Eric Avery: AIDS WORK

August 12–December 11, 2016

Eric Avery: AIDS WORK includes more than 30 prints and books by Dr. Eric Avery acquired by Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA) and the Mortimer Rare Book Room in 2014. This group represents a cohesive and important body of work that documents three decades in the life of the major public health crisis of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).  As an artist, physician, and gay man, Avery was at the center of the crisis both personally and professionally.

The artworks Dr. Avery first created on the subject of AIDS after its initial outbreak in the early 1980s focused on his personal experience with the disease. Later works incorporated the latest medical and policy information on the treatment of AIDS, as well as expressing and disseminating vital information about risk factors and protective measures to combat the spread of infection.

This desire to provide information to the public and to enact positive change in the world is central to Avery’s view of his purpose as an artist.  According to Avery, “If you believe that information can lead to change, then bearing witness is the narrative function of art and serves a social purpose. If one person, after seeing one of my art actions, were motivated to change an HIV risk behavior and did not get HIV, then this would be my evidence that art can save lives.”

Eric Avery AIDS WORK is supported by the Louise Walker Blaney, class of 1939, Fund for Exhibitions and the Carlyn Steiner '67 and George Steiner Endowed Fund, in honor of Joan Smith Koch.

Bearing Witness: Exhibition at SCMA Documents the AIDS Epidemic

Eric Avery_AIDS Day Programming


About the Artist

Eric Avery (born 1948) received a B.A. in art from the University of Arizona (1970) and an M.D. from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (1974). Avery completed his residency in psychiatry at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in 1979 as he continued to make prints.  He worked as a physician for World Vision in Indonesia (1979), and then in Somalia (1980–81). While serving as Medical Director of the Las Dhure Refugee Camp in Somalia, he began to make woodcuts that drew directly on his experiences with disease and issues of public health.

Avery returned to the U.S. in 1980 at the time that the first case of AIDS in the U.S. was recognized and reported to the Center for Disease Control. Over the next three years, the disease was increasingly reported among the homosexual population, and sickness and death rose precipitously in the gay community.

Avery did not practice medicine between 1980 and 1992, choosing instead to volunteer as a refugee coordinator for Amnesty International and create artwork centered on the experiences of refugees at the Mexican/Texas border.  In 1992, as his friends began to die of AIDS, Avery returned to medicine, joining the Psychiatry Department and the Institute for Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston (a position from which he retired in 2012). Avery worked primarily with AIDS patients in UTMB clinics and in the prison system. He became an expert in working with transgendered people with HIV. Throughout this time, he also created art projects that engaged issues related to AIDS and to public health more broadly.  For more information about Eric Avery and his work visit the artist’s website:


Image: Eric Avery. American, born 1948. 1984–AIDS, 1990. Woodcut printed in black on Mexican wrapping paper. Smith College Museum of Art. Purchased with the gift of Sue Reed, class of 1958. SC 2014:3‑21