Wednesday 15 December 2010

Blasphemy or religious art? Wojnarowicz revisited

"Wojnarowicz’s Ant-Covered Jesus: Blasphemy or Religious Art?" is the title of an essay by S. Brent Plate, posted here on Religion Dispatches.  It deals with, among other things, the controversy over a work (or works, depending on how you count them) by the late American artist David Wojnarowicz, A Fire in My Belly, which portrayed Jesus covered in ants.  Plate explains that the artist
"... entered the “Culture Wars” in 1989 when the National Endowment for the Arts rescinded funding for a catalog and an exhibition on the topic of AIDS. Wojnarowicz had contributed an essay that attacked several public figures for supporting policies he believed helped the spread of AIDS. The controversy at this time, along with other right-wing criticisms (Senator Jesse Helms led the way) against the artists Andres Serrano, Karen Finley, and Robert Mapplethorpe, brought Wojnarowicz into national media attention beyond the art world.

The following year, Wojnarowicz went on the offensive, and filed a $5 million suit against Donald Wildmon, Methodist Minister and founder of the American Family Association, after the AFA mailed tens of thousands of pamphlets that spoke against the homoerotic themes of Wojnarowicz’s work and included many details from the artist’s photo collages. The suit also included charges of copyright infringement for reproducing imagery without permission. The AFA was ordered to cease all distribution and to publish and distribute a correction. Wojnarowicz was awarded a token $1 for damages. Many saw this as a victory for Wojnarowicz, as no one had taken on such a legal battle before".
The court's ruling in Wojnarowicz v American Family Association and Wildmon can be read in full here.

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