Lucy Gordon|07.04.2015|Event Feature
A look back at the relationship between art and AIDS activism

Since HIV emerged as a global health issue, the fight against it has been intertwined with art and creativity. Some of the most prominent HIV campaigners have used art to express their feelings on the virus and to communicate the struggle against it.

As we count down the days until the contemporary art extravaganza that is MTV RE:DEFINE hits Dallas, Texas, we wanted to take a look back at the artists who have grappled with HIV as a subject over the years.

So in the lead-up to MTV RE:DEFINE, we’ve looked at some of the artists who’ve defined the struggle against HIV…

Keith Haring

Keith Haring/Keith Haring Foundation Ignorance = Fear, 1989

Haring’s line based, graffiti style images is iconic. As iconic as his art is his work on building awareness of HIV.

Before unfortunately becoming all too familiar with HIV, Haring championed a number of social and political causes – including safe sex and LGBT rights. When he was diagnosed with HIV, it made sense that he threw himself into opening up about his battle with the virus and expressing himself through his work. Before he died of AIDS-related complications at just 31, he set up his own foundation, which continues today to provide grants to those with HIV.

Barbara Kruger

Barbara Kruger The Indomitable Spirit, 1990

Kruger used her black, white, and red text-based and photograph-based work to create startling imagery to boost HIV awareness.

Kruger insured that social and political issues have always been at the centre of her work, particularly gender and sex. Some of the pieces she’s created around HIV have been pretty direct in their reference to the virus. Others, like The Indomitable Spirit, used to front a campaign fundraising for the struggle against HIV, have made more indirect reference, exploring themes of life and death.

Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin Gotscho Kissing Gilles, 1993

Goldin’s life was deeply affected by HIV, with many members of her inner circle of friends diagnosed with HIV and dying of AIDS-related complications.

Goldin’s blunt and stark photography documented various marginalised sub-cultures. Many of the subjects she shot in 1980s and 1990s New York eventually fell ill with HIV and, without the treatment available today, began dying. It was only natural that Goldin used her camera to document all of these tragedies.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres

Felix Gonzalez-Torres/The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation Untitled (Perfect Lovers), 1991

Gonzales-Torres was another artist to tragically pass away much too young as a result of HIV. Like Haring, before his death he established himself as one of the most prominent HIV activists.

Gonzelez-Torres produced minimalist installations, which he often used as a vessel for expressing his own battle as a man living with HIV. Working with activist collectives of artists he exhibited whole shows on HIV. After his HIV-positive partner passed away, he produced striking, simple sculptures exploring death, deterioration, and regeneration.

Find out more about the contemporary art event, MTV:REDEFINE.

Learn more about MTV Staying Alive’s HIV prevention work.

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