The Artist Behind the Iconic Silence = Death Image

This fall, UC Press will publish After Silence: A History of AIDS Through Its Images, written by acclaimed artist and activist Avram Finkelstein, who was one of the creators of the major protest posters and graphics deployed during the AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s.

Finkelstein was a part of every major radical queer activist group, including Gran Fury, ACT UP, and the Silence = Death collective, which produced one of the most iconic and lasting images that would come to symbolize the AIDS activist movement: a protest poster of a pink triangle with those same words “Silence=Death.”

The graphic and the slogan still resonate widely today and are often used — and misused — to brand the entire movement, appearing in a variety of ubiquitous manifestations. Finkelstein previously addressed the issue of authorship and ownership on the New York Public Library’s blog, saying that once a political poster reaches the public sphere, “it belongs to those who respond to its call. So while I had a hand in producing Silence=Death, I would argue that it was the AIDS activist community that actually created it, a community in search of its voice, one that went on to find it through the activation of its own social spaces.”

In the following video, Finkelstein also discusses the design decisions that were made to create the famous image, and the weight of the meaning of “silence,” eloquently stating that: “Institutionally, silence is about control. Personally, silence is about complicity.”

 

With After Silence, Finkelstein exposes us to a different side of the traditional HIV/AIDS history through his writing about art and AIDS activism, the formation of collectives, and the political process while also providing a toolkit for how art and activism can save lives.

After Silence is available this November. Pre-order your copy today.