Onorato, Ron [faculty advisor, Department of Art]




AIDS, art, activism


Protest art is all around us. Whether we realize it or not, we are influenced by the political, social, or cultural messages that are within the artworks. I have always been interested in the effects of disease on a population and disease has had an effect on artists and the artworks that they produce throughout the ages. Today, AIDS has affected almost every single person on this planet and is a topic that enters political debates, affects the social constructs of society and carries many negative cultural connotations. AIDS first stormed through the United States in the early 1980s affecting first the homosexual community and as the years passed hit everyone in all walks of life regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, or social standing. Artists drew on the havoc that AIDS brought in its wake in the 1980s and brought a human element to the suffering that was occurring across the United States and around the world. Artists also used this opportunity to try to increase awareness among the general population about AIDS and its effects on the human body. But did the artworks that centered on AIDS really have any effect on the general population in bringing about more awareness of AIDS? Did AIDS protest art translate the experience of living with AIDS, define courage and loss, or ignite activism? Through this project I hope to explore how AIDS related art can be defined as a form of protest art and whether the artists, who were working towards showing the world that AIDS was killing their friends, their loved ones and themselves, got their point across. Was there an increase in activism against AIDS? Did artists target health centers in which to display their artworks or were they just shown in galleries? And why today, when there is still no cure for AIDS and the disease is still as deadly as it was twenty years ago do we not acknowledge it with as much fervor as we did then? Medicines have gotten better at prolonging the lives of those living with HIV/AIDS, but people are still dying and artists are still painting, sculpting, creating works which memorialize those who have gone and those that are living on in the shadow of their disease.

AIDS art.ppt (976 kB)