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ALTERNATE ENDINGS post-screening discussion at the SVA Theatre featuring Amy Taubin, Tom Kalin, Lyle Ashton Harris, Derek Jackson and Wanda Hernandez-Parks. Photo by Ted Kerr.


We would like to thank everyone who joined us at SVA Theatre on World AIDS Day December 1, 2014 for the NYC premiere of ALTERNATE ENDINGS, on the 25th Anniversary of Day With(out) Art.

To honor the 25th year of Day With(out) Art, Visual AIDS commissioned seven artists/collectives--Rhys Ernst, Glen Fogel, Lyle Ashton Harris, Hi Tiger, Tom Kalin, My Barbarian, and Julie Tolentino/Abigail Severance--to create provocative work about the ongoing HIV/AIDS pandemic, focusing on the issues of today. The program, titled ALTERNATE ENDINGS, highlights the diverse voices of seven artists that use video to bring together charged moments and memories from their personal perspective amidst the public history of HIV/AIDS. All seven videos are now available for online viewing in the ALTERNATE ENDINGS album on Visual AIDS' Vimeo account.

A packed house of over 150 people watched the videos premiere on the big screen of the SVA Theatre. A post-screening discussion moderated by SVA professor Amy Taubin featured artists Tom Kalin, Lyle Ashton Harris, and Derek Jackson as well as activist Wanda Hernandez-Parks (VOCAL-NY), providing insights into the process and perspective behind the videos. Clips from the thought-provoking and generative discussion are embedded below, and also viewable on Visual AIDS' Vimeo account.

The lively premiere event was documented by Jon Nalley (Social + Diarist); his photos are in a Facebook album.


Excerpt: "The starting point for me was the back of books, I encountered the little stamp sheets, where you check out a book. And it occurred to me these little pieces of paper in the back of these books had experienced the AIDS crisis just as long as I had. They were from 1986 and 1987 and were checked out and stamped. The thought that they were skin or that they had been touched all those times, all those years was really evocative to realize the sense that AIDS was everywhere, in all the common objects I touched. AIDS has been the dominant thread of my life for the last 27 or more years. AIDS is everywhere. AIDS is a part of everything."


Excerpt: "'The Village' is a song by New Order... I grew up on the border of Mexico and Texas, listening to that kind of music. The connection was that we related to the outsider status, the humor, the irony of the music... Later as an adult I returned to some of these songs and found, instead of imitating their voice, I could sing them in my own. And that's when I knew I had essentially found my voice."


Excerpt: "It was a way of just documenting my life, friends. Also, it captures my close relationships and associations with a lot of men and women who have left. People who were very much in the forefront in terms of AIDS activism, like Marlon Riggs, but often you never see the interiority. If you think about a book like Nan Goldin's 'The Ballad of Sexual Dependency', often, as far as black culture discourse, you never see that personal aesthetic. I wanted to create a narrative that actually began to tease at that. In addition to that, to talk about the faultline that existed among multiple communities, whether that was the queer community, black community, artistic community, etc. This archive in a way begins to tease at those relationships."


Excerpt: "It's about human rights. It's about what we all should fight for because at the end of the day we are not statistics, we are actually somebody's son, somebody's daughter, somebody's nephew, somebody's parent... for me it's a personal vendetta to go ahead and end AIDS by 2020, which can be done."


Excerpt: "One of the main strategies of ACT-UP and activist graphics was humor. I think it's much forgotten about ACT-UP that it was funny, really funny. And most of us used humor as a conduit to express rage... The idea that the only emotion that AIDS provokes is sadness or grief is wrong. HIV and AIDS, there is a huge spectrum. HIV and AIDS can have a spectrum for me of boredom now, of familiarity, of casualness, of ordinariness. It's part of my day to day life... Anger is only part of the equation. I think anger was an incredible wedge of momentum and collective movement that really changed things."


Excerpt: "I felt like with the 'queer art mafia', this cult of who is the cutest white boy artist at the moment, and I was never that. Then with the blacks, feeling too much of a fag to be hard or hip hop. It was very lonely. In terms of risk and HIV, that's a risky place to be in. So in terms of art and that question 'can art save lives?' that is a place where I feel safe, where I can carve out what it means to be all of this, all the time, not one or the other."

Videography by Bart Mastronardi. Editing by Azmi Mert Erdem.

Global Fictions, Local Struggles

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Aimar Arriola, Visual AIDS curatorial resident 2014


The HIV/AIDS pandemic continues to be a global phenomenon of unprecedented dimensions and yet, besides the outstanding intellectual and artistic achievements of the last three decades in the fields of cultural analysis and art and curatorial work to make sense of the crisis' impact, the focus has predominantly been on North American and Central-European artists and cultural practitioners.

But what of the visuals, aurals, actions, ideas, lives, which have often been obscured by the hegemony of the North? How could the study of the aesthetic and performative production around AIDS in the "global South" expand our visual and political cultures?

Aimar Arriola was the 2014 Visual AIDS Curator in Residence, and his recent collaborative research and curatorial projects address these issues with a focus on selected case studies from Spain and Latin America. Arriola considers these questions in his recent essay "Global Fictions, Local Struggles (or the distribution of three documents from an AIDS counter-archive in progress)" for internationale online. Read an excerpt from the essay's introduction below.

This text looks at some of the aesthetic practices, representations, collective experiences and performative tactics that emerged in response to the HIV/AIDS crisis in various contexts in the so-called "South," in order to critically revise the widely accepted notion that the 1980s introduced a new global order, one that was stripped of borders and accessible to all. As Chilean writer Lina Meruane wrote in her recent survey of AIDS-related literature in Latin America--the 2012 book Viral Voyages--this fiction of increasing freedom "gradually proved to be an affliction."

In Viral Voyages, Meruane connects two previously unrelated spheres: Latin American literature and the disciplinary discourse of illness. Based on literary narratives of AIDS, the book traces the representations and the demand for signification that the pandemic unleashed from the 1980s onwards. Drawing on the work of early cultural critics of AIDS such as Susan Sontag, John O'Neill, Cindy Patton and Paula Treichler, as well as theorists like Richard Sennett who analyse financial or globalised capitalism, Meruane devotes the first part of the book to examining the cultural, social and political context that is inseparable from the discursive production around the pandemic. The second part of the book uses literary texts as evidence, based on works of fiction by authors such as Reinaldo Arenas, Severo Sarduy, Mario Bellatin and Pedro Lemebel, and taking them as a means to reflect on themes such as journeys, political repression and exile that recur in the representation of AIDS in Latin America.

Adhering to Meruane's reasoning, we propose to consider AIDS as both a co-narrative and a counter to globalisation. On one hand, we acknowledge AIDS as the subject that best connotes the new globalised reality that appeared in the 1980s. The geographical scope of the virus, its synchronous emergence around the world, and the rhetoric of flows and communication typical of the period, reinforced the idea of the world as a network of interconnected short distances. On the other hand, we also propose to think of AIDS as the great fault in the globalisation paradigm: the fault that can point out the promises of democratic equality that the global world-system failed to live up to.

The text is based on an archival logic; by means of description and commentary, it seeks to distribute and provide access to "AIDS documents" drawn from an archive under construction. These documents are part of the Equipo re AIDS Anarchive, an ongoing research project and program of activities that revolve around the process of producing a "counter-archive" or "anarchive" of AIDS politics that, for the first time, take into account practices that played out outside of the English-speaking and Northern European contexts, and that have so far focused on cases from Chile and Spain. Our aim is to challenge the stability of the dominant Anglo- and Euro-centric narratives around the historiography and visual culture of HIV/AIDS through the description, commentary and distribution of a limited selection of "local" responses to AIDS that confront the hegemony of the North.

AIDS as a Global Design

In our approach to AIDS, we freely apply the now-classic model developed by Walter Mignolo to analyse the links between coloniality and globalisation, considering AIDS as a "global design" that originated from a whole range of "local histories" (Mignolo 2000). In most of the academic and curatorial work produced between the late 1980s and early 1990s around the aesthetic practices, representations and performative tactics that grew around the pandemic, the analysis of the visual culture of HIV/AIDS has almost exclusively focused on the English-speaking/ Eurocentric world. As a result, a few "local histories" have become the norm while many others have been pushed into the background.

The expansion of the neoliberal model lies at the heart of the "global design" of AIDS. The changes resulting from new technological and communications developments led to a transformation of the forms of expansion inherent to financial capitalism, which demanded the liberalisation of the functions of the State for the benefit of private interests. This dismantling of the welfare state took place gradually in the 1970s and 1980s, in collusion with authoritarian regimes (as in the case of Chile, for example, which is now considered the main laboratory for the implementation of neoliberalism), and at the same time as the emergence of the first known cases of AIDS.

The convergence of the expansion of globalised capital, the various democratic transition processes in dictatorial contexts such as Spain and Chile, and the emergence of the AIDS crisis provoked a double dynamic, a simultaneous opening up and restricting of freedoms. As dictatorships waned in favour of a democratic future and new omens raised "feathers and skirts," the arrival of AIDS was a step backwards in the certainty of freedom, setting new limits for an entire sector of the population. As Lina Meruane says, "these changes in the culture of capitalism and its new technologies of communication and travel would allow dissident sexualities to articulate a utopian notion of freedom beyond the borders of the repressive, homophobic nation" (Meruane 2014). It was a libertarian fiction or conjecture that thrived in the post-dictatorial contexts of transition in countries such as Chile and Spain, and that, as the Chilean artist and writer Pedro Lemebel said--this time drawing on cinematic fiction--was precisely what was "gone with the wind of AIDS."

Transition as Disruption

We first noticed the precise intersection of the visual and performative production around HIV/AIDS with the policies of the dictatorship in Spain, by way of omission rather than attention. This occurred during the project Social Dangerousness, co-directed by Beatriz Preciado as part of the 2008-2009 edition of the MACBA Independent Studies Programme (PEI), which addressed the dissident cultural production of the last stage of Franco's regime and the early years of democracy, coinciding with the first cases of HIV/AIDS in Spain (the first case was diagnosed in Catalonia in 1981 by Doctor Caterina Mieras). Our contribution was a collective research project on a group of activists and cultural producers in Andalusia who had been active in the anti-Francoist struggle and the early gay liberation movement. The research did not really manage to come to terms with the impact of the emergence of AIDS in post-dictatorial Spain, and in some sense it reproduced a historical inertia: it failed to examine the initial indifference of the traditional left towards the crisis and the early gay movement.

This oversight came to light unexpectedly, and somewhat sadly, during a filmed conversation with three of the subjects of our research: feminist researcher and activist María José Belbel, and activists and cultural producers Joaquín Vázquez and Miguel Benlloch, co-founders of the cultural production company BNV Producciones. The discussion revolved around how the construction of the official narrative of the transition to democracy had overshadowed other possible narratives, defending civil society's active resistance against the repression of Franco's regime. Suddenly, as they reminisced about the early activities of feminist and gay liberation movements, all three interviewees wistfully acknowledged that they had "not been equal to the task" (the expression is ours) of responding to the early days of the AIDS crisis.

When news of a "gay cancer" started reaching Spain in the early 1980s and the first cases began to be diagnosed, the gay movement was going to "look the other way," fearing further social stigmatisation and the loss of brand new freedoms (Llamas and Vila 1997). The participants of our conversation recognised this, and one of them summed it up in a subsequent e-mail as follows: "Politically, one of my greatest regrets is not having fought during the time when the AIDS pandemic began. I think it was because we had already done a lot of fighting and we had built up a lot of grief." This reference to the political and emotional fatigue involved in living in a dictatorship as a way of explaining the difficulty of organising early responses to AIDS is not exclusive to Spain, and also came up repeatedly in interviews and conversations we had in Chile. The particular forms that AIDS politics took in post-dictatorial contexts should be understood as disruptions--breaks and interruptions--in the standardised and seemingly irrefutable design of globalisation.

The intersection between post-dictatorial politics and the emergence of AIDS also raises certain questions that have not yet been dealt with in the analysis of the visual culture of HIV/AIDS, and that are key to our research: What specific performative and visual production strategies emerged in post-dictatorial Chile and Spain, to mention two examples, when they collided with AIDS? What forms of somatic resistance emerged from the collision between dictatorship and AIDS politics? How are they linked to notions of trauma, memory and affect?

Read the rest of Aimar's essay here, where he uses three case studies to unpack these questions.

"Death of a Star" tapestry from The Universe Canticle


The Universe Canticle: Tapestries by the Women of Kopanang is a touching display consisting of 31 individual tapestry panels of embroidered fabric. The works were created by the women of the Kopanang Community Trust, which supports women living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, near Johannesburg, South Africa, by "gathering together to create a culture of sustainability and life affirming services for those affected by HIV/AIDS in South Africa's townships." Sister Sheila Flynn, the founder of the Kopenang Community Trust, describes The Universe Canticle in saying "The works on display are a testament of hope by the women who made them who are affected or infected by HIV/AIDS. The subject matter are the natural sciences and the incredible visual story of evolution, along with the way we walk on the earth with our carbon footprint. The underlying reality is that creating this body of works supported the women in maintaining their lives with courage. The beauty created by their hands in turn feeds their children and keeps their spirits alive both personally and within the community group itself that supports each member and walks the walk regarding the ongoing impact of HIV/AIDS."

Visual AIDS interviewed Joyce Healy, the board chair of the Mariposa Museum and World Culture Center, the driving force behind the exhibition, which has toured throughout the United States, Australia and South Africa.

The women of the Kopanang Community Trust is profiled in a short video, viewable here.

Visual AIDS: Describe the genesis of the project--from the women in the Kopanang Community Trust in South Africa, to the Mariposa Museum and World Culture Center in New Hampshire, to Saint Joseph Church in Greenwich Village.

Joyce Healy: The Universe Canticle originated as a commission for the Faithful Fools Ministry in San Francisco for World Aids Day 1990. After the work went up on their walls, they felt it was too good to live inside a building where few would see it, and offered to loan it out to organizations that could present it to a wider audience. Visitors having the same reaction have lead to exhibitions throughout the world.

An award-winning African-American artist and author of many children's books, Ashley Bryan met the Women of Kopanang through his charitable work in Africa. While presenting his own work at the Mariposa, he showed us the tapestries, which became the centerpiece of a 2013 exhibit there on the theme of spiritual geography. Mariposa's board chair, who splits her time between New Hampshire and New York City, worked to bring the canticles to the larger world of NYC, and found a willing partner in the welcoming, inclusive, socially active parish of St. Joseph Church in Greenwich Village, affiliated with the NYU student ministry. What more appropriate place to exhibit what's been described as a "communion of science and faith" than the Center for Spiritual Life at New York University.

How are the themes of the cosmos, interrelationships and Earth pictured in the works on display?

The Universe Canticle is a joyous juxtaposition of creation stories. Most of the artists, women living in a township in South Africa, had very little education and absolutely no previous access to the natural sciences. Preparation for the work began with the women sharing their own African cultural creation stories, then a reading of the Genesis story in the bible requested by the fundamentalist Christians. The women also looked at a black and white scientific text on evolution, their first exposure to this information. They then began the work, volunteering for the aspects that they particularly wanted to depict: one took flowers, another chimpanzees, others the explosion of stars, and so on.

The African-colored flowers and beasts, the spangled cosmic dust, the beaded amoebas, (all expressed in the women's cultural terms) present the major phases in evolution sequentially in over 30 different panels. As they learned more, the women added panels warning of threats to life on earth and our responsibility to care for the planet.

Describe the ways the Kopanang Community Trust supports women living with HIV/AIDS.

In its residential community, the Trust provides


  • Skills training in embroidery, bead-making, quilting, and design. Proceeds from sale of craft objects made by the women provides economic support.

  • Outreach program for sick community member. Basic medical, bereavement and crisis support are provided, as is HIV/AIDS education.

  • A therapy group provides a forum for members to share their life stories, particularly their sorrows and struggles.

  • Recent skills development programs added include literacy and numeracy skills development, as well as financial management.

The Trust also runs large-scale feeding programs for hundreds of school children and members of the extended community.

Through links with schools in Australia, the founder of the community teaches in schools there for a month every year, and offers residential immersion programs for students to come and live with Kopanang hosts in South Africa.

How has art made an impact on the lives of the women in the Kopanang Community Trust?

All of them came from economic backgrounds where they eeked out basic subsistence through activities from selling beer in the local market to prostitution.They now earn a living by making high-quality craft objects sold throughout the world. The first impact is basic economic security.

But there is a larger effect, growing self-worth for women coming from precarious lives, abusive relationships, sickness, burying family members and babies, through creating beautiful art, not in isolation but in a supportive community. The words of some of the women of Kopanang explain this best.

From Refilwe:

I started learning embroidery skills at Kopanang and found sisters who would walk with me in my joys and sorrows. I was amazed that I could make such beautiful products. I never knew I had it in me.

From Mavis:

It has made me believe in myself, given me confidence and hope that my life will be up again once more. Also it shows me that I can make a contribution when I am with other people, to share ideas and to make something that will be recognized. Every time I look at the work I produce myself I feel happy because I know there is a place waiting for my attentions. In 2008 life was very hard. I tested HIV+. I did not have food to take the ARV treatment so I got sicker. Now I know I can turn to Kopanang for help. This has made the difference in my life.

In what ways does HIV/AIDS figure--either literally or abstractly--in the works on display?

The Universe Canticles work doesn't talk explicity about HIV/AIDS, but about the joy, exuberant explosion, and gift of life on this earth. Through this work, the women express their hope even while living with the consequences of the disease.

As Mavis Nkosi best expressed it: "Keep yourselves busy with your hands, make your life beautiful, then your mind forgets about the pain."

How has the exhibition been received during its international tour, and what is the future of the project?

The work continues to find fans every time it appears, and their enthusiasm for the work and admiration for the mission of the Kopanang Community Trust leads them to want to take it to more locations to more audiences. One visitor to New York has already begun conversation with 10 different museums and science centers all over the U.S. for the next stops on the tour.

The Faithful Fools Ministry--the ones who commissioned it--view themselves as custodians of the Canticles, more than willing to share it before it eventually comes back home.

HIV/AIDS Is Quiet at Times in Native Communities

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RISE.jpg

Amid the outpouring of brilliance and media on World AIDS Day, a powerful poster by Radical Indigenous Survivance and Empowerment (R.I.S.E.) was released. Using facts, design and repetition, the poster works to illuminate to the viewer the reality of HIV amid Indigenous communities, under represented in contemporary discussion of the epidemic. The text that accompanies the poster on R.I.S.E's website quotes the most recent available stats from the CDC concerning HIV and American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), which states "By the end of 2010, an estimated 1,945 AI/AN with an AIDS diagnosis had died in the United States. In 2010, HIV infection was the ninth leading cause of death among AI/AN aged 25 to 34."

In the interview below artist, R.I.S.E. member and poster creator Demian Diné Yazhí talks about the poster, HIV/AIDS and Indigenous power with Theodore Kerr.


Visual AIDS: The poster is very powerful. What made you create it?

Demian Diné Yazhí: I actually woke up at 4:30 in the morning and immediately had a strong desire to create a poster, and I did so through an Indigenous artist/activist collective that I am a part of, R.I.S.E.: Radical Indigenous Survivance & Empowerment. However, what inspired its creation is the absence of art production in Indigenous communities that broach the topic of HIV/AIDS. Of course, I can only make that comment through what I've exposed myself to while researching Traditional, Customary, and Contemporary forms of Indigenous Art. Through my research, I've stumbled upon less than a handful of Indigenous artists whose work intentionally addresses the affects of HIV/AIDS--either for them personally or within their respective communities.

Using the inspiration of World AIDS Day, Day With(out) Art, and the concluding of November's National American Indian Heritage Month, I used what resources were available and began working on a large, text-heavy poster that lays out a few facts. I wanted to create a bridge that linked thriving and struggling Indigenous communities to taboo issues like HIV/AIDS. In making this poster, I also wanted to challenge other Indigenous artists/activists to speak up and create a space for HIV/AIDS within their communities and ceremonies that simultaneously take into account the impacts of colonization, disease, and government neglect in the hopes of healing. The same goes out to HIV/AIDS and Queer artists/activists: I want all of us to challenge the work we make so it includes the voices of the Indigenous Peoples of this continent. It starts with something as simple as leaning the history of the Indigenous People(s) of the city or town you call "Home".

The mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples of the Americas is no different than what the Queer community has faced under the control of Western powers. The difference is, in the Americas we are always walking and sleeping and fucking on Stolen Land, so the struggles Indigenous Peoples endure are often forgotten or overshadowed because our population is now only 1 percent. Yet, prior to disease, genocide, and concepts like "Manifest Destiny", complex Indigenous societies were in full swing from coast to coast.

RISE-2.jpg


In the writing you include with the poster it is mentioned, "Of all races/ethnicities, AI/AN had the highest percentages of diagnosed HIV infections due to injection drug use." This may be confusing for people to learn because of the reduction of HIV rates among Intravenous drug users due to needle exchange. Can you share with us some of the issues facing AI/AN when it comes to needle exchange?

This statistic surprised me as well. There are a few factors that come to mind, but it should also be noted that Indigenous communities, to some extent, have a difficult time trusting the Western Medical Industrial Complex. Not only were Indigenous Peoples forced to assimilate to Western standards of beauty, religion, language, sexuality, feminine/masculine roles, etc., but we were also forced to assimilate to the authority of Western doctors and health codes. I think we can all agree that there are some overwhelming benefits of Western medicine, but the issues that Indigenous women have experienced, like forced sterilization and lack of access to contraceptives, abortion, and rape kits, has forever tainted the perspective Indigenous communities have toward Western medicine. I would be remiss not include the fact that many Indigenous People continue to practice and benefit from Traditional ceremonies that have proven to be imperishable.

Having said that, the growing number of HIV/AIDS infections among intravenous drug users (IDUs) within Indigenous communities is likely tied to the lack of access to syringe exchange programs. Indian Reservations are often situated within the confining, colonized borders of conservative U.S. states, such as Arizona, Montana, South Dakota, Idaho, to name just a few. This means that often times these states do not have a legal needle and syringe exchange program set up, so this increases the likelihood of reusing needles; thereby increasing exposure to HIV/AIDS, as well as hepatitis B and C.
Reservations are also a hotbed for substance and drug abuse. As with any community that is plagued with racism, unemployment, poverty, or something as simple as unhealthy eating habits perpetuated by fast-"food" chains like McDonalds, the threat of exposure to unhealthy coping mechanisms is high. I recently watched a documentary on PBS (Native American Boomtown) that was making a correlation between the recent oil boom in North Dakota to the rise of gang activity and drug abuse on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. That's not even taking into account the history of trouble spots like the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation or the Navajo Nation. Because of all the aforementioned factors and more, drug and substance abuse is high on Indian Reservations, and effective government programs are just not working--or finely tailored--to address the plethora of unique and elaborate Indigenous perspectives.


Can you share the meaning behind the word "Survivance" which is part of your collective's name?

To best answer this, I turn to the definition provided by Anishinaabe scholar, Gerald Vizenor. In his writing on the issue, Vizenor states, "Survivance - is an active sense of presence, the continuance of native stories, not a mere reaction, or a survivable name. Native survivance stories are renunciations of dominance, tragedy and victimry."

Every morning Indigenous Peoples of the Americas wake up in the colonized lands that stretch from Canada to Tierra de Fuego, and in those first few moments of the day they are making a political statement of resistance. The fact that we are still here to speak our language, or practice our ceremonies without the cruel judgment of Western religion, is a very real threat to the colonizers and big businesses that are hungry for our resources. Indigenous bodies are expendable to them and we rise every morning to prove them wrong. Those are just a handful of examples regarding acts of survivance.

The issues that R.I.S.E. is dedicated to addressing fall under the categories of decolonization, indigenization, feminism, and political activism, and we do this through curatorial inquiry, public interventions, wheatpaste/street art, and by creating free digital posters for download on our tumblr blog: burymyart.tumblr.com. Survivance is a part of our agenda. Empowering our community and dedicating ourselves to our artwork is another part. It's a life-long battle that must be fought in order to ensure the perseverance of land and people, but also to re-establish the relationship of the people to the land. It's not just an Indian thing, it's a human necessity.

RISE-3.jpg


Repetition is used very effectively on the poster, what was the process like in creating the text?

Well, I woke up at 4:30 and knew I wanted to make a poster. That was my initial thought. Everything else just came streaming out of the canyon, as it were. I started off as a writer, so most of the images that come to mind are text-based. Sometimes I include photography, Native-inspired designs, and appropriated photographs or designs, like with this #decolonizefeminism series that utilizes appropriated images of Indigenous women with original text.

In this case, I started off attempting to create an image/design by paying close attention to the text layout. Originally, I was shooting for an upside-down triangle, because queerness is pretty heavily embedded in my politics. But as I started designing the poster I realized that I wanted to distract the reader by creating an abstract image that still had some resemblance of a shape. I wanted to infect the readers mind with an image that was aesthetically ridged. The use of repetition allows the reader an entry point into any line. It allows for a gradient of meaning--various entry points for the multifaceted reader--and it creates a cohesion that ties and binds all the issues addressed. It connects these issues that Indigenous Peoples face and has the potential to speak beyond HIV/AIDS, while allowing "outsiders" to consider their placement in the larger picture. Lastly, I was influenced by traditional Diné (Navajo) songs, which use repetition as a way to speak of continuity. There is always retelling, renewal, reimaging, revolution...


What has been some of the response to the poster?

Well, it's difficult to say. When I put out a poster, I typically post it to our blog and Facebook page, so the poster goes out and into the digital world and does its own thing. Brittany Britton, an Indigenous Hupa Queer artist in Portland, Oregon, responded by including a story about her uncle who passed away 22 years ago from the disease. In the post, Britton says, "HIV/AIDS is quiet at times in native communities, which followed surrounding stigmas of queerness that also didn't allow for his death to be acknowledged by the greater community or family." McEwan University's Sexual Healthy Club reposted the image and suggests that the topic needs "more than just 24 hours of attention - especially in the way that the continued colonization of land and institution, ensures that HIV/AIDS remains an issue in Indigenous communities."

At the end of the day, Indigenous Peoples experience physical, mental, and ancestral trauma that typically is ignored in mainstream Western culture. There is still little representation of Indigenous culture in the larger society, yet you just have to look at things like organic gardening, punk rock ideology, environmental activism, and the fashion and jewelry industry to see its larger influence. There is a stigma in this country about going/not going to an Indian Reservation that is often tied to racist stereotypes, but the fact remains that you cannot engage in a dialogue of democracy, sustainability, environmental justice, or gentrification by leaving Indigenous Peoples out of the conversation. Stigma inside and outside of Indian Reservations has ties to colonization, torture, negligence, privilege, and forced religious, health, and cultural assimilation. It is our duty as human beings of this living continent to make radical changes to the way we think of history, health, creating diverse communities, and our relationship to living organisms. Hopefully we can all work together in order to ensure our own acts of survivance.

AIDS Is Everyday

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Tom Kalin
Status Quo, Shan Kelley, 2013 giclée print


Monday, December 1, was officially World AIDS Day, a day created by the staff at the World Health Organization 27 years ago to raise awareness of the epidemic, taking advantage of the timing between the Presidential Election and the Christmas holidays. Since then much has changed around the virus including treatment options for people living with HIV. What has not changed is the need for awareness, education and an end to stigma and discrimination. With all of this in mind, for people living with HIV/AIDS, World AIDS Day can be heady. It can be frustrating to have so much focus on one day, begging the question, where is everyone every other day? This frustration is captured powerfully in a poem, as part of an ongoing work-in-progress by artist Shan Kelley.

AIDS is everyday.

Count out the bodies, those that are piled, those burned and buried, and those unaccounted.

Count out my platelets, my creatinine, my T cells, my viral load.

Count out the pills, the needles, the tests.

Count out the cold night sweats, soiled sheets, and nightmares.

Count out my partners, my mistakes, and missed steps.

Count out my fucks licks and blowjobs, my cocks and pussies, the wet spots I've touched.

Count out my fears, my dreams and frustrations.

Count out the odds of me surviving, succeeding, thriving.

Count out the calendar of happy time I have left.

Count me out.

Robert Savage


Marcus Ostermiller is a pianist who is, as he states on his website, "currently writing a doctoral dissertation at NYU on the question of AIDS-related meaning in the solo piano works of composers who died of complications from AIDS." As part of his work he will be presenting Musical Responses to AIDS: Works by Robert Savage on December 10 at the NYU Black Box Theater. In the interview below Ostermiller discusses the connection between Franz Schubert and Savage, as well as Savage's connection between zen practice and music. Along the way we learn about other composers and the impact of HIV on art.

Visual AIDS: In 2012 you had a recital in which you performed the works of Franz Schubert and late twentieth-century works addressing the AIDS epidemic. What did you see as the connection, and who were some of the other composers you played that night?

Marcus Ostermiller: In fact, I performed two HIV/AIDS-specific concerts in 2012: a solo recital at NYU and a collaborative benefit concert in Denver. Both programs addressed a parallel between Schubert and composers who died of AIDS. Composers living with HIV included Kevin Oldham (1960-1993), Chris de Blasio (1959-1993), Fred Hersch, and Robert Savage (1951-1993).

Schubert was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic periods. He died at the age of 31. Typhoid fever was pronounced his official cause of death, but evidence suggests that the actual cause may have been syphilis. At the time of his death, he displayed symptoms of poisoning from mercury, a common treatment for syphilis at the time. His musical works received limited public attention during his lifetime, but he was well-respected among a small group of admirers in Vienna. Following his death, Schubert's music gained a broader public appeal, and he is now considered to be one of the most prominent composers of that era. I selected several of his later works, including the A-major Piano Sonata, D. 959; a set of lieder from Schwanengesang, D. 957; and (for the solo recital) a set of Liszt's solo piano transcriptions from the same cycle.

How did that night come to be, and what was the response from people in your community / program?

The response from attendees was remarkable. Many shared my fascination with the AIDS-syphilis parallel, and the implications associated with musical works conceived during periods of intense physical and emotional turmoil. The benefit concert was wonderfully successful, earning thousands of dollars for the Joshua Gomes Memorial Scholarship Fund, an organization that awards academic scholarships to college students living with HIV. Members of my department at NYU have been enthusiastic about my research, and I am currently working with several of them to curate a performance of the AIDS Quilt Songbook at NYU for December, 2015.

Based on your work is there a deep connection between classical music and HIV/AIDS? Was the classic music scene impacted by HIV/AIDS? Was there a response through art?

The HIV/AIDS epidemic profoundly impacted the arts. Artists and musicians were suddenly faced with a heightened awareness of their mortality, many in the early stages of their careers. This resulted in an amplification of creative output. Creative minds were silenced prematurely, and it is devastating to consider the number or artistic works that were lost or stored away in a boxes somewhere. Art from that period was shaped by the social climate of AIDS. It is impossible to divorce the two.

For your upcoming recital you are focusing on the work of Robert Savage. Can you tell me a bit about him?

Robert Savage was a composer and practitioner of Zen Buddhism. I was initially drawn to his AIDS Ward Scherzo for solo piano, which he composed in the AIDS ward at Lenox Hill Hospital a year before his death. The upcoming performance features the Scherzo, and a selection of other late works that signify various facets of his experience with AIDS.

One thing that seems amazing about Robert Savage is his work bringing together Zen Buddhism, music and HIV. As someone interested in his work, what do you see as the possibilities of music when it comes to the ongoing crisis?

Savage's Zen practice dictated that all facets of his life (music, work, meditation, etc) were manifestations of a common source: the natural world. His music and his experience with AIDS, then, should not be viewed in isolation from one another. My doctoral dissertation explores AIDS-related meaning in the works of Savage and Oldham. Musical meaning is a hot topic of debate among musicologists, and I have found Zen to be a particularly useful philosophical perspective for this discussion. If music is an outgrowth of the natural world, then it is fundamentally linked with human experience. AIDS-related works, such as Savage's, illustrate this concept beautifully.

Musical Responses to AIDS: Works by Robert Savage
Performed by Marcus Ostermiller
8 p.m., December 10
NYU Black Box Theatre
82 Washington Square East



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