A Keith Haring Sculpture Will Memorialize City's AIDS History, Honor Communities Still Fighting Disease In New Art Garden

Lisa Fielding
November 14, 2019 - 3:45 pm

(Keith Haring Foundation)

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- A 30-foot sculpture will soon make its home along Chicago's lakefront, marking the first installment of the city's first public AIDS garden.

The new AIDS Garden Chicago will unveil "Self-Portrait," the first sculpture to be part of the garden by late iconic HIV/AIDS activist and artist Keith Haring. The entire garden will be completed next fall.

The garden, which is sponsored by the Chicago Parks Foundation and is the brain child of 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney, will be the city’s first public monument to memorialize the early days of Chicago’s HIV epidemic and to honor those who continue to fight against the disease today.

The location of the installation is important to the cause's history in Chicago, said Chicago Parks Foundation Executive Director Willa Lang. The art piece will be along Lake Michigan, south of Belmont Harbor, at the original location of the "Belmont Rocks," a space where the local gay community gathered between the 1960s and 1990s. 

Lang said the project represents the legacy and history of the city and individuals who have been affected and still are living with HIV/AIDS. 

"We are far from eradicating the disease, but this garden and iconic Keith Haring sculpture will serve as a beacon of hope and unity for all," :Lang said. "This is truly a park with a purpose and a message."

Tunney, whose ward includes the project and is an active member in Chicago's LGBTQ community, said phase one of the project is the result of hard work by multiple community partners.

“'Self-Portrait’s' new home at AIDS Garden Chicago, in the 44th ward, is a small but powerful way to continue talking about the epidemic as we fight to bring both HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths to zero," Tunney said.

The bright green and nearly three-story high sculpture will be the largest version of this popular sculpture that has ever been fabricated, Lang said, and the Chicago Parks Foundation expects it to be the Garden’s signature anchor and gathering point.

Mayor Lightfoot expressed support of this project and said it will serve as a permanent reminder of how far Chicago has come while recognizing those who continue the work of getting to zero new HIV infections.

"The fight against HIV/AIDS represents more than a health epidemic: it symbolizes a time in our history when the LGBTQ+ and ally communities came together in the face of tragedy,” said Lightfoot, who is a big LGBTQ advocate. "We lost countless neighbors and friends and relatives over the years, but we have made significant strides in combatting the virus. What was one of the darkest moments of the 20th century has given way to a blooming garden of hope and love."