Saint Sebastian has long been a patron saint of queer individuals. The story of Saint Sebastian paralleled the experiences and fears of the closeted gay community—when Sebastian’s concealed true (Christian) identity was revealed, he was shunned, tormented, and killed by those in power, a harrowing tale that mirrors the gay experiences of being “outed” throughout modern history.
During the AIDs crisis many artists, includingKeith Haring who died from the disease in 1990, found solace in the saint’s associations with healing and warding off plague, incorporating references to this patron saint of the gay community into his artwork.
Saint Sebastian can be viewed as a symbol of the litany of LGBTQ+ individuals who have been murdered or succumbed to HIV/AIDS around the world. We remember them during Pride.
Keith Haring died from AIDS related complications on Feb 16, 1990 when he was just 31 years old. Though best known for his popular images of radiant babies and barking dogs, Keith also worked in artistic capacities reflecting his generous and socially engaged spirit, such as hosting workshops for children, creating murals for hospitals, and participating in demonstrations and protests in the fight for justice and equity.
An example of such a work is the mural he painted at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn, NY in 1986 as a gift to the hospital for its dedication to healthcare access during the HIV/AIDS crisis. This mural still exists today and can be visited by the general public.
Keith Haring would have been 64 years old today had he not died from HIV/AIDS related complications in 1990.
As Keith was well aware, inequitable access to medicine and healthcare has always been a major problem in the United States. Its long inaccessible and crumbling healthcare system is continuing to be further eroded by the bigotry and greed of persons and groups actively working to deny healthcare to people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, and women.
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.”
Healthcare is a human right, and the struggle to achieve these rights for all continues.
As a young artist Keith Haring was greatly influenced by the work of Pierre Alechinsky, a key figure of the CoBrA art movement. An upcoming exhibition at the NSU Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale Confrontation: Keith Haring and Pierre Alechinsky, connects the work of Haring to Alechinsky and CoBrA, emphasizing the legacy of CoBrA, a movement which eroded artistic and social barriers by bringing work into the streets and adapting non-traditional creative sources including children’s art and pre-historic visual culture in order to instigate social change.
While commemorating the anniversary of Keith Haring’s death, 32 years ago today, it’s heartening to consider and celebrate the way art can inspire and connect people across decades and movements.
On the occasion of this exhibition, Pierre Alechinsky was asked to write some thoughts about his experience with Keith Haring, which he has graciously allowed us to share below.
Keith Haring was 19 when he visited, in Pittsburgh, the retrospective of the fifty something I was becoming in 1977. Many years later, I was surprised to learn that this visit was for him «the reason» for a life choice: to become an artist.
Had he seen a sign of encouragement in some shape or color or line? Still, he introduced me into his biography. So much so that the staff of the Whitney Museum borrowed my painting Central Park (1965) from me for his retrospective in 1997. Twenty years earlier, the artist had been struck by the work at the Carnegie Museum of Art, my first with «marginal remarks». Keith had wanted that to be known.
Having become famous, he came to see me.
Studio visit in the company of an editor… whose name I have forgotten. Sometimes, often, now more and more, my memory is fading, as Jeanne Moreau sang in the sixties.
We are in 2022. I am ninety-five years old. My old brain tells me that it has just found a scrap of memory. On the port side: we recognize K.H. in P.A.’s workshop in Bougival in 1984. He offers a t-shirt decorated with his hand. To starboard: we see P.A. dedicating to K.H. a Chinese ink work on writings from another era.
Keith Haring avait 19 ans lorsqu’il visita, à Pittsburgh, la rétrospective du quinquagénaire que je devenais en 1977. Bien des années plus tard, j’ai eu la surprise d’apprendre que cette visite fut pour lui la «cause occasionnelle» d’un choix de vie: devenir artiste.
Avait-t-il vu un signe d’encouragement dans je ne sais quelle forme, couleur ou ligne? Toujours est-il qu’il m’introduisit dans sa biographie. Tant et si bien que le staff du Whitney Museum m’emprunta Central Park pour sa rétrospective en 1997. Vingt ans plus tôt, l’artiste avaitété frappé au Carnegie Museum of Art par mon premier tableau de 1965 «remarques marginale». Keith avait tenu à ce que cela se sache.
Devenu célèbre, il vint me voir.
Visite d’atelier en compagnie d’un éditeur… dont j’ai oublié le nom. Parfois, souvent, à présent de plus en plus, j’ai la mémoire qui flanche, comme chantait Jeanne Moreau dans les années soixante.
Nous sommes en 2022. J’ai quatre-vingt quinze ans. Ma vieille cervelle me signale qu’elle vient de retrouver une bribe de souvenir. À babord: on reconnaît K.H. dans l’atelier de P.A. à Bougival en 1984. Il lui offre un t-shirtorné de sa main. À tribord: on aperçoit P.A. dédicaçant à K.H. une encre de Chine sur des écritures d’une autre époque.
The Life of Christ (1990), a bronze and white-gold triptych altarpiece, is among the last works made by Keith Haring, completed just weeks before his death from AIDS related complications on February 16th, 1990. In his inimitable and exuberant style, the altarpiece is crowded with angels and human figures, whose outstretched limbs lead the eye to the central figure of Christ, and functions as a tribute to those who have lost their lives due to AIDS.
The altarpiece was made in an edition of nine, which can be found in collections across the world, including the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, where Keith’s memorial service was held on May 4th, 1990.
This month we celebrate Pride and the progress and achievements made by communities working together to effect change. We feel hopeful, yet we know that the inequity and injustice wrought by capitalism continues. In the United States the number of people living with HIV has increased since 2010; with the highest rates occurring in the South, where LGBTQ+ and vulnerable communities face deep-rooted prejudice and lack of access to healthcare.
Lorraine O’Grady is a conceptual artist and cultural critic. The exhibition, Lorraine O’Grady: Both/And, opening this week at the Brooklyn Museum, is the first retrospective of over four decades of work. Her work often explores the ways in which hybridity has shaped the modern Western world.
In 1983, O’Grady invited 28 artists, 14 of whom were Black and 14 white, to participate in her exhibition and conceptual art piece, The Black and White Show, including Keith Haring. The exhibition was a response to the intransigent segregation of the art world, and its purpose was to materialize equality.
The exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum highlights O’Grady’s long engagement with art historical omissions and institutional failings related to those excluded from the canon.
Audre Lorde, an American writer, feminist, librarian, and civil rights activist, was born on this day in 1934. She was a self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” who dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, capitalism, heterosexism, and homophobia.
On August 27, 1983, Audre Lorde spoke at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. “Today we march,” she said, “lesbians and gay men and our children, standing in our own names together with all our struggling sisters and brothers here and around the world, in the Middle East, in Central America, in the Caribbean and South Africa, sharing our commitment to work for a joint livable future. We know we do not have to become copies of each other to be able to work together. We know that when we join hands across the table of our difference, our diversity gives us great power. When we can arm ourselves with the strength and vision from all of our diverse communities, then we will in truth all be free at last.”