Wojnarowicz appropriated this dramatic image of buffalo tumbling off a cliff from a natural-history diorama in Washington D.C. The photograph can be seen as the artist‘s response to his own AIDS diagnosis, which led to his death in 1992 at the age of 37. The AIDS epidemic swept the nation during the 1980s and disproportionately impacted a generation of gay men. Wojnarowicz draws a parallel between the sense of doom evoked by AIDS and the wholesale extermination of the buffalo.
David Wojnarowicz (American, 1954-1992)
Untitled (Buffalo) (1988)
Platinum print, 16 x 20”
Deaccession Art Purchase Fund, 2002.22
Geological epochs are marked by abrupt changes in the fossil record. The ongoing so-called sixth extinction is a case in point, part of the switch from a former world with abundant wild buffalo, and a present world, where they are rigidly controlled, whether in feedlots or remote regions. Let the free-falling buffalo be a metaphor for our free-falling ecosystems. This is fake rock from a museum diorama, and even faker buffalo. Who are we fooling?