When activist and artist David Wojnarowicz died of AIDS-related illnesses in 1992, he left behind a substantial legacy. In addition to his work as writer, painter, performance artist, and photographer, the 37-year-old New Yorker had been a key figure in the post-punk Cinema of Transgression movement, which used humor, sex, and violence to confront the more staid artists of the day — and to call out racism, sexism, and homophobia.
Using himself and the city as subjects, in works that blended imagery from the burgeoning hip-hop/street art culture and gritty urban scenes, Wojnarowicz’s work is both very much of its day and still extremely powerful. In the years since his death, however, Wojnarowicz has become less known for his multimedia creations than for the uproar around them — specifically, around his use of religious imagery.
A series of retrospectives this summer seeks to remedy this lack, and on Wednesday, 6–8 p.m., the Harvard Art Museums will screen “Transgressions: David Wojnarowicz, Post-Punk Cinema, and Queer Video Activism,” five short films by or featuring the artist, as part of the exhibition “Analog Culture: Printer’s Proofs from the Schneider/Erdman Photography Lab, 1981–2001,” on display through Aug. 12.
Jessica Bardsley, a Ph.D. candidate in film and visual studies at Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, curated the presentation. After the film, she will discuss Wojnarowicz’s life, death, and legacy with the artist A.K. Burns, whose current Lightbox Gallery installation “Survivor’s Remorse” was inspired by Wojnarowicz’s photographs.
The goal, says Bardsley, is “understanding the political and artistic context that David was working in and also understanding what a passionate, angry, but also beautiful maker he was.”