David Wojnarowicz was super-prolific painter, photographer, mixed-media artist, writer, Super-8 filmmaker, performance artist, song-writer/recording artist and outspoken AIDS activist who captivated Downtown New York and the art world throughout the late ’70s and ’80s, until his death in 1992 (age 37). World of Wonder announced today that he would be the subject of an upcoming documentary tentatively titled Wojnarowicz to be directed by Chris McKim (who previously did the Emmy-Award winning Out of Iraq).
According to the RealScreen announcement, the doc
“will provide unprecedented access into the New York-based artist’s archives and, with the full cooperation of his estate, will offer an intimate look at his life and career throughout the 1970s and 1980s.”
The documentary will feature Wojnarowicz’s collection of journals, letters, recordings and films, while also presenting interviews with his closest collaborators, friends and lovers.
Says WOW in a statement:
“The documentary is exceptionally timely in today’s political landscape, from police brutality, gun control debates, the fight for healthcare, immigration, equality and diversity – David’s work is as relevant today as it was in his time. The film will examine these issues through that work and add his voice to the resistance.”
(Top photo by Andreas Sterzing. A bit about the image, below, from Frieze.com‘s “A Stitch in Time”)
The first time I encountered lip sewing as protest was in Rosa von Praunheim’s extraordinary 1990 AIDS documentary, Silence = Death. One of the interviewees was the artist and activist David Wojnarowicz. A former street kid, a gay man who had recently been diagnosed with AIDS, he talked with great eloquence and fury about the different kinds of silence ranged against him. He spoke of what it had been like to grow up queer; the need to keep his sexuality secret because of the omnipresent threat of violence. He spoke of the silence of politicians, whose refusal to confront AIDS was hastening his own oncoming death. And, as he talked, footage he’d collaged together appeared on screen: a kaleidoscope of distress, which was later given the title A Fire in My Belly (1986–87). Ants crawl over a crucifix; a puppet dances on its strings; money pours from bandaged hands; a mouth is sewn shut, blood trickling from puncture wounds.
What is the stitched mouth doing? If silence equals death, the biting slogan of AIDS activists, then part of the work of resistance is to make visible the people who are being silenced. Carefully, carefully, the needle works through skin, self-inflicted damage announcing larger harm. ‘I think what I really fear about death is the silencing of my voice,’ Wojnarowicz says. ‘I feel this incredible pressure to leave something of myself behind.’
You make an image to communicate what is unsayable in words. You make an image to go on beyond you, to speak when you no longer can. The image can survive its creator’s death, but that doesn’t mean it is immune to the same forces of silencing that it protests. In 2010, nearly two decades after Wojnarowicz died of AIDS at the age of 37, A Fire in My Belly was removed from a landmark exhibition of gay art at the Smithsonian, in Washington DC, following complaints from right-wing politicians and the Catholic League. This time, the stitched mouth became a symbol of censorship. At protests, people held up posters of Wojnarowicz’s face, lantern-jawed, implacable, five stitches locking shut his lips.
Cannot WAIT for this.