This exhibition, drawn from the permanent collection of the Pomona College Museum of Art, showcases the work of “graphic witness” Sue Coe. Throughout her career as a painter, visual essayist, illustrator, and, above all, social critic, Sue Coe tenaciously unites politics and art. In a broad range of projects, she explores social injustice and the harms of unrestrained capitalism, particularly in the industry of factory farming. Coe presents her work in both traditional fine art media—paintings and graphic art—and through mass-produced, low cost books and prints.
As part of an initiative by the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Galveston, Texas, hospital to make the AIDS pandemic more visible, artist and physician Dr. Eric Avery invited Coe to record the reality of the AIDS ward. In 1994, the year of Coe’s visit, AIDS became the leading cause of death for all Americans ages 25 to 44—evidence of the ongoing gravity of the situation. Through seven line etchings and three photo-etchings, Coe documents her visit to the Galveston Hospital and her interactions with patients in various stages of AIDS. Packaged in a case emblazoned with the red toxic waste symbol, the five individual portraits and five hospital scenes humanize those suffering in the midst of a frightening epidemic. Made with the sitter’s permission, the portraits are accompanied by simple titles and texts and focus on personal events and stories rather than abstract numbers or a social cause. Coe’s prints counteract political and social stigma by portraying the lived experiences of those most affected. As part of the mobilization to raise consciousness about AIDS, the prints preserve the voices of those ravaged by AIDS and the urgent need for action.
This exhibition is curated by Benjamin Kersten, Josephine Bump ’76 Curatorial Intern, Pomona College ’15.