Ronald Reagan, US president from 1981 to 1989, did not publicly mention AIDS until 1987, after more than 41,000 Americans died of the disease. Reagan’s administration grossly underfunded AIDS research, prevention, and education, as did that of his successor, George H. W. Bush.
Bush’s first official speech on AIDS, delivered fourteen months into his presidency, addressed the National Leadership Coalition on AIDS and offered compassionate ideas that did not match his policies. Americans, particularly already marginalized gay men, continued to die of the disease.
Activist artists like Donald Moffett and the collective Group Material pointed the finger at government leaders’ complicity in the crisis. They believed that radical, innovative, politically driven art on the streets could fuel broad collective anger and incite change.
Moffett wheat-pasted He Kills Me on the streets of New York City. Using more official channels, Group Material applied AIDS & Insurance to about forty Connecticut Transit buses running between the Hartford city center—at the time, the “insurance capital of the world”—and its suburbs. Each poster uses the president’s image to hold him accountable.
From the exhibition: Give a damn. (June 30 – September 30, 2018)