Activism through Art: The AIDS Question

Ativismo pela Arte: A Questão da SIDA

World AIDS Day is celebrated on December 1, bringing together people from all over the world, with the aim of raising awareness, informing and demonstrating international solidarity in the face of the pandemic. During the 1970s and 1980s, art's discrimination on AIDS was immediately supported by federal laws that prohibited support for the development of works on this topic. “ None of the funds made available under this law (…) shall be used to provide education or information regarding AIDS, or for prevention materials or for activities that directly or indirectly promote or encourage homosexual sexual activities. ” It is due to this law that many of the works produced at that time on AIDS do not seem to be on this topic. As Sergio Bessa says, the artists had two possibilities: “to learn to camouflage AIDS and queer content so that their art would continue to circulate in the circuit of the arts, or forgetting official support and making art that was consciously activist, knowing it wouldn't be displayed in museums or art galleries. That's why exploring this idea of camouflage .” Discover in this article the artists who risked their careers with the aim of raising awareness and informing the public about AIDS.

Trojan Boxes by Adam Rolston, riff on Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes, 1991
In an installation composed of cardboard boxes of Trojan condoms ( Trojan Boxes , 1991), Adam Rolston updates Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes, 1964 and, through a subversive message, recreates the boxes of condoms, adding the word anal to the originally printed text. “for your protection during vaginal intercourse”.

Andy Warhol | P55 Magazine | P55.ART

Untitled (Water) by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 1995
One of the most emblematic pieces of this camouflage concept are the shimmering bead curtains - Untitled (Water), 1995 by Cuban Felix Gonzalez-Torres. The water, which in this context would be the purifying element, contrasts with what the disease would represent.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres | P55 Magazine | P55.ART

Untitled (Buffalo) by David Wojnarowicz, 1988-89
An iconic image from the 90's with a series of buffalo jumping off a cliff, is a metaphor for American policies on the disease in the late 1080's. This work demonstrates the need for camouflage on this theme in American art. .

Buffalo | P55 Magazine | P55.ART

AltarPiece by Keith Haring, 1990
The bronze triptych that shows a mother holding a baby and tears falling over a series of figures. After being diagnosed with AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) in 1988, the artist began intensively to promote understanding of this disease through his artistic production. He also founded the Keith Haring Foundation , as a way of educating, predicting and sensitizing people about AIDS. His career was brief due to the illness, however quite intense, continuing to this day to mark history, with his colorful, provocative and socially conscious images.

Keith Haring | P55 Magazine | P55.ART

The Silence = Death Project
The Silence = Death Project, best known for its iconic political poster , was the work of the New York collective: Avram Finkelstein, Brian Howard, Oliver Johnston, Charles Kreloff, Chris Lione and Jorge Soccarás. By rejecting any photographic image and using a more abstract language, they managed to reach multiple audiences. The poster hit the streets in mid-March 1987, and the Collective ended up ceding the rights to this work to ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).

The Silence = Death Project | P55 Magazine | P55.ART

Unveiling of a Modern Chastity by Israeli Izhar Patkin, 1981
Considered one of the first artistic representations of the disease, this work shows the skin opened by the wounds. It thus expresses the pain of people who have suffered from this disease.

Izhar Patkin | P55 Magazine | P55.ART

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