“Fresh Air: Terry Gross Interviews David Wojnarowicz.” Accessed April 3, 2019. https://whitney.org/WatchAndListen/38052.
In his interview with Terry Gross in 1990, David Wojnarowicz addresses his recent complications dealing with his sponsorship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a critic’s labeling of his work as “pornographic.” The NEA pulled and then re-instilled funding for his exhibit under the agreement that none of the funds would go toward his politically critical catalogue included in the exhibit. Wojnarowicz expresses his frustrations over this setback in the interview and explains his long history of being a political and social artist. In response to the critique of his work being “pornographic,” David Wojnarowicz laments that his art was simply taken out of context–stripped from its message of homosexual liberation and freedom of romantic expression. In both instances, the Wojarnowicz denounces his adversaries and hopes for more acceptance moving forward as an artist expressing his own critical eye.
But the sign outside the door was never put up, and the grass is rarely cut,
it’s easy to miss-
And not too many people vis-
But he likes it that way.
If people came they would move too many artifacts around and the artifacts are much too
that the air and the light to stay the same and too much movement would
My Grandfather has no ordinary museum.
No, he does not brush off all the dust when it
Rests on his display
The pen, the book, the notes are never touched or cleaned
He still hasn’t answered the
My Grandfather has a museum.
But a sign was never put up, and the grass hasn’t been cut,
And he still hasn’t built
A Review in a State of Emergency
Late in my Fall semester, the Humanities course paid a visit to Davidson’s State of Emergency exhibit in the Visual Arts Center. One of the pieces that was displayed was a collection of hair taken from murdered women and placed in a black and white frame. According to our tour guide, these locks of hair were originally woven into the head of the artist and worn in a public space as a the violent treatment of women. What initially drew me into these pieces was the disturbance they caused, knowing that they came from the heads of women that had endured extreme suffering. I spent the rest of the afternoon unable to rid these images from my head and I was left with these three questions for reflection: Does good intention excuse immoral action? Who reserves the right to represent another’s How much of should require context?
I had encountered the first question regarding the relationship between morality and social justice several times before in the course. Such a question arises inevitably when studying the Civil Rights Movement of the twentieth century, massacre throughout the Holocaust, and the Black Lives Matter movement today. When circumstances become so oppressive, it becomes ambiguous as to when one must fulfill the obligation they hold as a citizen to protect human dignity by disobeying law and abandoning moral values. When collecting the hair from victims of homicide, the artist of these pieces must have encountered the same question. To steal from a body seems like further violation of the victim—as though the artist was yet again disregarding that person’s right to exercise power of their own person. However, it is this exact ugliness that the artist wished to expose, as the murders had been reported in papers and given little attention. Therefore, I imagine the artist felt those fighting for civil freedom in the past and even today: morals must be sacrificed if people are moved to change. Her theft resulted in global attention toward a community being abused and ignored by the people closest to it, so while her tactics had to resort to a strategy most disturbing, I concluded that I could think of any other way to achieve her purpose so effectively.
My second question was even more complex, and I am unsure if I will ever find an answer. Again, I have encountered this issue multiple times regarding black suffering and its representation in art and literature. In every instance, the line between alliance and appropriation is blurred, and it becomes difficult to distinguish what is progress and what is not. However, this problem occurs most often when those representing the suffering are truly doing so on behalf of an “other.” What I mean by this is, the more separated one is from the community they are attempting to represent, the less they do so accurately and without offense. Therefore, since this artist was a part of the same community as the women she was representing, as well as personally familiar with the female identity and experiences, I believe she was, if nothing else, the least problematic person that could have assumed the position.
The final question I presented to myself came out of, in all honesty, my own limited experience with the art world and its many interpretations. Until this course, I had always been an observer of art, never an educated critic. So, when initially shown these pieces, I saw the hair for what it was: hair. These frames gained absolutely no meaning to me until I was provided with their back story, which came directly from our guide –there were no captions, no descriptions whatsoever included with the pieces themselves that could have hinted at their significance. When our class travelled to DC and to Berlin, every art piece, no matter how simple, was something of the artist’s imagination or perspective, not something they simply collected. Items that were collected and displayed were presented in museums of history or science, always with some text alongside them that would inform the video where they came from and what importance they held. Reflecting upon this, I realized that the hair pieces were much more like the latter- their interpretation relied heavily upon their origin and their implications. Therefore, I concluded that these pieces would be more accurately represented if they were presented as artifacts, not art. This way, the message that was meant to be sent could be clear, and the women that suffered could be finally be recognized.