Silence = Death Project American

Not on view

This print designed by the Silence = Death Project, a consciousness-raising and advocacy group founded in 1987 around the AIDS epidemic, is among the most recognizable political posters of the twentieth century. Using fluorescent colors and the powerful visual language of advertising, it features an image of then-President Ronald Reagan with glowing pink eyes and the phrase "AIDSGATE," a reference to his negligence in responding to the growing crisis. Though the first cases of AIDS were identified in 1981, Reagan would not publicly acknowledge the disease until four years later; by that time, more than 12,000 people had died. The bottom of the poster indicts Reagan for his inaction, and calls attention to the disproportionate number of women and people of color affected by the virus: "This Political Scandal Must be Investigated! 54% of people with AIDS in NYC are Black or Hispanic… AIDS is the No. 1 killer of women between the ages of 24 and 29 in NYC… By 1991, more people will have died of AIDS than in the entire Vietnam War…What is Reagan’s real policy on AIDS? Genocide of all Non-Whites, Non-males and Non-heterosexuals?… SILENCE = DEATH."

Formed in New York City by a six-person collective (Avram Finkelstein, Brian Howard, Oliver Johnston, Charles Kreloff, Chris Lione, and Jorge Socarrás), the Silence = Death Project mobilized to rally communities towards political action around the AIDS crisis rather than remain silent, as Reagan had. Finkelstein said of the group’s name: "It signaled the inevitability and certainty of calculus and was perfect branding shorthand. I dubbed the equation 'New Math for the Age of AIDS.'" The group announced its formation with a now-iconic black poster featuring its name in white and a pink triangle, a reference to the downward-facing Nazi badge used to identify LGBTQ prisoners in concentration camps. Turned upright in an act of reclamation, the pink triangle has since become the primary visual symbol of AIDS activism and a worldwide emblem of gay pride. AIDSGATE was only the second poster produced by the group. It was designed for a June 1, 1987 demonstration by the grassroots organization ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) in Washington, D.C.

Today HIV and AIDS remain a global health issue. In 2019, nearly 40 million people worldwide were reported to be living with HIV/AIDS and around 700,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses. Women and communities of color continue to face disproportionate risk for contracting the disease as well as increased barriers to treatment.

AIDSGATE, Silence = Death Project (American, founded 1987), Lithograph

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