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The New York Public Library Presents New Exhibition: Why We Fight: Remembering AIDS Activism


 Free exhibition examines the pioneering work of AIDS activists in the 1980s and 1990s

Sept. 9 -- The early days of the AIDS epidemic were marked by prejudice, ignorance, and political strife -- but the grassroots work of pioneering activists changed the conversation, sparking the fight that generated real change, and eventually, strong action from national and international leaders.

The New York Public Library holds the world’s preeminent archive documenting this history, and draws from these collections to examine the impact and significance of early AIDS activists in the powerful exhibition Why We Fight: Remembering AIDS Activism. The free exhibition will run from October 4, 2013, through April 6, 2014, in the Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery, located in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.
“At its heart, this exhibition is about the monumental impact of everyday people,” said Jason Baumann, the exhibition’s curator and the Coordinator of Collection Assessment and LGBT Collections at The New York Public Library. “Although the AIDS crisis is far from over, countless activists have devoted their energy and creativity to help save lives. Why We Fight is an exploration of that activist impulse.”
Sponsored by the M•A•C AIDS Fund, Why We Fight will look at four major themes that emerged out of AIDS activism in the early days of the crisis in the 1980s and 1990s: changing perceptions of people living with HIV; prevention efforts focused on safer sex and needle exchange; the strategic use of public mourning; and innovative engagement with the healthcare industry.
“The NYPL exhibition Why We Fight shines a light on the critical grassroots advocacy work that epitomized the AIDS response in the ’90s. This is the same type of advocacy that gave birth to the M•A•C AIDS Fund. It is our deep honor to have been a part of those pivotal early days in the fight against AIDS and to be able today to sponsor this important exhibition, to keep alive the story of AIDS activists and inspire others to continue the fight,” said Nancy Mahon, executive director, M•A•C AIDS Fund.
A range of archival materials from the Library’s extensive collections will illustrate the important stories of AIDS activism, including video footage, pamphlets, books, buttons, journals, and much more. The Library has preserved the archives of key organizations and individuals involved in the struggle to end the AIDS crisis, including such groups as Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Gran Fury, and ACT UP NY. Items from all of these archives will be featured in the exhibition.
Some specific items to be featured in the Why We Fight exhibition include:
One of the first-ever safe sex manuals, How to Have Sex in an Epidemic
A rare issue of Diseased Pariah News, a publication—written in a dark, sarcastic tone—for people living with HIV
Archival footage of protests, including 1992’s “Ashes Action”
Journals from GMHC’s Buddy Program, in which people volunteered to care for people infected with the disease, as no effective treatment then existed
Original posters, flyers, and items from milestone demonstrations, such as a candle used at the first large-scale AIDS rally and vigil in 1983
In conjunction with this exhibition, The New York Public Library will host a series of free programs and screenings related to AIDS activism—all at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. On October 23, there will be a special screening of How to Survive a Plague, followed by a discussion with the film’s director, David France, and other participants. On January 14, current and former members of ACT UP will present a program on effective activism strategies. There will also be a film series drawn from the Library’s collections, curated by Jim Hubbard, director and coproducer of the documentary United in Anger: A History of ACT UP. For more information, please visit
A daylong press preview of the new exhibition will be held on Tuesday, October 1. To make an appointment to see the materials and speak with the curator, please contact publicist Jonathan Pace.
M•A•C AIDS Fund is the Lead Corporate Sponsor of the Why We Fight exhibition and related programming.

This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of Hermes Mallea and Carey Maloney, with additional support from the LGBT Initiative of The New York Public Library. Time Warner is a founding supporter of the LGBT Initiative.

Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos and Adam Bartos Exhibitions Fund, and Jonathan Altman.
Contact: Jonathan Pace | 212.592.7710 |
About The New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 91 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming, and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library serves more than 18 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library
About the M•A•C AIDS Fund
The M•A•C AIDS Fund, the heart and soul of M•A•C Cosmetics, was established in 1994 to support men, women, and children affected by HIV/AIDS globally. The M•A•C AIDS Fund is a pioneer in HIV/AIDS funding, providing financial support to organizations working with underserved regions and populations. Recently recognized by Funders Concerned About AIDS as the top corporate giver in the arena and the number one philanthropic funder of domestic U.S. HIV/AIDS work, the M•A•C AIDS Fund is committed to addressing the link between poverty and HIV/AIDS by supporting diverse organizations around the world that provide a wide range of services to people living with HIV/AIDS. To date, the M•A•C AIDS Fund has raised more than $300 million (U.S.) exclusively through the sale of M•A•C's VIVA GLAM Lipstick and Lipglass, donating 100 percent of the sale price to fight HIV/AIDS. For more information, visit