Ferd Eggan. Photo by Tracy Baim
On April 29, approximately 50 people attended a reception and panel discussion at Gerber/Hart Library for the opening night of 'Unrelentingly Drawn: The Editorial Cartoons of Danny Sotomayor,' a new Gerber/Hart Library exhibit showcasing the compelling and controversial work of the revered cartoonist ( 1958-1992 ) .
Sotomayor was one of the earliest members of ACT UP/Chicago and the country's first out gay editorial cartoonist. He began producing his cartoons in January 1989, and they were nationally syndicated until 1991. Many of his pieces were openly critical of the Daley administration's apathy towards AIDS at the time.
Guests listened to panelists situate Sotomayor's life and work in the context of local and national AIDS activism. Karen Sendziak, president of Gerber/Hart, noted that the library opened the same week in 1981 that the first news of AIDS ( then categorized as a rare cancer affecting gay men ) made its way to national headlines. She said that the library's inception and history reflected the shift from a post-Stonewall period of complacency to the kind of 'heroic activism' demonstrated by AIDS activists. Wil Brant, the exhibit's curator, spoke about the influence of Sotomayor on his own activism and the artistry and level of detail in the cartoons. Then, John D'Emilio, Professor of History and Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, described the political factors leading to the intense vigor of ACT UP. He pointed out that although the general perception is that AIDS changed everything in terms of LGBTQ-related political activism, in fact it was the response to AIDS by an unprecedented number of people that changed the tenor of queer politics.
Community activist Lori Cannon—a close personal friend of Sotomayor —reflected upon their long friendship as well as her eventually successful legal battle with Sotomayor's family to maintain ownership of his vast archive of drawings. Lastly, Ferd Eggan, a political compatriot of Sotomayor and one of the founders of ACT UP/Chicago, described how the two of them frequently sparred. The biggest issue between them was whether ACT UP needed to focus on the needs of PWAs ( people with AIDS ) or on the long-term project of movement-building with an in-depth consideration of race, class and gender issues. As Eggan sees it, such conflicts —missing from contemporary politics—are useful and necessary for dynamic political movements.
The exhibit is open until Aug. 30 at Gerber/Hart Library, 1127 W. Granville. For more information, see www.gerberhart.org or call 773-381-8030.