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Keith Haring's 1983 Fertility Suite highlighted the prevalence of HIV infection among pregnant women in Sub-Saharan Africa, an issue that was largely suppressed due to the homophobia and racism shaping narratives. The series celebrates these mothers’ strength by including ankh crosses, glowing pregnant women, and dancing.

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Meaning & Analysis

Not one to shy away from taboo topics, Haring’s Fertility celebrates life yet also the injustices of racism and the horrors of AIDS in pregnant women Rendered in the artist’s trademark visual language of bold colours, thick outlines and simplified form, this glowing and otherworldly series speaks out against the injustices of racism, homophobia, and the high prevalence of HIV infection among pregnant women in Sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s, notably the transmission of the virus from mother to child.

Across the five prints in Fertility Suite, Haring shows a set of recognisable, clear-cut motifs that translate into a complex narrative that celebrates fertility and life, whilst also highlighting the horrors faced by pregnant women living with HIV/AIDS. Haring uses the symbol of the pregnant figures dancing in energetic bodily motions as a recurring theme throughout Fertility, making the series one of Haring’s most powerful tributes to womanhood. Additionally, the prints include many other trademark symbols by Haring such as the Radiant Baby, the pyramid and UFOs, working to make this series an archetypal example of the artist’s style.

Formally the works are defined by their use of neon colours that are reminiscent of the New York club scene, initially perceived by the viewer as joyful images. Haring uses contrasting day-glow pigments such as yellow, pink, green, red and purple against sections of black, providing the series with an exceptionally bright visual language that appeals to adults and children alike.

10 Facts About Haring's Fertility Suite

Fertility 3 by Keith Haring

Fertility 3 © Keith Haring 1983

1. The portfolio was created to raise awareness and criticise the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among pregnant women in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Created in 1983, in the midst of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, Haring created his Fertility Suite portfolio to highlight the wide-reaching devastation of the disease. The epidemic had a particularly catastrophic effect on pregnant women in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Haring used his portfolio to spotlight this overlooked demographic. Particularly in Fertility 3, Haring represents a pregnant figure collapsing, being propped up by the infantile figures about her.

Fertility 5 by Keith Haring

Fertility 5 © Keith Haring 1983

2. Haring appropriates Ancient Egyptian symbols to connote feminine energy.

At the centre of some of his figures, as in Fertility 5, Haring outlined an Ancient Egyptian 'Ankh' symbol. The symbol, representative of eternal life, was used in this series to convey the womb as the literal key to life, despite being the key to death for many women during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Likewise, the large figure at the centre of this work (and Fertility 4) is reminiscent of the Ancient Egyptian 'Tyet'. Connected to the goddess Isis, this symbol represents the renewal of life, and was perhaps used by Haring as an optimistic plea to end the epidemic once and for all.

Fertility 4 by Keith Haring

Fertility 4 © Keith Haring 1983

3. Haring's iconography suggests the inevitability of suffering for pregnant women during the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

By representing these pregnant, womanly bodies in the clutches of a womb-like figure, Haring shows these women to be at the mercy of the merciless disease sweeping the globe in 1983. Despite childbearing being a natural part of the circle of life, Haring conveys the dangers of reproduction in the midst of HIV/AIDS.

Radiant Baby by Keith Haring

Radiant Baby © Keith Haring 1990

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