Statement on David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly

December 2, 2010

Filed under: Essays, Writings


David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly Excerpt featuring Diamanda Galás’ The Law of the Plague

Spanish Translation
Italian Translation

There is a long history to David Wojnarowicz’s disputed film, A Fire in My Belly, as several versions have been created and circulated over the years.

A 7-minute edit of A Fire in My Belly was created, featuring Diamanda Galas’ song, This is the Law of the Plague. The music comes from Galas’ controversial Plague Mass, a requiem for those dead and dying of AIDS, which she performed at Saint John the Divine cathedral in New York City in 1991. As for A Fire in My Belly, This Is the Law of the Plague was condemned by the catholic Church (John Cardinal O’Connor at the time), who tried to prevent its performance.

Statement from Diamanda Galás

December 2, 2010

I am the composer and librettist for THIS IS THE LAW OF THE PLAGUE, the work from my mass for PWA’s, performed at ST JOHN THE DIVINE’S in 1991 against the wishes of John Cardinal O’Connor, who tried to prevent its performance.

THIS IS THE LAW OF THE PLAGUE was composed in 1986. I will presume this is the music composition upon which David’s film A FIRE IN MY BELLY was based, or with which he felt a strong affinity, because I have been asked to defend our work, this collaboration. And I shall do so now.

I must begin, however, by making a behavioral and medical diagnosis of the rather shocking reaction of the Catholic League of Washington DC and particular members of the House of Representatives to this work. Their complaint is that the work “offends Christians,” or so I hear. I have heard many stories, but working off of this assumption and the Smithsonian’s own decision to either independently censor the work or cave in to these organizations, there are possibly three guilty parties here. What the Catholic League and certain members of the House presumably wish to remove from their consciousness is thirty years of death sentences handed down to their parishioners and citizenry, who were told not to wear condoms, and the mistreatment of those stigmatized as miscreants and sinners by their viral status and/or homosexuality and/or status as drug addicts.

They wish to remove the UNSEPARATE CHURCH AND STATE conduct throughout the epidemic, which this film articulately reflects.

A FIRE IN MY BELLY is a HOLY film. IT MUST be. And why is this?

The text that I chose in 1986 in London was from LEVITICUS, chapter 15, THE BOOK OF LAWS, from the OLD TESTAMENT – whose treatment of the unclean is proscribed therein by any church that employs this text, and by the many legislators who for years have wanted to separate the infected from the uninfected. My liturgical treatment of LEVITICUS is a march of the priests and lawmakers forcing the unclean from the gates of the City into warehouses out of town, and is very gently illustrated by David’s depiction of the crucified Christ covered with ants. Ants are only one of the many insects and animals that would cover a man removed from his village and deposited in a leper asylum. There would also be maggots and rats and crows. David was gentle, I must insist.

I remember the doctors who told me they believed this was the way to go, and this was in 1993. There was Plum Island, after all, and other places where the contagious could be housed.

Here, Catholics and HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVE is YOUR OWN TEXT written so long ago and practiced in the USA to a brutal degree in this country for thirty years and to a much MORE brutal degree now in the countries of Africa and the Middle East, among others. Do not forget the punishment of Iraqi homosexuals with hum (anal glue), which glues the anus shut, and, in combination with the forced imbibing of laxatives, explodes the colon.

Here Protectors of the Public Good is your text and a Merry Xmas to you!


When any man hath an issue out of his flesh.
Because of that issue he is unclean.

Every bed whereon he lieth is unclean
and everything whereon he sitteth, unclean.

And whosoever toucheth his bed shall be unclean,
And he that sitteth whereon he sat shall be unclean.

And he that toucheth
the flesh of the unclean
Becomes unclean.

And he that be spat on by him unclean
Becomes unclean.

And whosoever toucheth anything under him
shall be unclean.

And he that beareth any of those things
shall be unclean.

And what saddle soever he rideth upon is unclean
And the vessel of earth that he toucheth, unclean.

And if any man’s seed of copulation go out from him,
he is unclean.
Every garment, every skin whereon is the seed, unclean.

And the woman with whom this man shall lie
shall be unclean.
And whosoever toucheth her will be unclean.

This is the law of the plague:
to teach when it is clean and when it is unclean.

And the priest shall look upon the plague
for a rising, and for a scab, and for a bright spot.

And the priest shall shut up he that hath the plague.
He shall carry them forth to a place unclean.

He shall separate them in their uncleanness.

This is the law of the plague:
To teach when it is clean and when it is unclean.

I performed Plague Mass in Italy in 1989 at Pogio a Caiano and was called a heretic by the CHRISTIAN DEMOCRAT PARTY, led by Rinaldo Innaco. I was not allowed to perform in the country for many years. I was shocked and very offended. As a Greek, Italy is the country that had always most welcomed me, and our cultures are very close. I was surprised at the massive amount of publicity, which questioned me as an enemy of Christ.



The word ‘sanctuary’ is based upon the Greek expression ithiateron thomation, which means ‘safe harbor, private room, a space of one’s own.’ It also is based upon the Greek expression ieros assilon, which means ‘holy asylum,’ an asylum from predators. To call the name of the exhibition Hide/See: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture and remove this work from it because it is too unpleasant strikes me as truly shocking. Is this film an insult to the spirit of Twinkletoes’ whitebread Christmas, to his Christmas tree and its friendly beacons of light which whisper “Good cheer, One and All!”?

The video was removed. The cross is a symbol of the CRUCIFIXION, among the cruelest tortures in the world. This is the sentence of slow and horrific death in which the spinal column breaks and the organs rupture. This is the torture for the worst of outlaws – the man who protested that the sick and the poor were not allowed into the church for the crime of being perceived as UNCLEAN, rather than “pristine” and moneyed, for his advocacy that the church BE a sanctuary to the sick, rather than a citadel for the rich family man, who comes to exchange invitations for tea and other such serious matters with OTHER rich family men.

David Wojnarowicz was a great artist who died a terrible death in 1992. It was one of the worst times in this country for people with AIDS. My brother, Philip-Dimitri Galas, died six years before him in 1986 of the same disease in San Diego. THERE WAS NO HOPE WHATSEOVER THEN FOR THIS DISEASE.

So what is so shocking about the truth now in 2010? Does it remind the clergy and the lawmakers of what the cross stands for: PUNISHMENT AND SAVAGE CRUELTY, and make ugly with the NICE and FRIENDLY WARM xmas spirit?

WHO in countries other than our own are dying horrific deaths of AIDS this Christmas? Christmas comes but once a year.

AND YOUR LIFE? It comes to you but once.

Diamanda Galás
NYC, Dec 2 2010