The story of Mapplethorpe shreds light upon the social obliviousness towards the generation of artists lost to AIDS.
This spring has seen the resurfacing of Robert Mapplethorpe in many ways. The Munch + Mapplethorpe exhibit in Oslo featured loads of pictures from private collectors, pictures that aren’t usually available for the public eye. The release of the long awaited film Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures shredded even more light upon a marvelous artistic soul. This artist was not only the poster boy for the New York SM scene, his story also represent one of the many artist whom we lost in this decade to AIDS.
Looking past the conflicted male longing for sex, fame and money, it’s not the struggling masculinity that shines through most clearly. The story of Mapplethorpe puts a much needed, unfiltered, focus on an issue that for so long has been massively overlooked. AIDS.
Though Aids is not a huge issue in western cultures anymore it with “only” 2.4 million people living with HIV in Western and Central Europe, and North America. Over 60% of HIV cases are located in Sub-Saharan Africa where over 25.8 million people are affected. HIV and AIDS are still huge issues, so why are they so easily overlooked in western society?
The key affected population are men who has sex with men, people who injects drugs, sex workers, prisoners, women, transgender people, children and young people. Mapplethorpe fell under several of these categories. I am pointing to him not primarily because he was a provocative gay artist, but because he opened up and displayed the decay of this decease and in the meantime shatters the glossed up vision that society today place on this illness. It is pop cultural denial at its best.
Robert Mapplethorpe’s life was the only thing more outrageous than his photos. As a true artists he showcased his death as well as his life, inviting us in to view his decaying as well as his sexual fantasies. Look At The Pictures websites describes his last show and self exposure perfectly. “His final show, The Perfect Moment, self-planned as he was dying of AIDS, proved to be a time bomb, igniting a culture war that still reverberates today.”
So much is clear that in the honour of artistry we should not forget that generation of artists that Mapplethorpe represented. The generation wiped out by AIDS in the 80’s. We should remember and acknowledge, and we should let this be a reminder of the current issues we are still facing with this illness in the world.