Keith Haring would have been 62 years old today had he not succumbed to HIV/AIDS related complications in 1990.
Keith was an activist as well as an artist, and frequently used his artwork to help draw attention to a variety of issues, including the call to end apartheid, nuclear-disarmament, and the HIV-AIDS epidemic.
In a statement in the magazine Flash Art in 1984, Keith wrote “I think the contemporary artist has a responsibility to humanity to continue celebrating humanity and opposing the dehumanization of our culture.” His well-documented history of social activism shows his commitment to this belief.
April is National Poetry Month, launched by the Academy of American Poets in April 1996 to remind the public that poets have an integral role to play in our culture and that poetry matters. Since then, it has become one of the largest literary celebrations in the world.
Keith Haring was deeply impacted by poetry, writing in his Journals in the Fall of 1979, “I have been enlightened. I have fell into poetry and it has swallowed me up.” You can read what Keith wrote about poetry in his Journals, which he titled, “The Chunk Called Poetry,” below.
To learn more about National Poetry Month, and how to become involved in the celebration of poetry, visit the website of the Academy of American Poets.
“I’m trying as hard as I can to make some sense out of all this madness. My life, my misguided love, my friends, suffering, pain, and little bursts of sanity. It’s got to get better, I think, but it only seems to get worse. How long can it go on? And who am I to question it? It’s not even a question of understanding anymore, but accepting. I accept my fate, I accept my life. I accept my shortcomings, I accept the struggle. I accept my inability to understand. I accept what I will never become and what I will never have. I accept death and I accept life. I have no profound realizations — it is blind acceptance and some kind of faith. I am becoming numb to all of this, which is in a way even more frightening. Nothing even surprises or shocks me anymore. I am becoming very hard on the outside and even softer on the inside. I have to get through this. All of this and my own life, too.”
–Keith Haring, Journals, February 15, 1989
Keith Haring died from AIDS-related complications thirty years ago, on February 16, 1990. Though struggling to make sense of the world he lived in, Keith continued to create until shortly before his death, using art as a way of maintaining hope.
One of the last works he created was a bronze altarpiece, cast in an edition of nine, one of which can be visited at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City.
In May of 1989, Keith painted his mural Once Upon a Time… in a bathroom at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center (known colloquially as The Center) in New York City.
Keith viewed this mural as a memorial to the casualties of AIDS, and to the loss of a time when expression of sexual freedom could be experienced as a joyful celebration. The mural still exists today, and the room is no longer a bathroom, but functions as a sanctuary and place of contemplation for many people impacted by the AIDS crisis.
The Center has been a home and resource hub for the LGBT community, NYC residents, and visitors since its founding in 1983. It provides a place to connect and engage, find camaraderie and support, and celebrate the vibrancy and growth of the LGBT community. The Center offers the LGBTQ communities of NYC advocacy, health and wellness programs; arts, entertainment and cultural events; recovery, parenthood and family support services.
World AIDS Day, designated on December 1st every year since 1988, is an international day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection and mourning those who have died of the disease.
Keith Haring first painted his iconic Crack is Wack mural in June of 1986 as a response to witnessing, first-hand, the crack epidemic ravaging communities, and the ineffectual and devastating policies of the U.S. government’s War on Drugs, with its inane “Just Say No ” slogan. While painting the mural he was arrested and fined. Eventually, the first version of the mural was painted over, but in October of 1986, Henry Stern, the Commissioner of the New York City Parks Department, asked Keith to paint the wall again, with full permission from the Parks Department.
The mural still exists as a statement about the impact of addiction, and the urgency to act in the face of suffering.
Visit the newly restored Crack is Wack mural and park at 128th Street and Second Ave. Read the NYC Parks Department press release about this new restoration here.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, which began the morning of June 28, 1969, when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street. Among the working-class patrons who refused to be arrested quietly were the transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson and the gay artist Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt. The confrontation spilled out into the street in protests and violent clashes; the riots continued for days, marking a turning point in the fight for queer civil rights.
Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, is New York City Pride Month, which culminates this weekend with the celebratory NYC Pride March this Sunday, June 30th, at Noon. The Queer Liberation March, also on Sunday, steps off at 9:30 a.m., and seeks to be a more somber and inclusive march, casting a critical eye towards corporate pinkwashing. To learn more about the Queer Liberation March, read its Why We March statement. Both marches are free to attend and welcoming to all.
Keith Haring would have been 61 years old today had he not succumbed to HIV/AIDS related complications in 1990. He surely would have been hopeful and optimistic in light of recent findings that have led the media to proclaim the “end of AIDS is in sight.” However, for many, access to medicine and healthcare remains a major hurdle in the fight against HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
According to the World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “The right to health for all people means that everyone should have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without suffering financial hardship. No one should get sick and die just because they are poor, or because they cannot access the health services they need.”
As we continue the fight against HIV/AIDS, it is critical that we understand that healthcare is a human right.
“I accept my fate, I accept my life. I accept my shortcomings, I accept the struggle. I accept my inability to understand. I accept what I will never become and what I will never have. I accept death and I accept life. I have no profound realizations — it is blind acceptance and some kind of faith.”
This year marks the 30thanniversary of World AIDS Day. World AIDS Day is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from AIDS-related illness. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.
There are an estimated 37 million people living with the virus worldwide today. Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.
Today, scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment, there are laws to protect people living with HIV, and we have much more knowledge about the condition. And, after over 30 years of the HIV pandemic, the world may soon witness the birth of an AIDS-free generation, with new infections in children reduced by more than half globally.
However, World AIDS Day serves as an important reminder that HIV has not gone away – preventative outreach and lifelong treatment remain vital, and stigma and discrimination are still a reality for many people living with the condition. The need to provide care, raise awareness, fight prejudice, and improve education persists.
During his lifetime Keith Haring worked to raise awareness of the disease. Before succumbing to AIDS-related illness in 1990, he established the Keith Haring Foundation to help continue the fight against HIV.