as you may or may not know, i am a product of the eighties. born in 1982, i witnessed the AIDS crisis as a young child. i know the Silence = Death campaign started in 1987, so i couldn't possibly remember it's first iterations, so i'm not sure quite when i became aware of this scary epidemic that was killing so many people. maybe it was the AIDS quilt, which was also first displayed in 1987... but more likely i remember it from 1990 or '92 when i was 8 or 10. to this day, i remember being incredibly moved, and incredibly scared. and the Silence = Death poster was the most beautiful and haunting piece of activist art i had ever seen, and i had to witness it on the news, from the comfort and safety of my small midwestern town. where i barely knew any gay people, let alone ones who had contracted the disease. i knew rumors. they ran rampant throughout school. you might get AIDS from a fellow classmate whom you helped whilst they were bleeding. you might get it from spit, or blood, or snot, or whatever. you might get AIDS from hugging someone, or from a toilet seat. it was a scary and confusing time. and Silence = Death was a touchstone so powerful that years later, when i watched the recent(ish) documentary How to Survive a Plague, i felt gut-punched when i saw it. i hadn't even remembered how powerful it felt as a kid, until i saw it again.
as humans we are given the blessing / curse of forgetting. but every once in awhile we're offered the mirror of remembering. remembering our fear, our loneliness, our wide-eyes staring at far away places where inconceivable things are happening to people we don't know. i felt something like this again when i walked into a near-empty room at PS1 and witnessed the poster, in "real life", lit beautifully with a stark spotlight. it affected me similar to the first time i saw it. i must've stood in front of it, staring, for five minutes. i felt the urge to take it, to steal some of that feeling when a piece is so pure, so concise, that you're jealous you didn't come up with it yourself. that you fool yourself into believing you might have one ounce of that power - to affect change, to incite a riot... but you have nothing to riot against.
image shot with iPhone 5, edited with VSCO app.