Activists, Avatars, Nineties to Now: Stephen Barker, Kenyon Farrow, Mark Harrington, Marlene McCarty
Daniel Cooney Fine Art
Moderated by Kenyon Farrow, this panel brought together artists and activists Stephen Barker, Mark Harrington and Marlene McCarty to discuss their longtime HIV/AIDS activism.
The panel, titled Activists, Avatars, Nineties to Now, took place in the context of Barker's exhibition The ACT UP Portraits: Activists & Avatars, 1991-1994, which features never before seen black and white photographic portraits of AIDS activists — including images of Harrington and McCarty — taken by Barker during his time working within the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).
The event aims to consider early AIDS activism from the 1990's alongside pressing issues of today, during this 30th anniversary year of ACT UP, at a time when all under-served communities, including those living with HIV/AIDS, continue to be threatened by our government. Each speaker's work is a call to arms for activism.
Stephen Barker has been exhibiting his work internationally for over 25 years. Barker became involved with ACT UP in the late 80's, working primarily with the needle exchange program. The photographs were never intended as an encyclopedic project, but rather the portraits evolved organically out of Barker’s working relationships, friendships, and intimacies. Barker's monograph Nightswimming was published by Twin Palms in 1999 and his work is included in the permanent collections of The New York Public Library, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, among others.
Kenyon Farrow is the US & Global Health Policy Director for Treatment Action Group, an independent AIDS research and policy think tank fighting for better treatment, a vaccine, and a cure for AIDS, TB and Hep C. Kenyon is also the former executive director of Queers for Economic Justice, and has a long track record of community organizing work on criminalization, mass imprisonment, homelessness and HIV. Kenyon is the co-editor of the book Letters from Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out. His work has also appeared in the anthologies Spirited: Affirming the Soul of Black Lesbian and Gay Identity, Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Same-Sex Marriage, For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Still Not Enough, We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21st Century America, and Black Gay Genius: Answering Joseph Beam's Call.
Mark Harrington joined the seminal AIDS activist group, ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power)/New York in 1988, five years after receiving his bachelor’s degree in history and photography from Harvard University. As a member of ACT UP’s Treatment and Data (T+D) Committee, Mark helped plan and execute ACT UP’s “Seize Control of the FDA” demonstration in 1988 and its “Storm the NIH” demonstration in 1990. The events helped initiate a fundamental shift with how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other government agencies addressed the emergency posed by the HIV pandemic in the United States. While in ACT UP, Mark helped create two posters with members of Gran Fury – “READ MY LIPS” and “The Government Has Blood on its Hands.” Mark’s work was included in the exhibition “An Army of Lovers: Combatting AIDS, Homophobia, and Censorship” at P.S. 122 in November 1990. In 1992 Mark co-founded the Treatment Action Group (TAG) with a group of T+D members to form a long-term non-profit non-governmental organization dedicated to advocating for research, treatment, prevention, and cure of HIV/AIDS. Mark wrote and edited many reports for ACT UP and TAG, including three editions of the National AIDS Treatment Research Agenda (1989–91). At the Eighth International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam in July 1992, Mark delivered a plenary address entitled “Pathogenesis and Activism,” using slides of his own HIV-infected lymph nodes to illustrate critically important unanswered questions about the basic science of HIV infection. In 2000, TAG expanded its work to focus on the leading coinfections killing people with HIV around the world, tuberculosis (TB) and hepatitis C virus (HCV). Since 2002 Mark has been executive director at Treatment Action Group. Mark’s work with ACT UP and TAG was featured in the 2013 Academy Award-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague, directed by David France.
Marlene McCarty is a visual artist who has worked across various media since the 1980s. She was a member of the AIDS activist collective Gran Fury and co-founder of the trans-disciplinary design studio Bureau along with Donald Moffett. In 1990 Gran Fury participated with some scandal in the 1990 Venice Biennale Aperto. Gran Fury’s work was recently on view at the MCA Chicago and the Walker Art Museum. Using everyday materials such as graphite, ballpoint pen, and highlighter, McCarty probes issues ranging from sexual and social formation to parricide, infanticide and transbiology. McCarty’s work has been seen in galleries and institutions throughout the US and Europe including among others the Reina Sophia, the Secession, ZKM, NGBK, MoCA, MOMA, the Brooklyn Museum and the Royal Hibernian Academy. Her work is in the collection of major institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Brooklyn Museum; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. She is recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pollack-Krasner Grant, the Richard Diebenkorn Fellowship, and, as Gran Fury, an honorary Doctorate from Massachusetts College of Art. McCarty lives and works in New York having studied at the University of Cincinnati, College of Design, Architecture and Art 1975-77 and Schule für Gestaltung, Basel Switzerland from 1978-83. McCarty is an Associate Professor at NYU Steinhardt and Director of the BFA Program 2014-2017.