Zoe Leonard Releases an Edition of Her Beloved ‘I Want a President’ Poem to Support an HIV Activist Group

The artist's 1992 work has had a special resonance since the election of Donald Trump.

Courtesy of the High Line.

Zoe Leonard‘s beloved 1992 text work I Want a President was revived in the lead-up to the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and now, just after the midterms, it’s getting new life again—this time as a series of 100 prints, half of which are reserved for museums only.

The work, which was inspired by the 1992 write-in presidential campaign of poet and “openly female” candidate Eileen Myles, is a poem that begins: “I want a dyke for president. I want a person with aids for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn’t have a choice about getting leukemia.”

The ink and onion-skin print is being produced in an edition of 100 by activist organization Treatment Action Group, which supports treatment for patients with HIV, tuberculosis, and Hepatitis C. Each print costs $1,000 and comes with a numbered certificate signed by the artist.

The prints were unveiled at the Treatment Action Group’s Research in Action Awards last week, with sales to benefit the organization. Half of the edition is being sold exclusively to museums and, according to Leonard’s gallery, Hauser & Wirth, more than 30 have already been placed in institutions.

When Leonard wrote I Want a President in 1992, it was supposed to appear in an LGBT magazine, but the publication shut down before the issue could come out. She instead distributed the poem among her friends, who began to photocopy it and pass it on to wider circles.

Zoe Leonard, <em>I Want a President</em> at the High Line in New York. Photo courtesy of the High Line Art.

Zoe Leonard, I Want a President at the High Line in New York. Photo courtesy of the High Line Art.

“I think that what’s going on in the text is both a real call and a metaphoric one. Yes, I want a real person in that office—someone intelligent, experienced, and compassionate—but this text also asks for something beyond any one person,” Leonard said of the piece in 2016. “It’s a question of power. Who has it. Who gets a voice. Why are some of us marginalized, while others are ushered in? This is a structural question. This is a conceptual question. This is a real-life question. How do we choose to govern ourselves?”

In the lead-up to the 2016 election, the High Line commissioned Leonard to make a mural-sized version of the work to install in the elevated park in New York. The work, measuring 20 by 30 feet, went up a month before election day and quickly became a social-media sensation.

“This text was written in 1992—long before the age of social media. But back when it was first written, it still went ‘viral’ organically,” High Line curator and director Cecilia Alemani told Standard Culture, the Standard Hotel’s publication. “Since then, it’s been read, translated, and re-imagined all over the world, before and during elections.”

The edition is available to the public on the website of the Treatment Action Group.

UPDATE, 11/21/2018: Treatment Action Group has informed us that the 50 print made available to the public have all been sold.


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