Silence=Death

Avram Finkelstein, a member of the Silence=Death Project, talks about AIDS, ACT-UP, institutional silence, Holocaust imagery, street art, and the making of an iconic political image. The pink triangle, silence=death poster became representative of AIDS activism during a period when literally, a deathly silence was imposed upon the AIDS crisis. Ronald Reagan, then president, simply pretended it didn’t exist. The conflation of the health crisis with gay liberation further complicated the situation politically. Avram talks about the radical possibilities envisioned by the poster, and the ability for repression to reconstitute itself even where you least expect it.







“Silence is death” implies action, action of resistance and action of oppression. On the other hand, institutional democracy establishes an equivalency between silence and death that ensures that we are perpetually, all, silent and dead. Power is segregated and protected from the effects of speech and action. It is deaf, and increasingly alienated from “speech” that is not “spending”. What precedes any ability to act is the necessity to locate oneself in the network and answer the question: what/who am I connected to? What are the limits and boundaries of my silence/death? What is my sphere of action/life? How can we fight the inverse proportionality between the magnitude of the AIDS crisis and the amount Americans give a shit about it?

Invading Mina Yanacocha

The trappings of power can often be seen in the things and peoples that are silenced; internal contradictions in logic and morality become salient when a hegemonic silence (on such things as racism, sexism, injustice) is broken. The communal silence that is erected and upheld by private and public institutions does not rely on an obvious form of coercion, but rather it is socially shared. “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all” has become a cultural form of censorship—shoving the unruly excess of meaning that resides outside of institutional enclosures into a nice, neat box.

The guerilla filmmaker has a tool that is on its own silent, but with the technological advances in synch sound over the past fifty years, has verbal capabilities. How do you combat institutional silence—that denial of the excess, that inability to confront what is before one’s eyes—with a device like a camera? You turn the lens back on the institution, and reveal its own exterior, which then might just penetrate.

Peru’s Mina Yanacocha, the largest gold mine in South America, originally filmed in silence: