Lee Bridges, of Washington, watches ants crawl on a crucifix in the video A Fire in My Belly, outside the Transformer Gallery in Washington. The video was removed from the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery at the end of November. ((Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press))

Canadian artist AA Bronson is protesting the removal of a portion of a video by the National Portrait Gallery in Washington and is demanding the gallery return one of his photographs.

Bronson is the last surviving founding member of Toronto's conceptual art collective General Idea.  Formed in 1969, and active until 1994, the trio — which included Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal — created acclaimed installations and performances, many addressing the AIDS crisis, across Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

At the end of November, the gallery, which is run by the Smithsonian, announced it was removing a four-minute excerpt of the 13-minute video A Fire in My Belly by New York artist David Wjonarowicz, who died of AIDS in 1992.


AA Bronson was a member of Toronto's pioneering art collective General Idea, which tackled many issues from pop culture to the AIDS crisis. ((Nathan Denette/Canadian Press) )

The Catholic League, along with conservative forces in the U.S., protested the work as "anti-Christian" because of an 11-second segment featuring ants crawling over a bloody crucifix.

The work is part of the gallery's exhibition of gay and lesbian portraitures of life — Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture — running through Feb. 13, 2011.

Bronson told The Globe and Mail he wants Felix, June 5, 1994 to be returned to Canada.  The mural-sized photograph was taken by Bronson of Partz just after he died of AIDS in 1994, also the same year Zontal died from AIDS.

The image is on loan from the National Gallery of Art to the Portrait Gallery for its Hide/Seek exhibit.

'Hurtful and disrespectful'

Bronson says he sent an email to the gallery's director, Martin Sullivan, complaining about the removal of the video: "To edit queer history in this way is hurtful and disrespectful," he wrote in the email.

Bronson says he would like to see the entire 13-minute video on display at the Portrait Gallery.

Meanwhile, National Gallery director CEO Marc Mayer says he's asked Sullivan to consider Bronson's request.

The removal of A Fire In My Belly sparked an outcry in the arts community. The Association of Art Museum Directors blasted the Smithsonian for bowing to "unwarranted and uninformed censorship."

Both the Andy Warhol Foundation and the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, which loaned images to the Hide/Seek exhibit, proclaimed they would stop donating money to the Smithsonian, which oversees many of the museums in Washington, D.C.

A non-profit Washington art gallery, Transformer, has pledged to keep showing the piece in its storefront window every day for 24 hours until it is reinstated at the National Portrait Gallery.

Since the video's removal on Nov. 30, other galleries in the U.S., including ones in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh, also began screening it.