Keith Haring was an American artist and activist in 1980s New York, whose artwork raised awareness on social issues at the time. One the main awareness campaigns Haring participated on was AIDS awareness and activism. As an openly gay man and someone who was suffering from AIDS himself, Haring wanted to break the silence and stigma on AIDS as “gay cancer.” Through Haring’s style and images he was able to reach a larger audience and spread the awareness of AIDS.
Haring’s main style for his artwork were cartoon like figures with bold colors and lines as seen in pop art and graffiti art. He believed that art was not only for the rich and elite but rather for the average everyday folk. He was quoted saying, “My contribution to the world is my ability to draw. I will draw as much as I can for as many people as I can for as long as I can.” Because of this, most of his artwork was seen in public spaces like subways and street. Haring would turn empty ad spaces into his artworks. This idea of art for the common person helped his AIDS awareness campaign as many people who would be affected by AIDS were able to see his artwork.
One of his more famous artworks for AIDS awareness and activism is called Silence=Death. In this piece, there are stick figures outlined in bold white lines inside a pink triangle. The figures vary from covering their ears, their eyes, and their mouths. The figures inside the triangle represent all of the people suffering from AIDS who felt as if they have been silenced and casted away from society because of this disease.The pink triangle the figures are inside of adds to this message of oppression since the pink triangle symbol was used during the Holocaust to indicate the people that were being singled out for their homosexuality. Haring wanted to give all the people
suffering from AIDS a voice and have their concerns be heard since at this time not much was being done on AIDS awareness.
Another artwork of his that raised AIDS awareness was a piece titled Ignorance=Fear, Silence=Death. The piece has three yellow figures outlined in think black lines behind an orange background. Like the figures in the previous work, each figure has their eyes covered, their mouth covered, or their ears covered. The figures also have a pink “x” across their chest which represents that actual disease of AIDS. The figures again represent people with AIDS, who are too afraid to voice their concerns and have been silenced by society. The top of the piece has the words “Ignorance = Fear” and the bottom has the words “Silence = Death.” During this period, there was a lack of knowledge on what AIDS and HIV actually was because people were afraid to speak up about the condition. People were afraid of the stigma behind the disease. Before the term AIDS and HIV were used, it was called GRID, which means gay-related immune deficiency. So the lack of knowledge leads to fear of the disease. The “Silence = Death” part is about all the people that
refused to get tested or recognize the seriousness of the illness will die. The public’s silence on the issue of AIDS was leading to more death, and Haring wanted to make this known.
Through Haring’s artwork, AIDS awareness and prevention was brought to the public’s eye and it opened up conversations about the disease. As someone who suffered first hand from the disease, Haring wanted people to speak up about AIDS so more research could be conducted in order to understand a disease that was and still is affecting millions of people.