David Wojnarowicz: A Fire in My Belly

January 4 - February 6, 2011

David Wojnarowicz, A Fire in My Belly

A leading artist of the 1980s, David Wojnarowicz is known for the richly aesthetic and strongly activist works that he made in response to the AIDS crisis. The artist's 1986–87 film A Fire in My Belly is a poetic, unfinished work that was created in part as a tribute to his friend and colleague, Peter Hujar, who died of AIDS.

An excerpt of the work was removed from the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture following protests by a religious group and conservative politicians. In response to the Smithsonian's decision to pull the work, institutions around the country joined together to host screenings as a way to draw attention to its removal and to foster discussion around the work and issues of censorship.

The Smart Museum screened the original, 13-minute version of the film edited by Wojnarowicz in 1986–87 followed by a 7-minute additional chapter that was later found in his collection. It played on continuous loop in a black box screening area.


Video: Experts discuss Wojnarowicz and the controversy surrounding his work at a panel discussion on January 27, 2011.


Presented in the Robert and Joan Feitler Gallery for Contemporary Art.

Above: still from David Wojnarowicz, A Fire In My Belly (Film In Progress), 1986-87, Super 8mm film, black and white & color, Silent. Courtesy of The Estate of David Wojnarowicz and P.P.O.W Gallery, New York and The Fales Library and Special Collections/ New York University.
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On Campus

  • Panel Discussion
    Thursday, January 27, 6 pm
    Cochrane-Woods Art Center, room 157

    Join the Smart Museum for a panel discussion about Wojnarowicz and the issues surrounding A Fire in My Belly, including first amendment rights, the arts and public policy, and issues of gender and sexuality.


    Geoffrey R. Stone
    Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago

    Barry Blinderman
    Director, University Galleries, Illinois State University

    Betty Farrell
    Director of the Cultural Policy Center, The Harris School, University of Chicago

    Lauren Berlant
    George M. Pullman Professor, Department of English, University of Chicago


    Jenn Sichel
    PhD student in Art History at the University of Chicago and a research assistant who worked on the National Portrait Gallery exhibition Hide/Seek.
  • The Politics of Wounding

    Jeremy Biles writes about Wojnarowicz in the Divinity School's newsletter of religion and politics, Sightings.



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