What we needed

1st December 2023, 6:07 am

 

On World AIDS Day 2023, Tom of Finland Foundation reflects on how the AIDS crisis impacted Tom of Finland and his work.

 

The work of Tom of Finland is remarkable for many reasons. One reason is that he often depicted men unabashedly engaging in carefree sex without shame. His work embraced Gay sex in an era when Queer identity was verboten and even dangerous, which made Tom anomalous. However, when the public health crisis that became known as HIV/AIDS emerged in the early 1980s, Tom began to question the role his artwork played in the free love that exacerbated the spread of the virus. 

For a time, his aesthetic transformed. Previously rendered in practical environments with painstaking detail, Tom’s work shifted towards portraiture on blank backgrounds or in heavenly, ethereal settings. Some portraits depicted people Tom knew who themselves succumbed to the virus.

After some time, Tom came to realize that he could help affect change within the Gay community. He started to portray men using protection, and some works even explicitly promoted condom use. Untitled (Use a Rubber), 1987, for example, was mailed by Tom of Finland Company to over 700 bars, cafes, and organizations around the world that catered to a Gay clientele. 

Ultimately, Tom accepted that his talent for showing Gay men proud of their sexuality would triumph over any shame or stigma that the AIDS crisis would project onto our community from external (and even some internal) sources.

Published: 1st December 2023

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