Structural racism is a silent killer. Many conditions of daily life affect people’s health, including access to transportation, education, safe housing, nutritious food, clean air and water, and green space. Economic policies in the United States have routinely confined people of color in neighborhoods lacking these essential resources.

Pandemics, from cholera in the early 1900s to AIDS in the 1990s, have impacted marginalized communities profoundly. These communities have been burdened disproportionately by COVID-19, sustaining higher rates of illness, death, and job loss than wealthier populations. In 2020, artists and activists denounced police violence against Black people, attacks on Asian Americans, excessive incarceration, and threats to essential workers.

Content from the exhibition Design and Healing: Creative Responses to Epidemics, curated by MASS Design Group and Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum


Silence = Death, 1987
In the 1980s and 1990s, AIDS activists used the slogan “Silence = Death” to demand solutions for the AIDS pandemic.

Vertical, rectangular, black graphic poster with a small, pink triangle in top-center, and large white text in capital letters at the bottom which reads [SILENCE = DEATH]

Poster: SILENCE = DEATH Project (New York, New York, USA, founded 1987), Avram Finkelstein, Brian Howard, Oliver Johnston, Charles Kreloff, Chris Li, and Jorge Socarrás, published by ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), Courtesy of Avram Finkelstein


Can’t Breathe, 2020
The murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, triggered demonstrations against police brutality and structural racism around the world.

Dark skinned person wearing white facemask with black text I can't breathe

Photograph: Protester in Madrid, Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images


Don’t Let Racism Go Viral Poster, 2020
These posters about anti-Asian racism were part of the poster campaign #FillTheWallsWithHope. More than 1,500 posters were printed and posted around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in summer 2020.

Poster divided into two sections showing two pairs of eyes with text at the bottom of each section.

Poster: Kayan Cheung-Miaw (American, born Hong Kong, 1984), #FillTheWallsWithHope poster campaign, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA


Signs Pleading for Help, Cook County Jail, Chicago, Illinois, 2020
By April 2020, nearly 400 cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed among the inmates and employees of the Cook County Jail. COVID-19 ravaged prisons across the USA.

Exterior of brick jail with desperate messages written on windows

Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images


Black Lives Matter / Defund the Police Poster, 2020
Numerous protesters wore masks at outdoor demonstrations against police violence in 2020. This poster is based on a photograph of a young woman named Akpos Eyafe taken in Minneapolis, Minnesota shortly after the murder of George Floyd. The controversial slogan “Defund the Police” prompted urgent discussions about biased policing, the incarceration of Black and Brown people, and the disinvestment in health care and education.

Medium-dark skinned person wearing mask looking outwards

Designer: Ernesto Yerena Montejano (American, b. 1986); Photographer: Nancy Mbabazi Musinguzi (American, b. 1991); Museum purchase, Cooper Hewitt Responsive Collecting Initiative


Workers First Poster, 2020
This poster honors farm workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was included in #FillTheWallsWithHope, a campaign that printed and installed 1,500 posters around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in summer 2020.

An eye-catching poster of a cartoon-like worker holding a bin of tomatoes and the words [WORKERS FIRST] printed in bubble font repeating vertically in wavy lines filling the background.

Poster: Brian Herrera (Mexican, b. 1996); #FillTheWallsWithHope poster campaign, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Featured Image: Poster: Brian Herrera (Mexican, b. 1996); #FillTheWallsWithHope poster campaign, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

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