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David Wojnarowicz

Updated: Feb 13, 2019

Artist 42

David Wojnarowicz Resistance Art

David Michael Wojnarowicz was an American painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist, songwriter/recording artist and AIDS activist prominent in the New York City art world.

He worked in a huge range of media, from graffiti to oil paint, collage to video. Born in New Jersey, he had a difficult childhood, moving between an abusive father and struggling mother. He moved to New York as soon as he could, becoming a rent boy to earn money and producing art as a creative outlet.

After a period outside New York he returned in the late 1970s and quickly emerged as one of the most prominent and prolific members of an avant-garde wing that mixed media, and which made and used graffiti and street art. His first recognition came from stencils of houses afire that appeared on the exposed sides of buildings in the East Village.

In 1987 his longtime mentor and lover, the photographer Peter Hujar, died of AIDS, and Wojnarowicz himself learned that he was HIV-positive.

Hujar's death moved Wojnarowicz's work into much more explicit activism and political content, notably around the injustices, social and legal, inherent in the response to the AIDS epidemic.

Throughout the 1980s, Wojnarowicz created art about identity and sexuality when HIV/AIDS began to ravage the New York art scene. In reponse to the outbreak, his art became more angry and impassioned. In his work and his activism, he angrily criticised the government and public institutions that were failing people with AIDS.

“He was very much a Renaissance man: not just a writer and painter, but also a photographer, filmmaker and musician with the band 3 Teens Kill 4, as well as an AIDS activist with the direct action group ACT UP. It would take a lifetime to really do justice to his work...” Olivia Laing (writer)

“His work is a profoundly radical and lucid antidote to the cruelties of the current political climate. It’s absolutely geared to resisting the actions of the white homophobic Christian Right, who have seized power once again. I can’t think of another artist more relevant to the Trump era” - Olivia Lang


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