Art as Activism

Authored by: WAG Staff on September 28, 2018

General Idea. AIDS, 1988. Acrylic on canvas, silkscreened wallpaper. Winnipeg Art Gallery, Acquired with funds from the Eckhardt-Gramatté Foundation, G-92-191.

Now on view, The 80s Image features about 50 pieces by local and international artists who helped define the decade. In this electrifying show, you'll find several rarely displayed artworks from the WAG collection. One of those works is AIDS by General Idea, a collective of three Canadian artists-Felix Partz, Jorge Zontal, and AA Bronson. The first and only time it was displayed by the WAG was in 1992. Inspired by American pop art painter Robert Indiana's LOVE icon, General Idea sought to spread awareness and fight the stigma and fear surrounding HIV/AIDS in a time when information was scarce and misleading. The group made the first iteration-a painting-for a 1987 exhibition supporting AIDS research. AIDS appeared in multiple forms-from sculptures to posters-in an effort to capture public attention. According to Bronson, the work was to "play the part of the virus itself," spreading throughout society, so that the disease "couldn't be swept under the carpet."

The installation is tragically personal. Partz and Zontal were diagnosed as HIV-positive and later died of related causes. General Idea has some local ties. Partz (a.k.a. Ron Gabe) was born in Winnipeg and met Bronson in the 1960s at the University of Manitoba. In fact you can find a sculpture by Gabe, Sunbeams (Marching over the Hill) from 1966, on campus outside of the Marcel A. Desautels Music Building.


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