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  • Writer's pictureBeyond the Canvas

Remembering David Wojnarowicz, artist and activist (1954–1992)

"One of the strongest feelings I have about death is that it's a time when the energy we carry is dispersed and becomes a part of everything." - David Wojnarowicz

It's been 30 years since David Wojnarowicz died of AIDS-related illness at the age of 37. I remember seeing his survey exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2018 and being struck by the poignancy and brutal honesty of his work, a genuine punch in the gut.

Wojnarowicz was, for all intents and purposes, an outsider. Born into an abusive family, he dropped out of college at 16 and ended up living in the streets of New York, where he had to hustle in seedy Time Square to get by. He worked in the East Village until his death, producing a vast body of work that reveals extraordinary talent and heterogenous creative sensibility. Wojnarowicz painted, took photographs, made collages and street art, but he also wrote poetry and, importantly, became very vocal during the AIDS crisis, openly addressing it in his work. As he was losing friends, colleagues and lovers to the 'gay disease', his anger towards the chilling denial and inadequate response of the Reagan administration kept growing.

As someone who lived his life on the margins of society, Wojnarowicz merged art and activism, weaponising his work to articulate his experience of living with AIDS as a gay man and to denounce the indifference of the establishment. The legacy of his work is powerful, necessary and more relevant than ever.

David Wojnarowicz

Self-Portrait, 1983–84

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