire Smithsonian secretary G. Wayne Clough, who last November ordered the removal of the Wojnarowicz video, A Fire in My Belly, from the groundbreaking exhibition on gay themes in art at the National Portrait Gallery. The video, a tribute to a former lover of the late artist who died of AIDS complications, depicts ants crawling on a crucifix, which sparked complaints about the use of taxpayer money from the antigay Catholic League and from House Republicans, even though the exhibition is privately funded.

According to the Associated Press, on Monday afternoon the protesters chanted slogans including "No more censorship -- Clough must go" and "Ants in my pants, fire in my belly -- Clough has got to go."

"We came down here to deliver a loud message: Clough must go because of the censorship, which was shocking and unconscionable, but also because of his handling of this entire episode over the past few months -- seven weeks of stonewalling the public and the media," said Bill Dobbs of Art+ in a telephone interview with The Advocate.

Clough stood by the decision to remove the video in an interview earlier this month with The Washington Post, during which he said he would hold a public forum about the controversy in April.

Dobbs said that as of late Monday afternoon, protesters at the Smithsonian Castle awaited an official response from the institution.

Art+ organized the action in concert with two D.C.-based partners, Transformer and the Museum of Censored Arts. People for the American Way also joined in the calls for Clough to step down last week.

Previous protests over the censorship have taken place in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Los Angeles. In addition, the Andy Warhol Foundation has threatened to cease funding for Smithsonian exhibitions, and the board of the Hirshhorn Museum, which is part of the Smithsonian, wrote that the censorship harms the institution's integrity.

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