There is a moment in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2013 video “I, You, We: Art & AIDS” when Sue Coe almost cries. Coe is holding the original sketches from her series “AIDS Suite” and describing her time in the AIDS ward at the University of Texas at Galveston.
Coe, a self-described ‘visual journalist,’ has spent her career documenting the marginalized: people living with HIV/AIDS, incarcerated women, and animals in slaughterhouses. She has illustrated for the New Yorker and the New York Times and published several books of her work. Her images are often dark, violent and semi-apocalyptic.
Yet it would be a mistake to say that Coe’s work is violent for the sake of violence. On the contrary, it’s driven by an overwhelming sense of compassion. This is clear from the moment in “I, You, We: Art & AIDS,” and it was clear to me when I spoke to Coe about political art, HIV/AIDS, and animal rights on the night before her exhibition opened at the Yale Whitney/Cushing Medical Library.