David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) was a New York-based artist and AIDS activist whose work was famously targeted as obscene in the late 1980s and early 1990s by Jesse Helms and the Reverend Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association. Wojnarowicz dedicated his life to activism and the arts community; his successful suit against Wildmon for copyright infringement and misrepresentation of his art marked a significant advance in artists' rights. Today his work is in the collections of museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Whitney Museum of American Art; Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid; Museum Ludwig, Cologne; and SFMOMA.
In November 2010, complaints from the Catholic League and several members of Congress brought about the removal of Wojnarowicz's video piece A Fire in My Belly from the exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. The controversial footage shows ants crawling over a crucifix. William Donahue, president of the League, characterized the video as "hate speech pure and simple" against Christians. In a 1989 interview, Wojnarowicz offered a different explanation of the symbolic use of animals in his work, saying, "animals allow us to view certain things that we wouldn't allow ourselves to see in regard to human activity. In the Mexican photographs with the coins and the clock and the gun and the Christ figure and all that, I used the ants as a metaphor for society because the social structure of the ant world is parallel to ours."
In response to the removal of A Fire in My Belly from the National Portrait Gallery, many cultural institutions across the U.S. — committed to defending the freedom of museums to present all aspects of cultural history — have organized their own screenings. SFMOMA joins them by offering this free, public screening of the full 13-minute version of the video. The screening will be followed by a discussion with SFMOMA curators and other members of the Bay Area arts community.