The Dawns We Shanghied in Each Other's Arms, Exhausted
Region: North America
Subject: Sexual/Gender Orientation
Artist: Powers of Desire
Confronting Bodies: Liberty Foundation, Jerry Falwell
Dates of Action: 1993
Location: Los Angeles, California
Description of Artwork: The project by artists' collective Powers of Desire, entitled The Dawns We Shanghied in Each Other's Arms, Exhausted, describes a fictional romantic relationship between Lazarus and Jesus Christ, who has Lazarus murdered for having an affair. The accompanying drawing depicts two men in an erotic pose. The piece is a part of a larger project examining sexual and violent imagery in the Bible.
The Incident: In an "Urgent Mail" letter from the Liberty Foundation, Jerry Falwell began, "National Endowment for the Arts just funded the most malicious attack ever on Christ!" He requested an "emergency gift... to maintain battle against NEA disgrace," calling the prose piece "more vile than I could ever imagine!" A month later John W. Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute issued a direct-mail appeal with a copy of the work, parts of the illustration blacked out. He warned readers: "I hesitated sending a copy of this 'hate-art' to you for fear of offending you.... I suggest you might not want to look at the drawing nor read the copy. It is certainly not suitable for family viewing. That is why I have folded and glued it closed with a caution written on the outside." In the letter Whitehead requested financial support to pay the costs of filing a lawsuit against the NEA: "I believe that The Rutherford Institute may have to step in and take legal action if we are to put an end to the NEA's anti-Christian bigotry."
Results of Incident: Following the attack, the Powers of Desire collective began taking precautions at their subsequent exhibitions in the form of press releases and materials available for viewers, which explained the intentions of their work. Powers of Desire member Renee Edgington said, "Since [the Falwell attack] every time we've shown we've had problems [with complaints about exhibits' contents]."
Source: Artistic Freedom Under Attack 1994