David Wojnarowicz 'A Fire in My Belly': Art Museum to Show 'Sacrilegious' Film

A controversial film depicting images that some religious figures have called sacrilegious will open as part of a gay-themed art exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum next week.

"A Fire in My Belly," is an unfinished film by the late David Wojnarowicz that at times, juxtaposes religious imagery with other images to evoke an aesthetic response. Made in the late 80s, the film explores the impact of AIDS on society.

Wojnarowicz, who died in 1992, and his partner both lived with AIDS.

A shortened version of the film was the subject of great contention last year when it was pulled from a National Portrait Gallery exhibit in Washington, D.C. amidst complaints from the Catholic League and other religious organizations.

Some have taken particular exception to the images of ants crawling over a crucifix. That scene is interwoven with scenes of animal fighting, butchering, male masturbation, gore, beggars and more.

The sequence of images in "A Fire in My Belly," appears entirely deliberate. The symbols Wojnarowicz employs are provocative or sacrilegious, depending on whom you ask, because the subtext of his art is not lost amidst the many striking images.

In the crucifix scene, ants represent human automatons crawling over a symbol of sacrifice and suffering.

Wojnarowicz's unique worldview was shaped by a childhood that saw him abandoned by both parents at the age of two. He spent years in and out of foster homes. He attended Catholic schools, where he learned the imagery so often used in his art, growing up. He realized he was gay in his teenage years.

In 1989, the American Family Association sent a pamphlet of selected images from several Wojnarowicz collages to Congressmen, religious leaders and media outlets. The intention was to ban the artwork for its blasphemous and pornographic nature. Wojnarowicz sued, claiming that his images were taken out of context. He won.

In reaction to the forthcoming exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, Director Arnold Lehman said he received thousands of "pre-programmed" emails from a Catholic group. Lehman said the film is an important piece of American art history.

The exhibition, entitled "Hide/Seek," will open Nov. 18.

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