You’ve probably already heard about the Smithsonian pulling down David Wojnarowicz’s “Fire in My Belly” off its walls in light of complaints by the Catholic League. On World AIDS Day, no less. There are obvious, if pretty sensationalist, reasons for the Catholic League to find the use of religious imagery in “Fire in My Belly” offensive (too Latin American, “garish,” “unsettling”). But I want to point out that the video is particularly threatening because it defies the ghettoization of HIV/AIDS as a gay/black/African problem.* It’s dangerous, “unclean” (as Diamanda Galas sings in the soundtrack), because it smears suffering everywhere—on stitched bread, flailing cockroaches, a burning globe. Yet, there is love in this rupturing of the self. A love Bill Donohue sorely lacks. The artist even takes his clothes off for you. Invites you into his bed. It’s that body of the outlaw William Haver discusses in his writing about Wojnarowicz’s memoir Close to the Knives:
“…it is nevertheless the case that it is with ‘a guy like this’ that an absolute vulnerability, a trust, a loving–albeit ‘illusory’–becomes possible; there, in the threat of violence to which one makes oneself vulnerable, it is possible to lose oneself.”
*My hope is that the attention surrounding this will eclipse the issue of arts censorship and lead to conversation about Wojnarowicz’s referents. We need to talk more in the US about the rise in HIV infections among high-risk groups, the increasing acceptance of unsafe practices, the obscene lack of proper sex education, etc.