Beauty in Dark Places: Introduction

The Great Migration was the relocation of more than 6 million African Americans from the rural south…Driven from their home by unsatisfactory economic opportunities and harsh segregationist laws, many blacks headed north…” ( Many blacks settled in Harlem, New York leading to the Harlem renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was a burst of African American culture in the forms of literature, music, art and stage performances. Some popular figures from this time include Langston Hughes, Louis Armstrong and Zora Neale Hurston. As a way to deal with the oppression and pain they faced these individuals used art as their voice, speaking of there emotions and pains. During the AIDS epidemic history once again repeated itself and left behind a abundant collection of art as evidence.

W. Benjamin Incerti – Untitled 1991


The AIDS virus was officially recognized in 1981, the year that followed was full of death, scientific advances and Art. The HIV/AIDS virus was like none doctors had seen before, what appeared to be infections and a weakened immune system ended up being something far worst. Cities such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco were affected more than others. The virus spread like wildfire going from 5 reported cases in June to over 100 by year end. According to the National Library of Medicine “By March 1992, 37,952 cases of aids had been reported to the center for disease control(CDC) for the New York city metropolis area (MSA).”

The earliest reports of the AIDS virus were cases of young gay men, creating a stigmatism about this disease and its relation to sexual orientation. It comes as no surprise that the LGBT community was fighting for acceptance into a society that viewed their lifestyles as ungodly and disgusting. The AIDS virus quickly became “gay cancer” and was not given the attention nor the funding it required. It was affecting individuals in extreme poverty areas, minority groups and member of the LGBT community at much higher rate, so, the media used this to their advantage, making this disease look like a demonstration of natural selection.

Although, this was a time full of death and fear, it was also a period of abundant art. Much like the Great Migration caused the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s, the AIDS epidemic caused an outburst of creativity and protest in the form of the visual arts. Art has remained the single most powerful tool in influencing our society towards change and justice. There are countless examples in our society to look at, from Langston Hughes to the AIDS coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).

Throughout this analysis I will provide information on the AIDS epidemic, to show just how important it was and continues to be. I will also show examples of the art created during the AIDS epidemic a reminder that beauty can be found in dark places, as well as, to illustrate the effect the art had on society. Lastly, this analysis will serve as a reminder to use our voices against inequality and to find creative ways to bring change in our society.