A Critical, Contextual Review Of The Work Of Keith Haring

1039 words - 5 pages

Keith Haring was an artist and social activist whose work continues to embody concepts of birth, death, sexuality and war, all from the perspective of a gay man living in New York City during the 1980’s. Throughout his career he devoted much of his time to public works, brimming with social messages, which were often quite political. His work very clearly demonstrated the way much of what was going on in the world at the time personally influenced him, as well as the impact his sexual orientation and his AIDS diagnosis had on his life.

Sexuality, specifically homosexuality, was one of many consistent ideas throughout Haring’s work, however it was rarely shown in a positive light; Haring ...view middle of the document...

Haring prolonged his HIV diagnosis though he had a good idea of the prognosis, perhaps leading much of his work after his diagnosis, to primarily focus on male sexuality, enabling him to deal with his conflicting feelings towards his own sexuality and sexual practices. Evidence of this appears in cat no.27, as we discussed in class, which features a horned sperm hatching from an egg strapped to an individual’s back, alluding to the burden of having HIV; representing the oppressive nature of HIV on those it infects. At the time of Haring’s diagnosis, AIDS was very much viewed through the eyes of homophobia. The discussion of AIDS as a “gay cancer” or “divine punishment” was the subject of many heated debates, of which Haring retaliated by “highlighting homophobia and the corresponding AIDS-phobia” (haring.com) in his art. Drawing from ACT UP’s inverted pink triangle and the slogan Silence=Death, Keith’s work “Silence=Death” portrays three figures covering their eyes, mouths and ears consecutively. This piece, meant to illustrate the oppression and invisibility that AIDS victims felt during this time period.

Being HIV-positive was never a secret for Haring; it was public knowledge and an accepted part of his persona. Perhaps it was the fact that his status was so public that made him able to share his thoughts and feelings about his diagnosis through his art without restriction. Haring had always believed that art should be available for everyone, not only the privileged, and in this respect he catered to a variety of audiences. He often drew in the New York City subway stations and pasted collages publicly around the city. He began painting murals and opened a retail store, expanding his long list of socio-political themes of anti-apartheid, AIDS awareness, the crack cocaine epidemic, literacy, and UNICEF children's causes to new mediums. Haring often tried to use his status to promote safer sex, though conflicted about his own sexual practices he began to abstain from promiscuous sex and encouraged others to do the same.
He didn’t have one sole cause to fight; the humanist elements of his...

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