World AIDS Day is an international event held on December 1 each year to show support for people living with HIV and to commemorate their loss. The first one was held in 1988.
Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic 30 years ago, more than half a million people have died of AIDS in the United States. More than one million people are currently living with HIV and AIDS in America, with approximately one fifth of those unaware of their infection. World AIDS Day has grown to include numerous events this year, many of them in the arts.
The group Visual AIDS, based in New York City, had its first World Aids Day event on December 1, 1989 and called it Day With(out) Art. It had the goal of heightening awareness of how significantly HIV/AIDS has affected the arts community in New York and around the world.
More than 800 arts and AIDS groups convinced museums and arts institutions to shut down for the day to demonstrate what the world would be like without art. They created the red ribbon campaign in 1991, a potent symbol in the fight against AIDS.
Among the events Visual AIDS is planning on December 1, to be held at approximately 8,000 museums, galleries, arts centers, AIDS service organizations, libraries, high schools, and colleges include a free screening of the film "Untitled" by Jim Hodges, Encke King, and Carlos Marques da Cruz.
Beginning with a reflection on the early AIDS epidemic, Untitled eschews a linear narrative to introduce a fractious timeline, moving from the sublime to the tragic and back again. By juxtaposing mainstream network news, activist footage, artists’ works, and popular entertainment from the last turbulent decades, "Untitled" references regimes of power that precipitated a generation of AIDS and queer activism and continues today with international struggles for freedom and expression.
The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art on Wooster Street is planning four days of events and shows including "Art & AIDS: 30 Years" presented by GMHC with an opening reception 6 to 8 p.m. on November 29, and running through December 3. It features the work of 50 artists living with HIV/AIDS, curated by Osvaldo Perdomo and David Livingston.
There will be a special exhibition section called "Then and Now" showing how the artists felt when they were diagnosed with HIV or AIDS, and how they are now dealing with their diagnosis. There will also be a memorial wall to honor great artists we have lost to AIDS. Inside the museum will be a projection of names of people who have died from AIDS. It was created originally as a collaboration from the 2011 Tony Award-winning production, "The Normal Heart".
On Wednesday, November 30, there is a panel discussion entitled "The Power of Art in the Epidemic", and on December 3, the museum is holding a silent auction of selected pieces donated by artists, to benefit GMHC.
Co-curator Osvaldo Perdomo began participating in GMHC’s art drawing classes after a recommendation from one of his therapists when he was diagnosed with AIDS in 2005. He had never drawn or painted before, but from the very beginning, it changed his life; he was able to stop thinking about the virus while he was working.
This is his fourth exhibition as a volunteer and co-curator for GMHC’s Art & AIDS exhibitions. "Thirty years is enough," Perdomo said. "I couldn’t believe it when it happened to me. My entire life has changed. AIDS touched my life without warning. The pain was intense, but the stigma made it worst. We need to talk about AIDS and HIV -- it’s still here. We need to support those infected, improve our prevention efforts, and minimize stigma until we find a cure."
One of the artists in the show, photographer Rob Ordonez, was excited to be in the show and told me, "I have five pieces that show my point of view of what it’s like dealing with HIV," said Ordonez. "For example, one photo is of my arm during a doctor’s visit for blood work. It’s great to be part of this show because I can be a role model for the young people who are getting infected, to show them that life goes on and we need to keep having goals and dreams."
"Living with HIV/AIDS affects my art because it’s so personal and deep that sometimes is difficult to share this. It can be a dark, scary world, but it can also make you want to leave a mark with your art. We have come a long way, but people are still dying, the medications are getting better through the years, but in places like Africa they can’t afford them," he said.