New and Dangerous Ideas



The poem is an ekphrastic piece, meaning it was inspired by a work of art — in this case, a portrait of David Wojnarowicz, photographed by Peter Hujar in 1981. Both Wojnarowicz and Hujar were prominent artists and gay activists in the 1970s and 80s, during the height of the AIDS crisis, and both died of AIDS-related illnesses.

I originally picked this portrait to write about for a class assignment simply because it was a striking image, but as I looked into Wojnarowicz’s background I grew more interested in both his life and the time in which he lived, and it was with that mindset that I wrote the poem in direct address to him. Like many young queer people, I feel a sense of historical connection to the AIDS crisis due to the way the loss of so many lives from the previous generation still affects the LGBT community today. While attitudes and medical care have advanced since the 80s, the institutional-level homophobia and racism that fed the Reagan administration’s inaction during the AIDS crisis are still very much alive. This historical context is essential to modern discussions surrounding LGBT rights and social justice.