Crucifix film again outrages Catholics -- this time in Brooklyn

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The Brooklyn Museum of Art has once more riled Christian leaders over an exhibit they deem offensive. This time the controversy is over 10 seconds in a short avant-garde video that shows ants skittering over the crucified Jesus.

The video -- ‘A Fire in My Belly,’ by the late David Wojnarowicz -- was yanked from the National Portrait Gallery last year because the ant part angered some in Congress and the Catholic League.

Nonetheless, the Brooklyn Museum, known for edgy exhibits, is forging ahead with next week’s plans to open the exhibit ‘Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.’ The exhibit explores how gender and sexual identity have shaped American art; the video is one of 100 pieces in the show.

The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn has sent a letter to the museum asking that the video be pulled from the exhibit, according to the New York Daily News. ‘Certainly we don’t think this would be tolerated if this was the image of the Prophet Muhammed or any other religious symbol,’ Msg. Kieran Harrington, a diocese spokesman, told the paper.


In 1999, the Brooklyn Museum ran up against Catholic leaders and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani when it exhibited a painting by Chris Ofili that featured the Virgin Mary with a clump of elephant dung and cutout images of female genitalia. The then-mayor tried to cut public funding from the museum.

Referring to that exhibit, Catholic League President Bill Donohue called the Brooklyn Museum notoriously anti-Catholic but said the group would not hold protests like it had in Washington.

In the video, which includes Super 8 footage, a crucifix lies on the ground as ants run across Jesus’ bare body. This brief bit comes amid scenes involving blood, sewn-up human lips and a child breathing fire.

“What is the point?’’ asked Pastor A.R. Bernard, who leads Brooklyn’s Christian Cultural Center, in an interview with the Daily News. “I think this is the piece in the hide/seek collection they really need to hide.”

Museum director Arnold Lehman defended the show’s greater goals.

‘My hope is that this will be an extraordinarily important way in which to bring the entire city together to celebrate American art during this last century,’ Lehman said to the Associated Press.

‘This is New York City. This is a city that has thrived on the incredible contributions from the gay and lesbian community. This is a state that’s just passed a very progressive legalization of gay marriage.’


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-- Geraldine Baum in New York