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After Silence, A History of AIDS through Its Images by Avram Finkelstein
University Of California Press

After Silence, A History of AIDS through Its Images by Avram Finkelstein

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Early in the 1980s AIDS epidemic, six gay activists created one of the most iconic and lasting 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. Cofounder of the collective Silence = Death and member of the art collective Gran Fury, Avram Finkelstein tells the story of how his work and other protest artwork associated with the early years of the pandemic were created. In writing about art and AIDS activism, the formation of collectives, and the political process, Finkelstein reveals a different side of the traditional HIV/AIDS history, told twenty-five years later, and offers a creative toolbox for those who want to learn how to save lives through activism and making art.

About the author:  

Avram Finkelstein is a founding member of the Silence = Death and Gran Fury collectives. His work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the New Museum, and the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.


"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

"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 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, and Visiting Professor at Columbia University

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