photography: Wojnarowicz in Cambridge

EXHIBITION 9/14/2022-10/26/2022: MIT Rotch Library Gallery, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139

Guest Speaker: Jackson Davidow

Wojnarowicz in Cambridge is a series of photographic portraits composed in response to David Wojnarowicz’s Rimbaud in New York series, in which the artist was photographed wearing a mask of the transgressive French poet Arthur Rimbaud. Wojnarowicz in Cambridge brings queer visibility into the public sphere, inviting viewers to consider identity—as something constructed, as something fluid and changeable—so that the current dialogue (and debate) about identity politics becomes more nuanced, more inclusive, more representative.     

Wojnarowicz in Cambridge is also a tribute to David, who was a vocal member of ACT-UP and who died of AIDS in 1992 at the age of 38. It was only nine years later that I myself was diagnosed with HIV following a visit to MIT Medical because of a sustained high fever. I was 34 at the time.

I feel a brotherly responsibility to David and his work. Was his art controversial at the time because being gay/queer was controversial? What about now, in 2022? Is claiming space for ourselves or interrogating who we are any less controversial? I also feel a responsibility to continue addressing HIV/AIDS in my own work because not only is the personal political for me—silence=death continues to resonate deeplybut also because 36+ million people have died from HIV/AIDS and their livesand their deathsmatter.     

In terms of process, the photographic images in the Wojnarowicz in Cambridge series were taken using an iPhone and several disposable cameras. I documented five subjects—local men in Cambridge in their 30’s—at the following locations

  • pharmacies and a pharmaceutical company (to represent the proliferation and accessibility of effective HIV drugs that were not available during David’s lifetime due, in large part, to the stigma and homophobic politics surrounding what was often referred to as “the gay disease”)
  • a hospital (symbolizing life and death)
  • a rainbow-colored gay bench (to represent progress—in this case, the location of the first legally wed same-sex couple in the United States)
  • brutalist architecture (Gund Hall at Harvard University, a minimalist construction that showcases the bare building materials analogous to what this brutal pandemic has done to bodies)
  • in front of graffiti (to honor David’s relationship with public art)  

Photos DTS Clear Acrylic, Clear 0# Acrylic – Clear 1/4″Smooth, High Res UV Ink Jet on 1 side

#2 Nathaniel (18 X 24)
#10 (18 X 24)