On the occasion of a new biopic on Robert Mapplethorpe, Suzanne Moore writes about the photographer and his peers in the culture industry who died from AIDS in the '80s and '90s. While I agree with Moore that these artists and musicians should be much better known, as should the political context of their death, it seems apparent that with exhibitions such as Reina Sofia's "Mixed Use: Manhattan" and the New Museum's "New York: 1993" that there's some semblance of recognition beginning for this historical moment. Moore is in partial below, the full article via The Guardian.
Yet there was a time when you could walk around London or New York and see these gaunt faces, marked with sarcomas, and everyone you hung out with was dying. The official culture was in denial. Sometimes it was easier to be. I remember seeing Derek Jarman at a play. At that point he was blind. I didn’t want to see him like that. And then my friend was queer-bashed on the way home. Freddie Mercury died. Keith Haring died. Eazy- E from NWA died. Denholm Elliott died. Rock Hudson died. Fela Kuti died. And my uncle who wasn’t famous or even my actual uncle died. One of my friends lost seven people who were all under 30.
I was explaining this to my 25-year-old daughter. She understood what happened, but said, “I just can’t imagine it”. And somehow nor can I, but we lived through it. HIV, we say, is now no longer a death sentence. But, of course, it is in many parts of the world. South Africa has a 19% HIV rate. Russian is only just starting to admit the scale of its problem with an estimate of 1.5 million people with HIV. Neither homosexuality nor addiction can be spoken about in Putin’s Russia.
Mapplethorpe’s work was censored by US senator Jesse Helms who, like many Republicans, saw Aids as a punishment for homosexuality. Nancy and Ronald Reagan pretty much signed up to this line. Republicans banned needle exchanges. The Catholic church banned condoms. Mapplethorpe’s work is shot through the lens of his Catholic upbringing, the black mass and rituals of S&M – his composition, his invocation of the devil not as a metaphor, but as a living presence.
*Image of "Candy Darling on her Deathbed" by Peter Hujar and via ArtCritical