Buzz Bense's safe sex archive documents creative communication that saved lives and fought fear
It’s rare these days to find examples of art with a real sense of urgency. Looking back on propaganda posters about WWII scrap metal drives or Rosie the Riveter, it’s easy to lump them in with cutesy kitsch items, rather than thinking about the circumstances that led to their creation. In reality, we’re not too far removed from an era where posters were a vital, necessary form of communication, a pop art form that harnessed the power of good design with the deliberate goal of inspiring action.
In the wake of the devastation brought about by the AIDS epidemic, materials began to circulate that communicated the nature of the threat, and the most effective methods of prevention. Forward thinking creatives applied their craft with purpose, from art-world luminaries like Keith Haring, to advertising professionals, to everyday educators and community organizers. Over time, Buzz Bense made a habit of collecting and preserving those materials for educational purposes, and today his collection stands as a powerful document of an era, in the gay community and elsewhere, when creativity was applied to save lives.
For the last two years, Buzz’s collection has been housed at the Center for Sex & Culture in San Francisco, and starting this Friday, it’ll be on display both in the CSC gallery, and in their inaugural exhibition catalog.