New York City’s LGBT Community Centeron West 13th Street in downtown Manhattan contains a mural by the late Keith Haring, Once Upon a Time, 1989. But it’s hidden, sort of.
Haringwas active in the 1980s LGBT rights movement and made lots of artworks over the years advocating for safe sex, awareness, and research around HIV and AIDS.
The Center invited Haring in 1989 to create a mural, he chose to do it in the building’s second-floor men’s bathroom. Glennda Testone, the LGBTQ Community Center’s Executive Director says,
“The work really powerfully captures a time and an energy when our community was fighting for our lives— trying to stay resistant, and celebrating what we could.”
Haring was fighting his own battle with AIDS at the time, being diagnosed just a year before. But despite the climate of fear and anxiety, Haring’s painting was a celebration. As Testone says, it was his
“vision of a world before AIDS—a celebration of gay male sexuality and resiliency at a time when mainstream America was quite terrified of gay male sexuality.”
The mural was restored and opened to the public in 2012 and anyone who wishes can see it. The space is now more of a monument than a working bathroom —the sinks and stalls were removed in the ’80s. People come daily to sit, dance, and even do their homework under Haring’s explicit iconography.
“I wish Keith were alive to see how the community interacts with this mural, because people are so inspired and in awe. I really see the mural as a motivation to keep fighting and keep going forward.”
(Photos, LGBT Community Center National History Archive; via Arnet News)