Subverting Silence: A Day With(out) Art 2020
December 1 marked the thirty-first anniversary of Day With(out) Art, when cultural organizations raise awareness of AIDS, remember people who have died, and inspire positive action. Amid a global pandemic and a fight for racial justice, this virtual exhibition brings student voices to bare on the art of David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992). Before his death from an illness related to the virus, Wojnarowitz’s multimedia work engaged in a radical honesty that drew on intimate experiences to pry open legal and social exclusions. Working in New York City’s East Village during the late 1980s, when the newly defined AIDS epidemic was exacerbated by federal neglect and societal prejudice, Wojnarowicz depicted moments often silenced by homophobia and fear.
Today, thanks to the success of antiretroviral medication pioneered twenty years ago, rates of infection have plummeted. In the United States, same-sex marriage is legal in all states. And yet Wojnarowicz’s struggles—and the bravery of LGBTQ activists—remain potently relevant. Their work paved the way for the human rights and principles of inclusion we often take for granted and upon which we rely as struggles for equity, access, and visibility persist: In the United States, over 1 million people are living with HIV, which disproportionately affects minority communities. Worldwide, more than 36 million are living with the virus. Everywhere, stigma and shame keep treatment from the individuals who need it most.
As Wojnarowitz wrote in 1991, “It is exhausting, living in a population where people don’t speak up if what they witness doesn’t directly threaten them.”
Juliana Ochs Dweck, Chief Curator
David WojnarowiczDavid Wojnarowicz, 1981, printed ca. 1981–87
Peter Hujar, American, 1934–1987 | Person depicted: David Wojnarowicz, American, 1954–1992
illustrations by James Romberger, American, born 1958 | text by David Wojnarowicz, American, 1954–1992
Untitled, from the Sex SeriesUntitled, from the Sex Series, 1989
David Wojnarowicz, American, 1954–1992