Fertility Suite Keith Haring
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Keith Haring’s Fertility series is a vibrant example of the artist’s determination to create art that confronted the most taboo socio-political challenges of his time. 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.
Why is Fertility Suite important?
As an early set of screen prints by Haring, this suite represents the significance of his work to HIV/AIDS activism through a positive visual language and unique symbols that are widely recognised and understood by the public. Adopted from the world of commercial printing and initially popularised by Andy Warhol, screen printing offered Haring a way of producing multiple images in vivid colours and little variation between prints.
Notable throughout the series is Haring’s use of dots, dashes and circles in each print that cover the bodies of certain figures, the ground upon which these figures stand and in one instance covers an ancient Egyptian pyramid. These marks have come to be identified as the scars or lesions commonly associated with the AIDS virus, immediately casting a much darker tone on the series, despite what the use of bright colours initially suggests. There is an ominous spotted figure present in Fertility 4 and Fertility 5 that represents the ambiguity of Haring’s motifs. Covered in bold dots, this large figure represents the menacing presence of HIV/AIDS in the world Haring depicts, but at the same time Haring includes an ankh cross, the Egyptian hieroglyphic for ‘life’, at the centre of the figures subject, thus alluding to the presence of a fertility god.
Discussing the recurrence of babies and fertility as subjects in his work, Haring said in 1981 that a baby “is the purest and most positive experience of human existence. Children are the bearers of life in its simplest and most joyous form.” Fertility shows Haring’s passion for advocating for HIV/AIDS awareness by revealing how destructive the virus can be when passed from mother to child, as was the case in 1980s Sub-Saharan Africa.
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