The Indomitable Spirit

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Barbara Kruger, The Indomitable Spirit, 1990 (1349.2000)

In response to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and early 90s, a range of activist groups, including ACT UP and Gran Fury, created a group of 230 photomontage posters, stickers, pamphlets, and laser prints now in the collection of ICP. ACT UP, an advocacy group “united in anger to end the AIDS crisis through direct action,” was formed in New York in 1987. It became the irresistible force that made government agencies and drug companies develop new treatments and speed them to the market as the AIDS epidemic spread unchecked among the gay population.

The Indomitable Spirit is a exhibition poster by Barbara Kruger, a conceptual artist synonymous with the Pictures artists who were working in the conditions of catatonic shell-shock in response to wildly accelerated historical change, from the sexual
revolution to race riots, assassinations and the AIDS crisis. Much of Kruger’s work consists of black-and-white photographs overlaid with declarative captions—in white-on-red Futura Bold Oblique or Helvetica Ultra Condensed. It engages the merging of found photographs from existing sources with witty and aggressive text that involves the viewer
in the struggle. Photography and text are central to her practice, as was the case with many of the Pictures artists who harnessed the tools of a media saturated existence to confront social causes and conditioning.

This image was also used on the front cover of a publication used to promote an exhibition of works by Photographers & Friends United Against AIDS curated by Marvin Heiferman to raise money for AIDS research. According to Fotofolio Editions, 1900 editions were printed. Ninety-four photographers and artists (who used photographic imagery in their work) contributed to The Indomitable Spirit, a collection of works on AIDS-related themes. The project raised $2 million in a couple of years. According to Heiferman, “The project was designed to harness the rich, communicative power of photography to honor the determination and perseverance of those who are ill…”

This offset print by Kruger addresses AIDS through association. Adopting an indirect logic that tried to pull out varied responses and emotionally fraught condition of knowing one is on the precipice of death.

Today, more than ten years since the height of the AIDS crisis, is a time when its presence has become nearly invisible. Leading organizations like Visual Aids commission artists such as John Caich to employ visual iconography to alert people to the fact that AIDS is not over. This is something I am especially mindful of in my home country, South Africa. But even in America more than one million people are living with AIDS, of which blacks people account for almost half (46%) of people living with HIV in 2008. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region hardest hit by HIV, with 23.5 million HIV-positive people in 2011, about 69 percent of the global total. The AIDS crisis is far from over, so how can we use the power of the globalized information and image culture for change?

Bridget de Gersigny, ICP-Bard 2013

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One Response to The Indomitable Spirit

  1. Thanks Bridget,
    I appreciated it. Especially today, Saint Valentine… a festivity to remember the people we love and to take care of them.

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