Early in the 1980s AIDS epidemic, six gay activists created one of the most iconic and lasting images that would come to symbolize a movement: a protest poster of a pink triangle with the words “Silence=Death.” The graphic and the slogan still resonate widely today, the latter an anthem for AIDS activism, and are often used—and misused—to brand the entire movement, appearing in a variety of ubiquitous manifestations. Cofounder of the collective Silence=Death and member of the art collective Gran Fury, Avram Finkelstein tells the story of how his work and other protest artworks associated with the early years of the pandemic were created. In his writing about art and AIDS activism, the formation of collectives, and the political process, Finkelstein exposes us to a different side of the traditional HIV/AIDS history told twenty-five years later and offers a creative toolbox for those who want to learn how art and activism save lives.
Avram Finkelstein is a founding member of the Silence=Death and Gran Fury collectives. His work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the New Museum, and the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.
"The personal story of a key designer of a crucial political movement whose success is often attributed to its design. It demystifies how design decisions are made under pressure of political crisis, and is compelling and potentially empowering to future visual activists. After Silence is an important contribution to the history of AIDS activism."—Sarah Schulman