In the center of this work, we see an image of a smiling boy wearing a patterned shirt and suspenders. Two columns of text tell the boy’s story—or, rather, a narrative of his future desires and the forces he will encounter in the world. “One day, this kid will do something that causes men who wear the uniforms of priests and rabbis, men who inhabit certain stone buildings, to call for his death,” the text ominously declares. The photograph, it turns out, pictures the artist as a child, and the desires he will soon discover in himself—“to place his naked body on the naked body of another boy”—will accompany his understanding that he is gay.
Wojnarowicz made this work at the height of intense debate about the AIDS crisis in the United States, as conservative forces demonized both the disease and the gay community afflicted by it, and two years before his own death of AIDS-related causes. The work is a photostat, a cheaply printed poster, meant to be distributed widely as a form of protest against the silence and discrimination surrounding AIDS. The message is unapologetically political: the artist locates homosexual desire in himself as a boy, not a grown man, insisting on his sexuality as natural. What if, Wojnarowicz seems to ask, we could accept the innocence of the young boy instead of punishing him for the biases of a repressive society?
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)