Middlebury College Museum of Art

Keith Haring, Silence Equals Death

November 20, 2017

Keith Haring (American, 1958–1990), Silence = Death, 1989, silkscreen on paper, 39 x 39 inches. Purchase with funds provided by the Frederick and Martha Lapham Art Acquisition Fund, the Calvert H. Seybolt ’80 Art Acquisition Fund, and the Memorial Art Fund, 2017.002. © Keith Haring Foundation [KHP-0063]

Keith Haring was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988. In the last year of his life he worked to produce imagery surrounding the social activism of the AIDS crisis. Silence = Death is an adaptation of a poster made by a collective of the same name that would eventually become the defining image for ACT UP, an organization created to fight for visibility and an end to the AIDS crisis. The main symbol, a pink triangle, was appropriated from the Nazi regime; gay men in concentration camps were denoted by an inverted triangle, signifying their place at the bottom of society. Haring’s adaptation of the original poster covers the triangle in figures that are a representation of the saying “See no evil, Speak no evil, Hear no evil”; together, a trio of figures covers their eyes, mouth, and ears with both hands. This motif is a strong allusion to Reagan administration’s refusal to acknowledge and purposeful suppression of discussion of the AIDS crisis. Both components cast heavy blame onto those who ignored the deaths of thousands in the queer community, likening the epidemic to a planned genocide within a fascist regime.

Laurel Rand-Lewis ’20
Reiff Curatorial Intern

Keith Haring, Silence Equals Death