Keith Haring

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No other artist brought to light the social issues facing homosexuals than Keith Haring. Birth, death, love, sex and war: Haring was always direct with his message. In 1988, Haring was diagnosed with AIDs. He spent a great deal of his later life speaking of his illness and creating awareness about AIDs. Haring passed away of AIDS related complications at the age of 31 on February 16, 1990. On May 4, 1990, a memorial service was held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Over 1 000 people attended, showing just how many Haring touched with his art and activism during his life. His works truly have become part of the 20th century's universal visual language.

Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait, 1980Image via Guggenheim Robert Mapplethorpe, Self Portrait, 1980
Image via Guggenheim

Just one year before Haring's passing, photographer Mapplethorpe lost his life to AIDs related complications. Like Haring, Mapplethorpe was direct with his artistic handle on sensitive issues around sex, identity and gender. In his black and white photographs, Mapplethorpe would showcase the BDSM subculture of New York in the 1970s, use black male nudes and nudes of female bodybuilders as his subjects, all sexual beings which had not yet been brought to the forefront of Western art.

Alvin Baltrop

Image: Alvin Baltrop Image: Alvin Baltrop

Photographer Alvin Baltrop also worked in New York during the 1970s and 1980s. He found his passion for photography whilst working as a medic during the Vietnam War. Back in the U.S., Baltrop became most associated with his photographs of the West Side piers, where artists were inspired to create work and where gay men met to hook up, before the AIDS epidemic.

However raw and beautiful Baltrop's images were, he still struggled as a black artist.He faced racism from the white gay art world, his work often rejected by gay curators. It was only after his death that he gained the international recognition that he deserved.

Zanele Muholi

Ayanda & Nhlanhla Moremi's Wedding III. Kwanele South, Katlehong, 9th November, 2013 Ayanda & Nhlanhla Moremi's Wedding III. Kwanele South, Katlehong, 9th November, 2013

Visual artist Muholi's work is driven by a need to show the world the African LGBT community. Muholi's accolades and attributes to uniting LGBT communities in Africa as well as bringing their journeys to the world, are endless.

In 2002, she co-founded the Forum for the Empowerment of Women, a black lesbian organisation which provides a safe space for women to meet. Muholi documented the stories of hate crimes against the gay community as well as issues surrounding HIV/AIDS to mainstream society.

Her first solo exhibition was shown at Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2004, earning her place as a visual activist artist. After years of working and exhibiting in Africa, Muholi presented 87 of her works in the solo show Isibonelo/Evidence at Brooklyn Museum.

Hannah Höch

HÖCH_001_72dpi-331x397 Hannah Höch, Der Vater, 1920, Collage

German artist Hannah Höch was the only woman recognised in the Dada group. However, her place within the group was not met without criticism, Höch refers to the hypocrisy of Dada group in her photomontage, Da-Dandy. She also wrote about the hypocrisy of men in the Dada movement in her short essay The Painter, 1920.

Höch had a relationship with Dutch writer Mathilda Brugman. They lived together from 1926 to 1929 in Holland and then moved to Berlin, where they were partners until 1935. The couple were very private about their relationship.

Höch spent the years of the Third Reich in the outskirts of Berlin, under the radar. Her work was censored by the Nazis as it was labelled "degenerate art.''

Alice Neel

Touching, tender and a bit wild ... Alice Neel's Pregnant Woman (1971)Photograph: Estate of Alice Neel Touching, tender and a bit wild ... Alice Neel's Pregnant Woman (1971)
Photograph: Estate of Alice Neel

American artist Alice Neel, had relationships with both men and women. It was her portrayal of the female body during pregnancy that was an important movement in how the changes in women's bodies are depicted in art.

In the mid-1960s, Neel's portraits of her pregnant friends celebrated the physical and emotions changes of childbirth, as opposed to concealing them, which was the norm at the time.

Need explained that this part of her oeuvre was a compulsion: ''It isn't what appeals to me, it's just a fact of life. It's a very important part of life and it was neglected. I feel as a subject it's perfectly legitimate, and people out of a false modesty, or being sissies, never show it, but it is a basic fact of life. Something that primitives did, but modern painters have shied away from because women were always done as sexual objects.''

Annie Leibovitz

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Annie Leibovitz has captured some of the most important cultural photographs of the 20th and 21st century. She photographed John Lennon on the day he was assassinated and, in 1991, she became the first woman to have held an exhibition at Washington's National Portrait Gallery. From 1989, she was in a relationship with film-maker and political activist Susan Sontag, until Susan's passing in 2004.

One of Leibovitz most recent and ground-breaking works was her shooting the cover for Vanity Fair in 2005, which was the first time Caitlynn, formerly known as Bruce, Jenner came out to the world as a transgender woman.

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