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AIDS Memorial Quilt Panel

National Museum of American History
This panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt honors activist Roger Lyon, who died of AIDS in 1984. Shortly before his death, Lyon testified before Congress to appeal for funding to combat the growing epidemic.

One of the greatest challenges in the fight against AIDS was changing public attitudes toward the disease and its victims, who were predominantly homosexual men. To awaken a seemingly uncaring nation to the magnitude of the crisis, activists created the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Through its thousands of panels, each with a personal story, the quilt has served as a call for compassion, education, and action.

Oral history interview with James Wentzy, 2017 January 23-March 31

Archives of American Art
Sound recording: 15 sound files (5 hr., 13 min.) digital, wav

Transcript: 164 pages

An interview with James Wentzy, conducted 2017 January 23-March 31, by Cynthia Carr, for the Archives of American Art's Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project, at Wentzy's home and studio in New York, New York.

Wentzy speaks of his childhood in South Dakota; studying filmmaking at Southern Illinois University; moving to New York and shooting commercial films in the late 1970s; working and homesteading in the photography studio of James Dee; the beginning of the AIDS crisis; being diagnosed with HIV in 1990; his participation in and extensive documentation of ACT UP meetings, actions, and demonstrations; his place in the genealogy of AIDS activism; and his body of film and television work. Wentzy also recalls Darrel Ellis, Alanna Heiss, Arch Brown, James Dee, Robert Farber, Ho Tam, John Schnabel, Patrick Moore, Lou Maletta, Tony Arena, Vincent Satinire, David Buckingham, Jean Carlomusto, and others.

Oral history interview with Julie Tolentino, 2018 April 11-12

Archives of American Art
Audio: 7 sound files (6 hr., 14 min.) digital, wav

Transcript: 79 pages.

An interview with Julie Tolentino conducted 2018 April 11 and 12, by Alex Fialho, for the Archives of American Art's Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project, at a friend's apartment in the East Village, New York.

Tolentino speaks of her childhood in San Francisco; her family dynamics, including caring for her developmentally disabled sister; Harvey Milk's assassination; early exposure to dance and art-making; early exposure to queer nightlife; briefly pursuing dance training in Los Angeles after high school; soon thereafter moving to New York; volunteering for the National Gay and Lesbian Suicide Hotline; her involvement with ACT UP; experiences of AIDS-related grief; her close friendships during this time; continuing her dance education and performance practice in the late '80s and '90s; founding and operating the Clit Club; changes in the landscape of queerness during the '90s; managing the performance companies of David Roussève and Ron Athey; the beginning of her solo practice with Mestiza-Que Ojos Bonitos Tienes; the installation Marks of My Civilization; the beginning of ART+; her role in Madonna's book Sex; her reflections on the visibility of her body; developing the Lesbian AIDS Project's Safer Sex Handbook; her performance works For You, Sky Remains the Same, and Honey; her video work evidence; and her awareness of the past's construction and meaning in the present. Tolentino also recalls Page Hodel, Doug McDowell, Maxine Wolfe, Ann Northrup, David Robinson, Ray Navarro, Aldo Hernandez, Anthony Ledesma, Lola Flash, Catherine Gund, Zoe Leonard, Robert Garcia, Jocelyn Taylor, Martina Yamin, Cookie Mueller, Diamanda Galas, D.M. Machuca, Pigpen, John Lovett, Alessandro Codagnone, John Killacky, Lia Gangitano, Alistair Fate, Steven Meisel, Cythia Madansky, Kim Christensen, Kate Clinton, Lori Seid, Ori Flomin, Abigail Severance, and others.

Oral history interview with Robert Vázquez-Pacheco, 2017 December 16-17

Archives of American Art
Audio: 8 sound files (6 hr., 59 min.) digital, wav

Transcript: 131 pages

An interview with Robert Vázquez-Pacheco conducted 2017 December 16 and 17, by Theodore Kerr, for the Archives of American Art's Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project, at The New School, in New York, New York.

Vazquez-Pacheco speaks of his childhood in South Bronx housing projects; members and dynamics of his family growing up; experiences and discourses of religion, race, gender, sexuality, reading, and the arts as a child and adolescent; attending SUNY Oswego for one year; an existentially pivotal year in Miami in 1975; returning to New York in 1976, immersing himself in Latino gay culture, and being exposed to white gay culture; living in Hempstead, New York for two years with a boyfriend, and beginning to paint again; working at Chase Manhattan Bank and volunteering for the Gay Switchboard in New York City in the late '70s; the beginning of the AIDS epidemic; caring for his boyfriend, Jeff, who died of AIDS in 1986; the particular experience and effect of HIV on communities of color and low-income communities; mounting societal homophobia during the epidemic; leading Gay Circles, a gay men's consciousness-raising group, in the late '80s; his involvement in ACT UP, and burgeoning political consciousness, after Jeff's death; activism as a creative outlet; working at different times with the People With AIDS health group, the Anti-Violence Project, the Minority AIDS Taskforce, Latino Gay Men of New York, Minority AIDS Coalition in Philadelphia, and LLEGO in Washington; AIDS activism's failure to think intersectionally and build coalitions; his involvement in Gran Fury; becoming a more prolific writer, and getting involved with Other Countries, in the early '90s; Gran Fury's 2011 retrospective; the need for racial diversity and representation in activism and the art world; white flight from AIDS activism following the arrival of protease inhibitors; personal frustrations with the current AIDS activism discourse and nonprofit organizational complex, and the general cultural conversation about HIV/AIDS; contrasting representations of AIDS activism in How to Survive a Plague and BPM; and the essential role of art in AIDS activism. Vazquez-Pacheco also recalls Mark Simpson, Craig Metroka, David Kirschenbaum, Maxine Wolfe, Avram Finkelstein, Deb Levine, Charles King, Robert Garcia, Ortez Alderson, Derek Hodel, Gregg Bordowitz, Michael Callen, Carl George, Joey Walsh, Matt Foreman, Vito Russo, Larry Kramer, Tom Kalin, Marlene McCarty, Charles Rice-González, George Ayala, Essex Hemphill, Manolo Guzmán, Donald Moffett, Cladd Stevens, Richard Elovich, Loring McAlpin, Michael Nesline, Peter Staley, David France, Andrew Miller, and others.


National Museum of American History
Activists directed much of their rage at the Reagan administration; the prersident remained largly silent about the epidemic until 1987 when he declared AIDS "public health enemy number one."

Oral history interview with Lyle Ashton Harris, 2017 March 27-29

Archives of American Art
Sound recording: 6 sound files (8 hr., 6 min.) digital, wav

Transcript: 95 pages

An interview with Lyle Ashton Harris, conducted 2017 March 27 and 29, by Alex Fialho, for the Archives of American Art's Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project, at Harris's studio and home in New York, New York.

Harris speaks of his childhood in the Bronx; his family's influence on his race-consciousness; living in Tanzania for two years as a child and the effects on his understanding of race and sexuality; his grandfather's extensive photographic archive; contact with the South African diaspora through his step-father; attending Wesleyan University; formative experiences in London, Amsterdam, and New York in the mid-1980s; his education and development as a photographer; attending CalArts and encountering West Coast AIDS activism; encountering systemic racism in Los Angeles; close friendships with Marlon Riggs and Essex Hemphill; exhibitions of his work in New York in the early 1990s; the production of his Ektachrome Archive and his impulse to photograph daily life; his work on the Black Community AIDS Research and Education (Black C.A.R.E.) project in Los Angeles; participating in the Whitney Museum's Independent Study Program; being diagnosed with HIV and remaining asymptomatic; attending the Dia Black Popular Culture Conference in 1992; photographing and mounting "The Good Life" in 1994 and "The Watering Hole" in 1996; issues of blackness and queerness in his photographic work; his residency at the American Academy in Rome in 2000; moving to Accra, Ghana for seven years in 2005; his pedagogy as an art professor; his thoughts on the lack of voices of color in the Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic Oral History Project and in the larger power structures of the art world; and his hope that his artistic legacy will be evaluated in its proper context. Harris also recalls Jackie and Robert O'Meally, Jay Seeley, Ellen O'Dench, Francesca Woodman, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jim Collier, Robert Mapplethorpe, Allan Sekula, Hazel Carby, Isaac Julien, Catherine Lord, Millie Wilson, Todd Gray, John Grayson, Tommy Gear, Marlon Riggs, Essex Hemphill, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Nancy Barton, Vickie Mays, Connie Butler, Greg Tate, Henry Louis Gates, Houston Baker, Nan Goldin, Jack Tilton, Simon Watson, and others.

Sharing The Quilt's History

Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Joan Juster, panel maker and names reader coordinator, discusses the origins of The AIDS Memorial Quilt with Mike Smith, co-founder of The Names Project; Gert McMullin, Quilt production coordinator; and David Gere, former Quilt volunteer and AIDS activist. Catalog No. - CFV10412; Copyright - 2012 Smithsonian Institution

Oral history interview with Douglas Crimp, 2017 January 3-4

Archives of American Art
Sound recording: 5 sound files (6 hr., 2 min.) digital, wav

Transcript: 69 pages

An interview with Douglas Crimp, conducted 2017 January 3-4, by Alex Fialho, for the Archives of American Art's Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project, at Crimp's home in New York, New York.

Crimp speaks of growing up in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; his athleticism in water skiing and ice skating; sibling rivalry as a child; seeing art for the first time at the Seattle World Fair; being closeted and conflicted as a young gay man in 1950s Idaho; attending Tulane University in New Orleans and the culture shock he experienced there; his first year in Tulane's rigorous architecture program and ultimately changing his major to art history; the pageantry of Mardi Gras parades and the gay society he explored; writing an undergraduate paper analyzing Marcel Duchamp's "The Large Glass"; deciding to go to New York City; finding his voice as an art critic while beginning his career at Art News and Art International; his extensive analysis of Joan Jonas; attending Firehouse dances sponsored by Gay Activist Alliance and coming into his sexuality; being a patient of esteemed doctor Dr. Dan William; first learning of the AIDS crisis and epidemic through a New York Times article in 1981 describing a gay cancer; receiving an NEA art critic grant and spending a year in Germany from 1985-86; returning to find friends and acquaintances sick with HIV/AIDS or having died from it; the Dia Conversations; his role as editor of October and bringing queerness and AIDS to the forefront; joining ACT UP; the genesis of October's AIDS double issue in 1987-1988 and its success; how the journal issue changed the course of his career and steered him to teach gay studies and further his work with AIDS activism; the inner workings of ACT UP meetings; the sense of community ACT UP provided and the empowerment everyone felt; noting a sense of personal and professional urgency during the crisis; the timeline of his AIDS writings; his reaction to seeing the AIDS quilt for the first time at the March on Washington; writing to a wide, non-academic audience; his 1988 course at Rutgers University on AIDS video; his complex relationships with Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson; the poor coverage of the AIDS epidemic in the media and how it informed his writing; the understanding of the need for safe sex practices and writing "How to Have Promiscuity in an Epidemic;" teaching courses on AIDS at the University of Rochester and how his teaching interest evolved into queer theory and studies; evaluating Warhol's work with a queer lens; writing about his experience with queer life in New York City in the 1970s to counter the condescending conservative narrative; his current writing projects and interests; experience in demonstrations held by ACT UP; and the tremendous communal support he felt during his seroconversion. Crimp also recalls Marilynne Summers (Robinson), Bernard Lemann, Marimar Benetiz, Ida Kohlmeyer, Lynn Emory, Diane Waldman, Betsy Baker, Lucinda Hawkins, Christian Belaygue, Krzysztof Wodiczko, Rosalind Krauss, Joan Copjec, Gregg Bordowitz, Terri Cafaro, Rene Santos, Craig Owens, Fernando Torm, Bill Olander, Richard Elovich, Daniel Wolfe, Hector Caicedo, Lynne Cooke, and Zoe Leonard.


National Museum of American History
Activists directed much of their rage at the Reagan administration; the president remained largely silent about the epidemic until 1987 when he declared AIDS “public health enemy number one.”

Oral history interview with Avram Finkelstein, 2016 April 25-May 23

Archives of American Art
23 sound files (7 hrs.) digital, wav

Transcript: 148 pages

An interview with Avram Finkelstein conducted 2016 April 25-May 23, by Cynthia Carr, for the Archives of American Art's Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project, at Finkelstein's home and studio in Brooklyn, New York.

Finkelstein speaks of his childhood on Long Island; attending the School of the Museum of fine Arts in Boston; moving to New York in the late 1970s; losing his first partner, Don Yowell, to AIDS; the genesis and distribution of his many AIDS activist posters; the beginnings and actions of ACT UP and Gran Fury; the context of the 1990s culture wars; the mishandling of HIV/AIDS as a public health issue in the 1980s and 1990s; his personal transformation as a result of living through the AIDS crisis; and his work on Flash Collective. Finkelstein also recalls Nan Goldin, David Armstrong, P.L. DiCorcia, Jorge Socarras, Lou Molette, Richard Goldstein, Larry Kramer, Chris Lione, Simon Doonan, Mark Simpson, Don Moffett, Todd Haynes, Robert Vasquez, Loring McAlpin, Michael Nesline, Tom Kalin, Amy Heard, Mark Harrington, Richard Deagle, Julie Tolentino, Lola Flash, Davod Meieran, Patrick Moore, Maria Maggenti, Sean Strub, Eric Sawyer, and others.

Oral history interview with Ross Bleckner, 2016 July 6-8

Archives of American Art
2 sound files (6 hrs., 23 min.) digital, wav

Transcript: 151 pages.

An interview with Ross Bleckner conducted 2016 July 6 and 8, by Linda Yablonsky, for the Archives of American Art's Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project, at Bleckner's studio in New York, New York.

Bleckner speaks of his early childhood on Long Island, New York; psychoanalysis treatment as a child; early sexual experiences; his journaling practice; attending college at NYU; exposure to New York City's gallery scene in the late 1960s; spending the summer of 1970 in San Francisco; enrolling in CalArts' first graduating class; moving back to New York in 1975; his approach to painting; his body of gallery exhibitions; the beginning of the the AIDS epidemic; the New York nightclub scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s; the artists, art collectors, art dealers, and celebrities he socialized with in the 1980s; his career as an art professor; the effect of the AIDS epidemic on his paintings; his work as an AIDS activist; critical responses to his AIDS-related paintings; changes in the art world and market since the 1990s; and his greatest personal influences. Bleckner also recalls Sol Lewitt, Chuck Close, Howard Conant, Irving Sandler, Lizzie Borden, Paula Cooper, Julian Schnabel, Barbara Kruger, Betty Cunningham, David Salle, Eric Fischl, David Diao, Thomas Ammann, Andy Warhol, Alexis Rockman, Bianca Jagger, Gary Indiana, Michael Kimmelman, and others.

Pinback button promoting the American Red Cross HIV/AIDS program

National Museum of African American History and Culture
Rectangular pin-back button featuring a red, green, and gold outline of Africa, set against a black background. Black type appears within outline of Africa and reads, [RESPECT/YOURSELF/PROTECT/YOURSELF]. Gold type appears above and below Africa outline and reads, [American Red Cross/HIV/AIDS PROGRAM].

Designing Media: Alexandra Juhasz

Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
One of 31 video segments featured in 'Designing Media', the new book, DVD and website by Bill Moggridge. More info on 'Designing Medi'a available at Alexandra is a professor of media studies at Pitzer College in California, where she teaches video production and film and video theory. She is interested in the political and artistic uses of media and in theories as well as the production of media in relationship to political or personal issues. In the mid-1980s she was producing AIDS activist videos in New York and then writing about the processes for her PhD in cinema studies from New York University. Since then, the themes have changed, but her commitment to projects that involve both creating material and theorizing about its rationale has been consistent throughout her work. She has taught courses at many universities on women and film, feminist film, and women's documentary. Her current work is on and about YouTube and other more radical uses of digital media. Her "video-book," Learning from YouTube, about her course and YouTube's failings more generally, will be published by the MIT Press in Fall 2010. She also recently produced the micro-budget feature film, The Owls (Cheryl Dunye, 2010), which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival. More info on Designing Media available at

Oral history interview with Jack Waters, 2018 February 21-22

Archives of American Art
Audio: 4 sound files (5 hr., 59 min.) digital, wav

Transcript: 72 pages.

An interview with Jack Waters, conducted 2018 February 21 and 22, by Alex Fialho, for the Archives of American Art's Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project, at the Visual AIDS office in New York, New York.

Waters speaks of his early exposure to the arts through his family and their frequent visitors and boarders; the beginnings of his political consciousness, race consciousness, sex consciousness, and self-identity during the 1960s; his dance education at the Miquon School in Philadelphia; teaching at Miquon after a briefly dancing in California; his dance and choreography education at the Julliard School and the Ailey School; his experience of the Lower East Side in the 1980s; the genesis and development of the Performing On One Leg collective; the start of the AIDS epidemic; collaborations with Gordon Kurtti and Brian Taylor, and their AIDS-related deaths; the importance of art-making and documentary practice during the AIDS epidemic; the beginning and development of his film and video work; collaborating with Peter Cramer on Black and White Study as both film and performance; receiving his HIV-positive diagnosis; the beginning and development of his work as a writer and journalist; his involvement in AIDS activist and queer activist organizations; a formative period in Ibiza during the fall 1983; his films The Male GaYze and Short Memory/No History; changes in queer activism he has observed since the 1980s, and the lack of historical memory about them; his experience of intergenerational queer dialogue; his involvement with Visual AIDS; and his thoughts on the idea of artistic legacy, both generally and in his particular case.

Oral history interview with Alexandra Juhasz, 2017 December 19-21

Archives of American Art
Audio: 6 sound files (5 hr., 56 min.) digital, wav

Transcript: 117 pages

An interview with Alexandra Juhasz conducted 2017 December 19 and 21, by Theodore Kerr, for the Archives of American Art's Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project, at Juhasz's home in Brooklyn, New York.

Juhasz speaks of her commitment to AIDS activism; her intellectual, bohemian, culturally Jewish upbringing; developing her feminism, political consciousness and activism in high school and college; her relationship with James "Jim" Robert Lamb; moving to New York for graduate school in 1986; the beginning of her AIDS activism and video-making practice in the late '80s; reflecting on her privilege and positionality in her activist work; her commitment to making marginal work; Jim Lamb's role in Video Remains, followed by his death and enduring inspiration for her work; the striking and surprising aspects of participating in an oral history; historical and theoretical underpinnings of video-making as an activist strategy and process; making activist video with the WAVE collective; the stakes, challenges, and costs of marginalized communities fighting for self-representation; making activist video with Swarthmore college students; the artistic milieu of New Queer Cinema; producing The Watermelon Woman and recently re-releasing it; moving to Los Angeles and having a period of silence in AIDS activism; returning to AIDS activism by making Video Remains; her ongoing collaborative writing about AIDS with Theodore Kerr; and her most recent projects. Juhasz also recalls Eve Sedgwick, Joe Guimento, Jon Engebretson, Jean Carlomusto, Tom Kalin, Avram Finkelstein, Amber Hollibaugh, Maxine Wolfe, Miguel Prieto, Robert Vasquez-Pacheco, Charles Ludlam, Everett Quinton, Carolyn Lesjak, Yannick Durand, Juanita Mohammed, Sharon Penceal, Aida Matta, Glenda Hasty, Marcia Edwards, Kenrick Cato, Megan Cunningham, Cheryl Dunye, Zoe Leonard, Pato Hebert, Alisa Lebow, Sarah Schulman, Todd Haynes, Ellen Spiro, and others.

"SILENCE = DEATH" t-shirt

National Museum of American History
This black t-shirt, which says “Silence = Death” with a pink triangle, symbolizes the struggle against AIDS. Six activists – Avram Finklestein, Brian Howard, Oliver Johnston, Charles Kreloff, Chris Lione, and Jorge Soccaras – founded the “Silence = Death” project in New York City in 1987. These men took action because they feared for their lives in the face of the mounting AIDS crisis and felt that those in authority were doing very little to help. They later joined the activist group ACT UP. According to the ACT UP website in October 2016, they decided on “Silence = Death” as their slogan and began to post signs around the city in order to protest “taboos around discussion of safer sex and the unwillingness of some to resist societal injustice and governmental indifference.” The pink triangle was a symbol for the gay rights movement starting in the 1970s. During World War II, LGBTQ people were forced to wear an inverted pink triangle in Nazi concentration camps. The gay rights movement appropriated the use of the symbol by turning it upright to convey resistance and unity.

Larry Kramer Waited 30 Years for His Play About the Early Years of AIDS to Be a Film

Smithsonian Magazine

The gay activist, playwright and author Larry Kramer has waited a long time for this. On May 25, his award winning play, The Normal Heart, will debut as a feature-length film on HBO. Kramer hopes that the movie, which stars Mark Ruffalo and Julia Roberts, will help spread awareness about the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. 

The Normal Heart, in fact, is an autobiography, first written in 1985. Kramer was one of the most active players during that crisis and was a founder of two advocacy groups, ACT UP and the Gay Men's Health Crisis. Here's the New York Times with more on Kramer's involvement: 

In the 1980s, he was the most strident, scolding voice in New York City (in the world, really) on behalf of gay men infected with H.I.V.: men whose parents shunned them, whose doctors feared them, whose dignity disappeared as their corpses were stuffed into trash bags. 

 “The Normal Heart” delves into his efforts, with a group of friends, to start Gay Men’s Health Crisis, one of the first volunteer AIDS organizations. Both the play and the movie depict his eventual expulsion from the group after his relentlessly confrontational tactics became too much for his peers.

Kramer, who is HIV positive, also spread awareness through his writing and plays. But his dream of seeing The Normal Heart turned into a movie—and reach a much larger audience—continued to elude him. Now, nearly 30 years after its publication, he's finally seeing that goal realized. And perhaps just in time: Kramer, 78, told the Times he has come "close to dying twice since the beginning of the year,” and he has recently suffered through extended hospital stays.   

More than the new movie simply informing audiences about events in the nation's history, Kramer says he hopes the film will incite younger people and inspire them to get involved in politics. According to the Times, Kramer is "dismayed about gay America." ScienceLine elaborated on those feelings in 2011: 

“Gays are hated,” [Kramer] says, “Not just disliked — hated.” He says he will never understand this, and that the hardest lesson in his adult life was learning that “no matter what your education or your economic level, you can be dismissed.” But instead of being deterred, Kramer only raises his voice. For him, not having equal rights — for marriage, for health care — inspires anger and activism. But the organizations designed to achieve these rights are only as good as the populations they serve, Kramer notes, and the “namby pampy” gay activism today is only a pale shadow of what it was in the mid-90s. “We fought like hell to get the drugs,” he says, referring to ACT UP’s accomplishments. “But as soon as those drugs were there” — Kramer claps his hands together emphatically — “that was the end of activism.”

For now, at least, Kramer says he is happy with how the film turned out. As the Times reports, Kramer is now working on writin a script for the sequel. 

In this video by the Times, you can see Kramer talk about the film himself: 

The Wealthy Activist Who Helped Turn “Bleeding Kansas” Free

Smithsonian Magazine

On May 24, 1854, Anthony Burns, a young African-American man, was captured on his way home from work. He had escaped from slavery in Virginia and had made his way to Boston, where he was employed in a men’s clothing store. His owner tracked him down and had him arrested. Under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the United States Constitution, Burns had no rights whatsoever.

To the people of Boston, his capture was an outrage. Seven thousand citizens tried to break him out of jail, and the finest lawyers in Boston tried to make a case for his freedom, all to no avail. On June 2, Burns was escorted to a waiting ship and returned to bondage.

This entire episode had a profound impact on many Bostonians, but one in particular: Amos Adams Lawrence. The Burns episode likely was the first time Lawrence came face-to-face with the evils of slavery, and shortly after Burns was returned to bondage, he wrote to his uncle that “we went to bed one night old-fashioned, conservative, Compromise Union Whigs and waked up stark mad Abolitionists.” (The Whig Party was divided over slavery at this time; by 1854, when the Republican Party was organized, the Whigs were no longer a strong force in U.S. politics.)

Lawrence was a somewhat unlikely abolitionist. He was born into one of the bluest of blue-blood families in Boston and had every benefit his family’s wealth could provide, attending Franklin Academy, an elite boarding school, and then Harvard. True, the Lawrence family had a strong philanthropic ethic. Amos’s uncle, Abbott Lawrence, donated $50,000 to Harvard in 1847—which at the time was the largest single donation given to any college in the United States—to establish Lawrence Scientific School, and Amos’s father, also named Amos, retired at age 45 to devote the remainder of his life to philanthropy. In 1854, Amos Adams Lawrence wrote in his private diary that he needed to make enough money in his business practices to support charities that were important to him.

A print created in Boston in the 1850s showing Anthony Burns and scenes from his life (Image courtesy of Library of Congress)

But those business practices made backing an anti-slavery charity unlikely. His family made its fortune in the textile industry, and Lawrence himself created a business niche as a commission merchant selling manufactured textiles produced in New England. Most of the textiles Lawrence and his family produced and sold were made from cotton, which was planted, picked, ginned, baled, and shipped by slaves. This fact presents an interesting conundrum. The Burns episode made Lawrence, as he wrote, “a stark mad abolitionist,” but, as far as we know, the fact that his business relied on the same people he was trying to free did not seem to bother him.

Lawrence very quickly had the opportunity to translate his new-found abolitionism into action. On May 30, 1854, in the midst of the Burns affair, President Franklin Pierce signed into law the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which established Kansas and Nebraska as territories but allowed each to decide for themselves, under the concept of popular sovereignty, whether they wanted slavery or not. To many abolitionists, this was an outrage, because it opened the possibility for another slave state to enter the union. Also, with the slave-holding state of Missouri right next door, the pro-slavery side seemed to have an undue advantage.

This was Lawrence’s chance. A friend introduced him to Eli Thayer, who had just organized the Emigrant Aid Company to encourage antislavery settlers to emigrate to Kansas with the goal of making the territory a free state. Lawrence became the company’s treasurer, and immediately began dipping into his pocket to cover expenses. When the first antislavery pioneers arrived in Kansas, they decided to call their new community “Lawrence,” knowing that without their benefactor’s financial aid, their venture likely would not have been possible.

Lawrence was frequently frustrated that the company’s leaders were not aggressive enough to raise money, but he quietly continued to cover the bills. At one point, he confided to his diary, when bills for the Emigrant Aid Company came due, he did not have enough of his own money on hand, so he sold shares in his business to cover the expenses. Whenever there was a need for special funding in Kansas, Lawrence would donate and ask others to do so as well. Lawrence and his brothers, for example, contributed to the purchase of Sharps rifles—the most advanced weapons of the day—for citizens of Lawrence.

44-caliber Sharps percussion sporting rifle used by abolitionist John Brown, ca 1856 (Image courtesy of National Museum of American History)

They needed those guns. Because Lawrence, Kansas, was the center of the antislavery movement, it became the bullseye of the target of pro-slavery folks. In late 1855, Missourians lined up planning to attack Lawrence in what was called the Wakarusa War. Nothing happened that time, and the Missourians returned home. But less than a year later came the “Sack of Lawrence,” in which pro-slavery Missourians burned much of the town to the ground. Amos Lawrence continued to support the effort to make Kansas a free state. In 1857, Lawrence again dug into his pocket and donated $12,696 to establish a fund “for the advancement of religious and intellectual education of the young in Kansas.”

Eventually, in 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state. The town of Lawrence played an important role in this development, and several of its residents became leaders in the early state government.  But the wounds of the territorial period continued to fester. In August 1863, during the Civil War, Lawrence burned again: Willian Clarke Quantrill, a Confederate guerrilla chieftain, led his cutthroat band into the town, killed more than 200 men and boys, and set the place on fire.

Just several months before, Lawrence had been granted approval from the new state legislature to build the University of Kansas in their town. Citizens needed to raise $15,000 to make this happen, and the raid had nearly wiped out everyone. Again, Amos Lawrence came to the rescue, digging into his pocket for $10,000 to make sure Lawrence, Kansas would become the home of the state university.

In 1884, Amos Lawrence finally visited the town that bore his name. Citizens rolled out the red carpet to honor their namesake. He was honored by the university he was instrumental in creating. He was invited as the guest of honor for several other events.  But Lawrence had always been a very private person, and the hoopla over his visit was too much. He stayed for a couple of days, then returned home to Boston. He never visited again.

To the people of modern-day Lawrence, Amos Lawrence has faded from memory. A reporter writing about him in a recent local newspaper article was unaware that he had visited the town. But Lawrence's support and money were essential in making Kansas a free state. When Lawrence responded to Burns's brutal treatment, he showed how a citizen can be shocked out of complacency and into action—and thus made history.

Robert K. Sutton is the former chief historian of the National Park Service. He is author of Stark Mad Abolitionists: Lawrence, Kansas, and the Battle Over Slavery in the Civil War Era (New York: Skyhorse Press, 2017).  He wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a project of the Smithsonian and Zócalo Public Square.

Meet an Environmental Activist and an Artist Who Share a Passion for “Trashion”

Smithsonian Magazine

Like a perverse turtle, Rob Greenfield wears his trash on his back: Sandwiched between heavy duty plastic sheeting is every wrapper, bag, tissue and twisty tie the environmental activist has accumulated over the past few weeks. His unusual garb is part of an attention-grabbing demonstration: Since September 19, Greenfield has been shuffling down the streets of New York City ensconced in his own debris to raise awareness of how much waste the average American produces in a month.

This is not Greenfield’s first sustainability-related stunt. In the past, the 30-year-old has lived off the grid, shunning traditional showers for more than two years to bring attention to water use; he's also gone dumpster diving with a television reporter to highlight urban food waste. In this case, “the focus is waste in general,” says Greenfield, by which he means food waste like orange peels and apple cores as well as manmade waste products. “It’s all the waste that we're sending to a landfill as individuals.”

Right now, Greenfield is creating about 3 lbs of trash per day. That’s significantly less than the average American, who creates about 4.5 lbs of trash per day—or about 130 lbs of trash per month—according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Greenfield attributes the discrepancy to the length of his project: Over a longer period of time, the average person would typically be replacing broken electronics or buying a new couch, which contributes to the 4.5 lb tally.

All that trash adds up to a sobering reality: In 2013, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash. The global rate of trash production—which is currently dominated by the U.S., with China following close behind—is on track to triple by 2100. Those striking statistics are what propelled Greenfield to walk the streets covered in his own personal trash, including paper coffee cups, Target bags and McDonald’s wrappers.

“My goal … is to always find ways to get people excited about environmental issues,” he says. “There's so many reasons to feel that utter doom and gloom but I don't feel that's necessarily the best way to get people involved. That's why I try to keep things positive, fun and interesting.”

But Greenfield couldn’t have executed this vision without another key player: Nancy Judd, founder of a sustainable art and fashion company called Recycle Runway, is the creator of the meticulously-designed suit Greenfield is wearing. You could call their synthesis a match made in trash heaven; Judd, who made her first “trashion” in 1998, has a long history of combining art and recycled products dating back to an event she co-founded called the Recycle Santa Fe Art Market and Trash Fashion Show.

“We have such a disregard for the materials that pass through our hands, the resources that were used to create them and the pollution that was caused in their creation,” says Judd. “Everything we touch has a story, and the stories get lost so easily in this society where we throw things away without even thinking about it.”

Judd had less than a month to design and create a suit that could hold up to 135 lbs of trash. (Courtesy Nancy Judd)

In August, Greenfield’s video producer, Chris Temple, discovered Judd and her recycled fashion through a fortuitous Google search. Her aesthetic and philosophy merged perfectly with their environmental ideals, so he reached out via email. Judd immediately agreed to be a part of the project. “I was intrigued right away,” she says.

Greenfield describes their collaboration as “kismet,” or fate: Both shared the goal of creating environmental awareness through education. “I don't know what would've happened if I hadn't found Nancy,” he says. “One of the challenges has always been how am I going to hold onto all of this trash. Not only is it bulky, but you have to have something designed that can hold 135 lbs of trash.” While Greenfield admits that there are days he dreads putting on his suit, thanks to Judd’s design, the trash load is fairly balanced.

In fact, trash has played a weighty role throughout Judd’s life. “It actually all started quite unexpectedly at art school, when the administration put in a soda pop machine,” she recalls. “I watched the garbage fill up with cans and asked the school if I could start a recycling program.” She would go on to have a 20-year career in waste, first as the recycling coordinator for the city of Santa Fe, and next as the executive director of the New Mexico Recycling Coalition, where her role was “to get people to think differently about trash and to utilize our recycling program more and create less waste.”

Yet outside of her day job, Judd was a passionate photographer. Her interests in recycled materials and her involvement with local artists came together when she helped launch the Recycle Santa Fe Art Festival, which has since become one of Santa Fe’s renowned art events. “My interest in conservation and my life as an artist collided in that moment and I created a piece of recycled fashion to promote our trash fashion show,” she says.

Several years—and countless trash couture creations—later, Judd decided it was time to leave her day job and fully embrace art for a living. In 2007, she founded Recycle Runway, which brings in revenue through sculpture commissions, exhibit sponsorships, speaking engagements and workshops. With her new business, Judd began to focus less on entertainment and more on education, from fashion shows to high traffic public exhibitions.

Her choice of where to display her art, for instance, is intentional. She usually hosts exhibits not in high-class galleries, but in airports. “It [is] a perfect place where my work could reach a high number of people who weren't necessarily environmentally-minded,” she explains. Many of her pieces are commissioned by corporations like Delta Air Lines, Toyota, Target and Coca-Cola.

A match made in trash heaven. (Recycle Runway)

Judd thinks of herself as more of a sculptor than a fashion designer. While her pieces are wearable, the intention behind them is more educational than functional, she says. One of her creations, known as the “Obamanos Coat”—a purple-and-silver winter coat she created using door hangers from the 2008 Obama presidential campaign—is currently on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and is part of the Smithsonian’s Institution’s permanent collection.

Nearly all of Judd’s creations are made from trash she has gathered herself, either by dumpster diving or through various collections or donations. If it’s a work commissioned by a corporation, the trash often comes from the company itself. A typical piece can take her anywhere from 100 to 650 hours to execute, depending on the type of material used and how complex the design is. But for Greenfield's trash suit she was crunched for time: she had only about 25 days to design, source and construct the piece.

As a result, some of the suit’s components ended up coming from second-hand stores rather than directly from the garbage can. “If I'd had more time I could've sourced the strapping as well as the base coat and pants,” says Judd, noting that the strapping came from used backpacks, while she found the coat and pants from an army surplus store. “The only reused material is the clear plastic.”

The final product ended up taking her 125 hours from start to finish. “I didn't realize how big of a job this would be, and neither did she,” says Greenfield, who’s nearing the end of his demonstration. Fortunately, all that time and care won’t be going to waste (so to speak): Greenfield plans to travel across the country with the suit in 2017, using it as a dramatic visual aid that will drive home his point of how much trash each person makes. In 2018, Judd will exhibit the suit along with 19 other pieces at the Atlanta International Airport.

As of Thursday, Greenfield weighed in at 68 lbs of trash.

When It Comes To the Baby Boomers, It Is Still All About "Me"

Smithsonian Magazine

Before there were “selfies,” there was Me.

Although selfies flood the current visual landscape, this social media phenomenon did not invent obsession with the self. In fact, a spotlight on the personality of the self is a defining element of American culture. Every generation is guilty of putting the “Me” in its ME-dia, and with each generation of media technology, the “Me” gets bigger.

In the late 19th century, advertisers discovered that placing images of well-known personalities on products boosted sales; magazines flew off newsstands when popular Broadway stars peered from their covers. Personality quickly became the focal point of America’s rising consumer culture. In the 1930s and '40s, Hollywood’s studio system became a landmark in the glorification of “Me.”

In neighborhood movie theaters across the nation, silver screens projected celluloid icons that were larger-than-life. The glamour studio, MGM, proclaimed its acting stable included “more stars than there are in the heavens.” Ego was essential to the star personality, and the studios went to extraordinary lengths to nurture a grand scale of star narcissism. Between 1989 and 1994, I conducted a number of interviews with one of the biggest stars of that era, Katharine Hepburn. I remember how she wagged her finger at me and said: “I was a movie star from my first days in Hollywood!”  She called her 1991 memoir Me.  

With the break-up of the studio system after World War II, the “self” had to find a new starship. The population explosion that began in 1946 and, according to the United States Census, extended until 1964, produced a generation of “Baby Boomers” who merrily embraced their selfhood. Hollywood cinema had helped to shape the idea of “Me,” for adolescents of the great depression, who would grow up to became World War II’s “Greatest Generation.” But it was television that branded the coming-of-age for the Boomers. TV was an immediate communicator, broadcasting events instantly to living rooms across the nation. Boomers learned the transformative power of change from their sofas, and the immediacy of television instilled a lasting sense of personal connection to the techtonic cultural changes that were “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Writing in 1976, journalist Tom Wolfe described Boomers as creating a “Me Generation” that was rooted in postwar prosperity. Good times created “the luxury of the self,” and Boomers happily involved themselves with “remaking, remodeling, elevating, and polishing one’s very self … and observing, studying, and doting on it (Me!)”  Their mantra was, “Let’s talk about Me!”

Image by National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Time Magazine © Louis Glanzman. Neil Armstrong by Louis S. Glanzman, 1969 (original image)

Image by National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Time Magazine. Joan Baez by Russell Hoban, 1962 (original image)

Image by National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Time magazine. The Beatles by Gerald Scarfe, 1967 (original image)

Image by National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of an anonymous donor. Hippies by Group Image, 1967 (original image)

Image by National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Time Magazine © Denise Bouche Fitch. John F. Kennedy by René Robert Bouché, 1961 (original image)

TIME Magazine has chronicled the attention-adoring Boomer Generation from the start, beginning with a February 1948 article that described the postwar population burst as a “Baby Boom.” Twenty years after the boom began, TIME’s “Man of the Year” featured the generation “25 and Under.” When the Boomers hit 40, TIME wrote about “Growing Pains at 40.”

Recently, the National Portrait Gallery opened an exhibition entitled “TIME Covers the Sixties,” showcasing how the publication spotlighted the Boomers in their defining decade. The issues that defined the Boomers gaze out from such TIME covers as the escalation of the war in Vietnam; Gerald Scarfe’s evocative sculpture of the Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper heyday; Bonnie and Clyde representing “The New Cinema;" Roy Lichtenstein’s deadly-aimed-depiction of “The Gun in America;" and finally, Neil Armstrong standing on the moon.

A broader generational swath is celebrated in Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' new exhibition, “The Boomer List,” now on view at the Newseum. The exhibition was organized when the American Association of Retired Persons, AARP, commissioned Greenfield-Sanders to document the Baby Boomers, the youngest of whom are turning 50 in 2014. Greenfield-Sanders has curated such well-received exhibitions as the 2012 show, “The Black List” at the Portrait Gallery, and he agreed that it would be fascinating to focus on the Boomer “legacy.” 

Subsequently, he selected 19 American figures (one born each year of the baby boom) to represent the issues that shaped that legacy, including environmental activist Erin Brokovitch, author Amy Tan, Vietnam Veteran Tim O’Brien, athlete Ronnie Lott, AIDS activist Peter Staley, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and IBM's CEO Virginia Rometty. Greenfield-Sanders told me in a phone interview that his Boomer selections were not always the most obvious characters, but that he “wanted to balance fame with sophistication” and to represent a wide range of diversity. Neither the exhibition of large format pigment prints, nor the accompanying PBS American Masters documentary “The Boomer List” follows a strict chronology from 1946 to 1964. Rather, the vast subject is organized by focusing on individual Boomers who tell stories embracing their entire generation.

In a panel discussion at the Newseum moderated by PBS Newshour journalist Jeffrey Brown, Greenfield-Sanders said it had been “a nightmare” to select his 19 Boomers. And yes, it is a lot to ask such a few to represent so many:  there is Billy Joel, for example, but where is Bruce Springsteen? Baryshnikov? Bill Murray? Arianna Huffington? Tina Brown? The Boomers’ social subset is so vast that a list of one-Boomer-per-year seemed preferable to organizational chaos.

The 90-minute American Masters documentary on the Boomers featured interviews with each of the chosen. All have been activists in their various fields, and all have had an impact. Some were surprised to consider their “legacy,” as if that were some far-off notion. This is a generation, after all, that thinks of itself as “forever young,” even as some near 70. Most of all, what came across onscreen as well as in Greenfield-Sanders’ portraits was an unapologetic affirmation of the essential Boomer mantra—yes, it is still all about ME.

According to the U.S. Census, the Boomer generation numbers 76.4 million people or 29 percent of the U.S. population. It is still the vast majority of the work force and, as Millennials are discovering, not in a rush to gallop off into the sunset.

"TIME Covers the Sixties" will be on view at the National Portrait Gallery through August 9, 2015. “The Boomer List” will be at the Newseum through July 5, 2015.

Oral history interview with Hunter Reynolds, 2016 August 10-September 7

Archives of American Art
10 sound files (6 hrs., 1 min.) digital, wav

Transcript: 87 pages.

An interview with Hunter Reynolds, conducted 2016 August 10-September 7, by Theodore Kerr, for the Archives of American Art's Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project, at Fales Library in New York, New York.

Reynolds speaks of his childhood in Minnesota, Florida, and California; early sexual experiences; attending Otis College of Art and Design; moving to New York in 1984 and becoming part of the East Village scene; the beginning of the AIDS crisis and safe sex discourse; his involvement in ACT UP; being diagnosed with HIV and starting ART+ Positive in Los Angeles in 1989; his body of artwork, performances, exhibitions, and activist actions; resonances between AIDS activism of the 1980s and '90s and contemporary activism around the Black Lives Matter movement; the politics of identifying as an HIV-positive artist; experimenting with drag and developing his alter ego Patina du Prey; performances with "Memorial Dress," "The Banquet," "Dervish Dress;' "Mummification" performance; living and working in Germany in the 1990s; and his personal struggle with long-term HIV survivorship; his "disaster" series and "Survial AIDS" series; and making his life, past and present, his personal masterpiece. Reynolds also recalls Kathy Burkhart, Susan Silas, Fred Tomaselli, Scott Hill, Leslie Dahlgren, Paula Cooper, Ray Navarro, Mark Kostabi, Bill Dobbs, Dread Scott, Kim Levin, Simon Watson, Maxine Henryson, Herr Vishka, Tony Feher, Jim Hodges, Dylan Nayler, Kathleen White, Krista Naylor, and others.

Artist Jeffrey Gibson’s Artwork Activates Overlooked Histories and Marginalized Identities

Smithsonian Magazine

Artist Jeffrey Gibson, a half-Cherokee member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, takes a multidisciplinary approach to his work—he is painter, sculptor, photographer and performer. His oeuvre is an artful mashup that challenges his audience to question cultural and political assumptions. For his material, he mines his Native-American heritage, his youthful exploration of nightclub subculture and his global education in Korea, Germany, England and other countries where he lived growing up. His artistic emphasis can be said to be a collaborative embrace of marginalized identities, nonconformists and societal outsiders.

Gibson particularly resonates in this moment in time. His artwork is layered in both the country’s history of cultural erasure and its present climate of divisive politics.

“As the times have become increasingly more political, people have begun projecting more politicalness into the work,” notes Gibson, whose most recognized artwork is a series of repurposed Everlast punching bags adorned with embroidery, multicolored glass beads, fluorescent nylon fringe, metal jingles and labeled with pop song lyrics. “And then I almost am responding back,” he says. “Because I am enjoying the conversation.”

Whether geometric paintings of acrylic and graphite on rawhide or dazzling, patterned tapestries, inspired by traditional quilting and an indigenous craft narrative, Gibson’s facility across mediums reflects a profound understanding of formal abstraction. Among his influences are American and European modernists, such as Sol Lewitt, Josef Albers and Bridget Riley. His work incorporates materials such as goat fur and deer hide, as well as most recently, the crafts of Algonquian birch biting and porcupine quillwork, practiced by tribes long before European settlers arrived.

Issues of colonization— both within museum walls and beyond—never stray far from Gibson’s mind. In his 2015 American History, a multi-colored wall hanging, he incorporated the text: “American history is longer, larger, more beautiful and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.”

Born in Colorado Springs, Gibson, 47, the son of a U.S. Department of Defense engineer, recounts moving every two to three years during childhood, alighting in North Carolina, New Jersey, Germany and Korea. Educated at the Art Institute of Chicago and London’s Royal College of Art graduate program, Gibson studied painting throughout. But he cites the punk and rave culture of the club scene he took in while in his teens and 20s as being as influential to his artistry as his formal training. “Looking back at the music that was being played in the late 80’s and 90’s, what we were dancing to in a celebratory way was oftentimes a cry for help, talking about HIV explicitly in some of those lyrics,” explains Gibson. “But I realized that there was a reason why that music spoke to me. It spoke to me as a young, queer, non-white man.”

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Demian DinéYazhi, No. 3 by Jeffrey Gibson, 2019 (original image)

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Demian DinéYazhi, No. 4 by Jeffrey Gibson, 2019 (original image)

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Emily Johnson, No. 1 by Jeffrey Gibson, 2019 (original image)

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Emily Johnson, No 4 by Jeffrey Gibson, 2019 (original image)

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Jackson Polys, No. 1 by Jeffrey Gibson, 2019 (original image)

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Laura Ortman, No 1 by Jeffrey Gibson, 2019 (original image)

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Regan de Loggans, No. 1 by Jeffrey Gibson, 2019 (original image)

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Roxy Romero, No. 2 by Jeffrey Gibbons, 2019 (original image)

Image by Courtesy the artist, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Kavi Gupta, and Roberts Projects. Roxy Romero, No. 3 by Jeffrey Gibson, 2019 (original image)

This week, Gibson brings that discourse to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., with his multimedia choreography, titled “To Name An Other." The performance features drums and 50 participants, who self-identify as indigenous, Native American, LGBTQ, or as people of color, outfitted in Gibson’s elaborate handmade garments.

It is the latest iteration of the museum’s “Identify” series. “We’re opening up what a portrait can be,” says the museum’s Dorothy Moss, who is curator of painting and sculpture, as well as Identify’s director.

Gibson is well suited to be the tenth commissioned “Identify” artist, joining others such as the renowned James Luna, Martha McDonald, J. J. McCracken, María Magdalena Campos-Pons and Wilmer Wilson. The purpose of the project is to shine light on gaps in the museum’s early collection, acknowledging those persons that are missing, says Moss. As museums throughout the U.S. grapple with long-standing institutional imbalances, “Identify” confronts racial absence in art and American history through the lens of performance.

“I’m really hoping that Gibson’s work will give those who felt silent during this political moment a voice,” Moss explains of the 50 volunteer-performers, as well as the text Gibson incorporates into the performance. Gibson's brightly colored garments for each of the participants are paired with digitally printed slogans such as: “They Fight for Clean Water;” “Powerful Because They Are Different;” “Their Votes Count;” “They Speak Their Language;” “They Identify As She” and “Their Dark Skin Brings Light.”

The strategic use of text is a hallmark of Gibson's aesthetic and recalls the works of Jenny Holzer and HIV-AIDS activist David McDiarmid.

“He is allowing people to be visible, who have felt unheard and vulnerable in our current climate,” says Moss.

Gibson’s use of native beadwork, quilt-inspired craftsmanship and protest slogans is being recognized for propelling contemporary art and social dialogue forward. But his creation of his first iridescent punching bag, the 2011 Everlast, was a deeply personal experience. Gibson recalls, an amorphous sense of frustrationquestioning whether he even wanted to be an artistduring doctor recommended therapy. “By the end of the first session, there were lots of issues surrounding classicism, racism, homophobia, very specific to the art world in a way that was clearly the root of my frustrations,” he says. “Working with that therapist led to a physical trainer and then boxing, as a way to bring back together my mind and my body and to try to unify those things that felt very disjointed to me.”

For this year’s Whitney biennial, Gibson hung Keep on Moving (2019), a quilted flag-mural prominently in the museum lobby, above the ticket counters, with the statement: “Thank you for the space you hold. Know that you are loved. Keep on Moving. Don’t Stop.”

Visitors are confronted by the artwork’s prominent placement as they wait the 5 to 20 minutes it takes to purchase their entry passes. “It’s about saying what I think needs to be said, and what is the right thing to do,” Gibson says. “I feel it would have been irresponsible for me to not express some things with so big a platform like this.”

True to Gibson’s visual lexicon, the artist seizes the opportunity to empower viewers. Whitney Biennial co-curator and art historian Jane Panetta says Gibson's text—a powerful fusion of art and language—is as much a protest of contemporary injustice, as it is a declaration of strength against inequity and prejudice. “While always grappling with tough issues about his queerness, about his being an indigenous artist,” Panetta says, “he’s always tried to ask, how can I grapple with these issues but think about a positive voice, a productive voice.”

This month in New York City, both the New Museum, where Gibson has been an artist-in-residence this past spring, and the Whitney Museum of American Art are showcasing Gibson’s garment-like works. For his June 8 encore presentation of “To Name An Other,” taking place at the New Museum, performers will again enliven his textiles through drumming, procession and motion to mark the close of Gibson’s residency. Referencing his deep interest in issues of appropriation and narratives of conflict, Gibson titled the final work of his residency program at the New Museum, The Anthropophagic Effect, after poet Oswald de Andrade’s 1928 “Anthropophagic Manifesto,” an essay about how communities should “devour” or cannibalize a colonizer’s culture in order to reject domination. The work includes four of his garments alongside Choctaw and Cherokee dresses, and an array of materials from plastic beads, nylon ribbons, brass grommets, dried pear gourds and baskets.

Always exploring new histories of indigenous craftsmanship, during his New Museum residency, Gibson took up Southeastern river cane basket weaving, for example. “Jeffrey is somebody who is really interested in how different cultural forms are constantly, always touching one another,” says the New Museum’s associate curator Sara O’Keeffe. “A big part of the garments that Jeffrey’s been making over the last few years is to think about them activated and not simply shown as artifacts in museums across the country.”

"Identify: Performance Art as Portraiture—Jeffrey Gibson: To Name An Other" takes place May 22, 2019 at 5 p.m. at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Oral history interview with Joy Episalla, 2016 February 23 and March 17

Archives of American Art
16 sound files (5 hrs., 16 min.) digital, wav

Transcript: 118 pages.

Oral history interview with Joy Episalla, conducted 2016 February 23 and March 17, by Cynthia Carr, for the Archives of American Art's Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project, at Episalla's home and studio in New York, New York.

Interview with Joy Episalla, conducted by Cynthia Carr for the Archives of American Art, at Episalla's home in New York, New York on February 23, March 7 and 17, 2016. Episalla speaks of her childhood in Yonkers, New York; early experiences with art-making, photography and theatrical production; earning a BFA from California College of the Arts; moving to the East Village in 1979 and Hoboken in 1982; her AIDS activism in the 1990s with ACT UP, The Marys, and fierce pussy; caring for and losing friends to HIV/AIDS; retrospective histories and exhibitions of her activist work; and her artwork in the 2000s; Episalla also recalls Carrie Yamaoka, Charles Gill, Beverly D'Andrea, Robert Bordo, Mark Morris, Vanessa Jackson, David Wojnarowicz, Tom Rauffenbart, Barbara Hughes, Stephen Machon, BC Craig, Tim Hamilton, Michael Cunningham, Maxine Wolf, Sarah Schulman, Jim Hubbard, Frank Moore, and others.

Oral history interview with Carrie Yamaoka, 2016 July 26-27

Archives of American Art
2 sound files (4 hrs., 20 min.) digital, wav

Transcript: 83 pages.

An interview with Carrie Yamaoka conducted 2016 July 26-27, by Alex Fialho, for the Archives of American Art's Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project, at Yamaoka's home in New York, New York.

Interview with Carrie Yamaoka, conducted by Alex Fialho for the Archives of American Art, at Yamaoka's home in New York, New York on July 26 and 27, 2016. Yamaoka speaks of her childhood on Long Island and in New York and Tokyo; formative exposure to visual art and photography; studying at Wesleyan University and the Tyler School of Art in Rome; meeting her partner Joy Episalla and beginning to develop her sense of queerness in Rome; moving to New York in 1979, Hoboken in 1982, and back to New York in 1993; the beginning of the AIDS crisis; her body of work and exhibitions as a painter, and changes in her work over the course of the AIDS crisis; her involvement in ACT UP and fierce pussy; the art world's reaction to AIDS activism; the social effect of more effective medication for HIV/AIDS; her involvement with Visual AIDS; retrospective exhibitions of fierce pussy's activist posters; the sense of community she developed through activism; dealing with the grief and trauma of the AIDS crisis over time; and the particular experience of women in the AIDS crisis. Yamaoka also recalls George Nakashima, Jacqueline Gourevitch, Michael Otterson, Jean Foos, Jonathan Shahn, Flavia Ormond, Jamie McEwan, Jesse Murry, Robert Bordo, Adam Simon, Michele Araujo, David Nelson, David Knudsvig, Bill Allen, Zoe Leonard, Nancy Brooks Brody, Suzanne Wright, Tim Bailey, David Wojnarowicz, Tom Rauffenbart, AA Bronson, Chrysanne Stathacos, Maxine Wolfe, Virginia Solomon, Steve Lam, Helen Molesworth, Martabel Wasserman, Jennifer Bartlett, Tony Feher, and others.
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