Ant-Covered Jesus Video Removed, Then Age-Restricted, on YouTube

By Matt Cover | December 3, 2010 | 5:09 PM EST

A crucifix in the video “A Fire in My Belly,” part of the ‘Hide/Seek’ exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The image shows Christ on the cross with ants crawling over his body and face. ( Starr)

( – YouTube first removed and then reposted with age restrictions a differently edited version of the same video featuring ants crawling over the image of Jesus that was removed last week from an exhibition at the federally funded National Portrait Gallery, a museum of the Smithsonian.

The approximately four-minute video on YouTube and the approximately four-minute video that had been displayed in the National Portrait Gallery were edited from the same 30-minute long master video--“A Fire in My Belly” by the late David Wojnarowicz. The two videos were not identical frame-by-frame, although they did share many of the same images.

The version on YouTube had been posted by Semiotext(e), a publishing firm that says it received a notice last week from YouTube that it was on 6 months probation for failing to meet YouTube's "community standards."

The edited version of “A Fire in My Belly” that had been displayed at the National Portrait Gallery was removed by the museum on Tuesday after public opposition and criticism from House Republicans following’s report on the exhibit posted on Monday, Nov. 29.

The version posted on YouTube included scenes of a man masturbating that were not included in the version displayed at the National Portrait Gallery. However, both the version posted on YouTube and the version at the National Portrait Gallery showed ants crawling over the image of Jesus on a crucifix, a man’s mouth being sewn shut, a bowl of blood and mummified humans.

The version of the video shown at the National Portrait Gallery, while not showing the man masturbating, did include an image of full frontal male nudity.

Blood in bowl and splashed blood in image from "A Fire in My Belly" video at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. ( Starr)

After published its story last Monday on the National Portrait Gallery exhibition and noted that a differently edited segment of the video was posted on YouTube,YouTube took the version on its website down, saying the film violated its policy on sexual content and nudity. However, by Wednesday night, Dec. 1, the video was back up under an age restriction that limits viewing to users over 18 years old.

The original, full-length video, made in 1987, is apparently  intended to depict the filmmaker’s anger over the AIDS epidemic of the late 1980’s. (Wojnarowicz, born in 1954, died of AIDS in 1992.)

A YouTube spokesperson explained to that the company is not able to review each video posted on its site individually because of the estimated 1,700 years' worth of content on the site. Instead, the spokesperson said YouTube relies on its users to report potential violations of its content policies.

Once a user flags a video for a potential violation, YouTube removes the video pending a review. Generally, YouTube prohibits “pornography or sexually explicit content”  but grants exceptions for material of an artistic of scientific nature.

“Generally speaking, nudity or graphic content is not allowed on YouTube,” the spokesman said. “However, we do have exceptions for educational, documentary, scientific, and artistic content.  In determining what to allow on the site, we look not only at the videos themselves but also [at] the context the uploader provides, like the title, description, and tags attached to the video. Depending on how graphic, some content may be age-restricted.”

Image of mummified humans in video "A Fire in My Belly." ( Starr)

If the video is determined to fall under one of these exceptions, but is deemed by YouTube to be inappropriate for minors, the video is placed under an age restriction.

Heidi El Kholti, co-editor of Semiotext(e), the publishing firm that posted the video on YouTube, confirmed in an e-mail that YouTube had restricted the video and placed the company on a 6-month probation.

“We published a book on David Wojnarowicz in 2007,” Kholti told “I posted the video around that time. YouTube just removed it themselves. I received an e-mail notifying me that it didn't meet the ‘community standard’ and that we were on probation for 6 months.”