Early in the 1980s AIDS epidemic, six gay activists created one of the most iconic 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 today, often used—and misused—to brand the entire movement. As cofounder of the Silence = Death and Gran Fury collectives, Avram Finkelstein shares behind-the-scenes stories about art and activism, the formation of collectives, the political process, and tactical practices, offering fresh insights into the history of HIV/AIDS and a toolbox to help future generations develop new strategies for making life-saving art. After Silence: A History of AIDS Through its Images is a personal account intended to open space for the many counter-narratives of HIV/AIDS that fall in the shadows of how we talk about it, and considers the political meanings of the way histories are constructed,.
"After the Holocaust, it was said for a time writers couldn't and didn't write. We, survivors/artists of the late-1980s and early-1990s AIDS era, have found our voices again. Avram Finkelstein has written an important, one-of-a-kind book about the history of AIDS through its images that the world needs and has waited for. It is a triumph."—Pamela Sneed, poet, author, performer, Visiting Professor at Columbia University
"Through this generous, powerful act of bearing witness to the early days of the AIDS crisis, Avram Finkelstein—a central figure in the image strategies developed and deployed by ACT UP, and a profound cultural analyst himself—has delivered a crucial set of insights for the next generation of artist-activists who aspire to transform our political landscape. It is a witnessing told with heart and unflinching honesty, always eager to eschew the dominant narratives that seek to define this history, in favor of revealing the true complexity of social movements and their participants. We are in his debt."—Mark Read, founding member of The Illuminator Collective
"After Silence is an important contribution to the history of AIDS activism. It tells the personal story of a key designer of a crucial political movement and demystifies how design decisions are made amidst political crisis. Compelling and potentially empowering to future visual activists."—Sarah Schulman, author of The Gentrification of the Mind
"Finkelstein was a founding member of the Silence = Death collective in New York at the onset of the AIDS crisis and gives a first-hand account of the origins and use of the Silence = Death graphic and tracks its use by the AIDS Action Committee, later known as ACT UP. He also offers an inside look at the collective Gran Fury and details many of the strategies and challenges that informed their most successful campaigns like Read My Lips and Kissing Doesn’t Kill. This book is essential for understanding the politics of resistance and the impact of ACT UP in building a movement. After Silence will be an invaluable resource for artists and activists of all ages."— Ken Gonzales-Day, Professor of Art, Scripps College
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Excerpt in POZ Magazine