• Beyond the Canvas

On World AIDS Day

"If I have to change my lifestyle, I don't want to live." - Robert Mapplethorpe


In this powerful self-portrait Robert Mapplethorpe looks us straight in the eye. The glowing black background and the focused use of light make his head and his hand look almost detached from his torso, as if floating in mid-air. The skull sceptre he is so forcefully holding in the foreground symbolises the awareness that death was coming for him.


Mapplethorpe would die of an AIDS-related illness a year later at the age of 42. In this photo, he looks like an old man, with hollowed cheeks, sunken eyes and strands of white hair on his temples. This is a brutally honest, haunting picture that has all the formal purity of Mapplethorpe's iconic style in which the artist faces his destiny head on and bids farewell to life.

According to UNAIDS, today there are 37.7 million people living with HIV, of which only 28.2 million have access to life-saving retroviral therapy. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 67% of people living with HIV and 39% of new infections, 63% of which are young women. World leaders must work with the local communities to address these inequalities so the gaps in prevention, testing, treatment and support can be closed.


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Robert Mapplethorpe

Self Portrait, 1988

© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation


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