The AIDS activist graphics reproduced here represent an array of educational and organizing tools and propaganda which emerged from a movement spearheaded by ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, "a diverse, nonpartisan group united to anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis." ACT UP New York was founded in March of 1987 and within less than five years had broadened to include dozens more ACT UP and activist organizations around the globe. The illustrations included here reflect the works produced mainly as a result of the struggles led by ACT UP New York, however, they appeared and found use on a national scene. Wherever there exist AIDS activists there are AIDS graphics. The movement has witnessed a long emphatic history, never static but constantly growing and evolving.
Many AIDS graphics grew out of the struggles waged at the local level, however, the activist movement was dedicated to ending the epidemic nationally and attempted to be ever mindful of conditions internationally, especially those hardest hit as in sub-Saharan and Southern Africa. The U.S. government, naturally, being a major culprit, a national coalition of AIDS activist groups formed, ACT NOW, the AIDS Coalition to Network, Organize, and Win coordinating actions of national scope beginning with an attack on the headquarters of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in October of 1988.
The graphic perhaps most closely associated with ACT UP would be the visually simple emblem of the words "SILENCE = DEATH" underneath a pink triangle on a black background. This creation was originally printed up by six gay men calling themselves the Silence = Death Project who were present at the formation of ACT UP and lent the organization their graphic design for placards to be used in demonstrations in April,1987. Thereafter, the graphic found its way onto posters, buttons and T-shirts becoming an invaluable source of fund raising for the organizations.
An ad-hoc art project committee regrouped nearly a year later resolving to dedicate themselves to exploring and exploiting the power of art to end the AIDS crisis. They called themselves Gran Fury after the Plymouth model of automobile used by the New York City Police Department. Gran Fury for several years tended to set art and propaganda styles and contributed to a look closely associated with the AIDS activist movement and were joined by other autonomous and sometimes anonymous artists and designers.