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.”
Keith Haring died on February 16, 1990. In a discussion some time after Keith’s diagnosis with AIDS, Tullio Francesco DeSantis, an artist, writer, and friend of Keith Haring, asked Keith “Is there anything that doesn’t die?” to which Keith responded, “I don’t believe anything dies. It all goes in circles.”
Tullio recounts this conversation in his article, “Through art, Haring confronted death,” which appeared in the Eagle Times, February 1990, written on the occasion of Keith’s death. You can read the full article below, which reveals a touching and intimate account of a human being confronting their mortality.
American Masters –Keith Haring: Street Art Boy premieres nationwide beginning November 28 on PBS (check local listings) and streams Friday, December 4 at 9 p.m. on pbs.org/americanmasters and the PBS Video app.
Between 1980-1990, Keith Haring established himself as an art world celebrity and pop culture icon with a distinctive and instantly recognizable style that came to define the decade. This new documentary film is the definitive story of the artist in his own words. Following Haring’s AIDS diagnosis, he told writer and art critic John Gruen the story of his life in intimate and candid detail in 1989 for his biography. These previously unheard interviews form the narrative of American Masters –Keith Haring: Street Art Boy.
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.