Untitled (Falling Buffalos), 1988–1989
David Wojnarowicz made Untitled (Falling Buffalos) after a trip to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. There, he saw a diorama of the American West that depicted buffalo being driven off a cliff to their death. Wojnarowicz had recently been diagnosed with AIDS, which was a certain death sentence at the time. He uses the image of the buffalo tumbling over the cliff to draw a parallel between the brutality that had led to the near-extinction of this sacred animal and the government’s disregard for the suffering during the AIDS epidemic—and its insufficient response.
David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992) was a painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist, and musician. He came from a troubled family and as a teenager was a street hustler around Times Square. Wojnarowicz was gay and a passionate advocate for people with AIDS. His career lasted little more than a decade—from the late 1970s until he died of AIDS in 1992 at age 38. One of the leading figures in the highly experimental East Village art scene, Wojnarowicz used his art to rage against homophobia and censorship and to explore universal themes: love and loss, sexuality and spirituality, and the specter of death that haunted his generation.