Keith Haring: A Brazilian Tale

With his unmistakable graphic shapes and characteristically asexual figurines, Keith Haring remains one of the most influential and iconic artists of the 20th century. To mark the 30th anniversary of his first solo show in New York and the 20th anniversary of his tragic death, Haring will be honored with a huge exhibit in Brazil at Caixa Cultural de São Paulo (starting July 30th) and in Caixa Cultural do São Paulo (from September 27th). American-born curator Sharon Battat, the head of Litmedia Productions and a fan of Haring’s works since childhood, brings the artist’s positive messages about love, prejudice, peace and freedom to spectacular life. More than an exhibit, the event also aims to bring awareness to HIV prevention with artists’ workshops. We recently caught up with Battat to find out about the genesis for the exhibit, what works to expect and why it makes sense for such an exhibition to take place in Brazil.

JC Report: How did you come up with the idea of an exhibit about Keith Haring?

Sharon Battat: In my opinion, Keith was much more than an artist. He knew he had the public attention and used his works to communicate about the causes of his time. He fought against Apartheid, crack and especially HIV. Keith also had a very special relationship with Brazil. He used to love to come here, had many Brazilian friends and was a frequent guest at his friend’s house, Kenny Scharf, in Salvador, Bahia. So when I started to plan this exhibit in Brazil, I knew it had to be more than just a simple show of his works. I wanted to include the elements that he was more fond of—as an artist and as a person. He started his foundation a year before he died [of AIDS-related causes at 31-years-old], dedicating his life to support children’s causes and HIV. That’s why I could not organize just a simple exhibit, but instead a group of activities related to his causes.

JCR: How did you first come to know Haring’s work?

SB: My first contact with a Keith piece of art happened when I was eight-years-old. I was at an auction with my parents and one of his pieces was on bid. At that time I had no idea who he was, but I knew his drawing touched me somehow so I bet $50 on the piece. Everybody started laughing but they took my bet and the bidding started going up. I don’t remember how much the piece reached, but I know it was a much higher price than the expected value. From then on I started to pay more attention to Keith’s works and he became one of my favorite artists. I used to visit his store, the Pop Shop, and buy gifts there. I would always hang his gift bags on my wall in my room, and since then I never lost interest in him and his works.

JCR: What can people expect to see at the exhibit?

SB: We selected 100 works that were never seen here in Brazil before. We will also have workshops for children with local artists as well as Keith’s friends like Kenny Scharf. We are also preparing educational programs about HIV prevention, and also tests with both the Association of Prevention and Treatment of AIDS and Viva Cazuza Foundation. I have also been collecting testimonials from people all over the world who are dealing with HIV. It is important that people realize it can happen to any of us: man, woman, gay, straight, bisexual, rich, poor. When I visited the Viva Cazuza Foundation I saw many HIV positive children who never had the chance to prevent themselves from it and will have to deal with it for the rest of their lives. So if we have the opportunity to alert more than 80,000 people (the number of visitors at the last Keith Haring exhibit in Brazil), we have to do it. We cannot just stand crossing our arms and do nothing.

This interview was conducted by Thiago Lucas

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