Paging zombie Jesse Helms: AIDS art scapegoating, political showboating returns

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Well, the '80s are back (again and again and forever). Here's an echo of the tedious, right-bred "Culture Wars" of that decade. Republicans John Boehner and Eric Cantor have successfully pressured the National Portrait Gallery to remove this beautifully rage-filled, pretty-innocuous-for-nowadays (and NSFW) 1987 video work by late AIDS acivist and artist David Wojnarowicz, with singer Diamanda Galas, from  LGBT-centered "Hide/Seek" exhibition. On World AIDS Day. Because there are ants on a crucifix. As one astute Gawker commentor noted: "Why not just wash them off with some piss?"

Obviously, this situation is sickening and ridiculous. But the silver lining is it puts Wojnarowicz (and Galas, and early video art, and the fading gay-AIDS communal memory) back in the spotlight. The work may not seem like much in our video-drenched, commodified-rebellion now, but back then, this was a spectacular instance of protest art during an actual civil war, a period when the religious right and the government laughed as gay people and people of color died horrible deaths, and blamed them publicly for bringing it upon themselves. People did these things! And blood itself was terrifying.

Also, it wasn't like Wojnarowicz could just pop open iMovie and cruise the net for Youtube clips he wanted to stitch together. All of this archival crate-digging and self-filming had to be produced, edited, duplicated, distributed, and promoted by hand and word-of-mouth, by someone who was often penniless, infected with AIDS, and who never knew how much time he had. It was as much a work of craft, underground networking, and temporal investment as an act of pure expression. (Plus, the team-up of downtown heroes Diamanda and David at the time was orgasmically exciting.)

Protest this douche move! This is a valuable document of American art and deserves to be shown, especially on today of all days. No censorship, right? The "Support Hide/Seek" Facebook page is here. And here are the addresses to voice your complaints and disgust:

Martin Sullivan, National Portrait Gallery Director:

sullivanm@si.edu.

Richard Kurin, Undersecretary for the Arts and Humanities:

KurinR@si.edu.

Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute:

Cloughw@si.edu

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