Neilly Author Series: Avram Finkelstein

An artist, activist, and writer with a unique perspective on the history of the HIV/AIDS crisis.
Author: Matthew Cook
Portrait of a bearded Avram Finkelstein in a plaid shirt from the waist up

After more than two years of planning, Up Against the Wall: Art, Activism, and the AIDS Poster, a collaborative exhibition between the Memorial Art Gallery (MAG) and the River Campus Libraries, is only days away.

Up Against the Wall will be on display in the 5,000-square-foot Docent Gallery at MAG, from March 6 to June 19, 2022. This is the first major exhibition of the University of Rochester’s vast collection of HIV/AIDS posters, donated by the collector, physician, and medical historian Edward C. Atwater ʼ50 (1926–2019). In its entirety, the collection—housed in Rochester’s Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation—is more than 8,000 posters-strong. The exhibition will feature 165 posters from 1982 to present day.

The posters use images that are humorous, scary, sexual, and otherwise thought-provoking to raise awareness, educate, and inspire action. Some of the most visually arresting posters are also the simplest. In 1986, six gay activists gave us one of the most iconic examples of pithy advocacy using only three components: a black background, a pink triangle, and the bold message “Silence=Death.” One of those activists is coming to Rochester.

On March 17, Avram Finkelstein, cofounder of the Silence=Death Collective and member of the art collective Gran Fury, will be on the River Campus to give a Neilly Author Series talk on his book After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images. The talk will be held in-person and streamed over Zoom. 

Register to attend

Finkelstein has work in the permanent collections at Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum, New York Public Library, the Smithsonian, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in England. His work has also been shown in galleries across New York City. He has also been featured in numerous media outlets to discuss art in the public sphere and is frequently sought to present his expertise on subjects that include political activism, LGBTQ politics, and art and intellectual property. 

Offering a unique perspective on the history of HIV/AIDS through art and activism, Finkelstein’s book details how his work and other protest artwork at the time were created. It also provides a “creative toolbox” for anyone who wants to use art to offer support and save lives. The book was nominated for the 2018 Infinity Award in Critical Writing and Research by the International Center of Photography and the 30th Annual Lambda Literary Award in LGBTQ Nonfiction. In his talk, Finkelstein will explore HIV/AIDS as a story of gender, race, class, identity, access, and institutional power. And he'll discuss how that story is currently told in the digital landscape.

Finkelstein will be signing copies of After Silence following the lecture. Anyone who is unable to get a copy prior to the talk can purchase one at the event. Attendees will also have the opportunity to purchase the publication, Up Against the Wall, which was created to extend the life of the exhibition beyond its time at MAG.

All Neilly Author Series talks are free and open to the public, made possible by the Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Endowed Fund. For more information on Avram Finkelstein’s lecture, contact Kim Osur, development manager at the River Campus Libraries, at kimosur@rochester.edu.

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