At first, I wasn’t sure where the exhibit even was. I walked into one with artwork that puzzled the Art AIDS America exhibit title instead of showcase it. Then I found out I’d walked into CAZA instead, a whole other story. However, once I was redirected, I knew I was in the right place. Walking through the door and into the open space, you’re welcomed by a bright painting with words that say, “STILL HERE”. And that’s exactly what this exhibit is meaning to say. Curators Jonathan David Katz and Rock Hushka have prepared not just an exhibit, but a beautiful, argumentative story proving that those affected by AIDS are still here, and that AIDS is still a problem. You won’t wander through the 125+ artworks aimlessly, but rather find a path that gets you thinking.
One intriguing piece by Shimon Attie, called Untitled Memory (projection of Axel H.) displays an ordinary apartment bedroom with a man lying on the bed, watching TV. Except, the TV is off, and the man is fading from the photograph. First, you may simply look at it, but then begin to wonder why he might be fading away, but is still there. Then you’d tie it to the closed TV, and relate in your own way. One interpretation could be that while the man may seem to be gone (perhaps because of AIDS), he’s really still here. Whatever interpretation you may have, the artist succeeds in displaying that this untitled memory is here; it hasn’t vanished.
Adding onto the exhibit is a painting beautifully framed with red pine by Frank Moore titled Patient . It displays a seemingly peaceful hospital bed covered with water, some leaves, and falling snowflakes. However, the peace is ruined with an IV drip from which blood is spilling out. This painting, which is a must-see, perhaps represents the cruelty of AIDS, and how it ruins lives. This theme of still here is constant, but isn’t necessarily solid throughout the exhibit. It transitions from those passed that still remain, to honoring them so they remain, and to proving that AIDS is still here.
Honoring is a significant asset to the exhibit worth mentioning. One piece called Written in Sand, created by Karen Finley, involves a treasure chest filled with sand, in which viewers write the names of loved ones effected by AIDS, gently wiping it away afterwards. This is a unique, emotional, touching, and interactive piece in which the art is more about the action than the piece itself.
However, it’s also worth mentioning that honoring isn’t completely fulfilled in this exhibit. You may notice throughout the exhibit that there is a lack of art by African American artists. This has caused criticism of the exhibition and created #StopErasingBlackPeople. Kia Labeija, who was the only person representing women with HIV, mother-to-child HIV transmission, and female African American artist in the exhibit, said, “…as a child born with HIV who lost her mother at 14, I’ve felt very, very alone for a long time. To be a part of this show and to still feel like I’m standing alone just really affected me in a deep way,” (Jen Graves, 2016). The intent of this exhibit is to make artists feel that they are still here, respected, and together. However, it won’t fully achieve that goal until it starts representing everyone.
And then there’s the effort of preventing and diminishing AIDS. Before even entering the museum, you’ll come across a Keith Haring Foundation HIV testing truck parked right outside. It’s awesome how the museum has teamed up with the foundation to focus not only on admiring the art, but also on hearing the artists’ messages that urge focus on AIDS prevention. It only makes sense to have the truck outside, because if it wasn’t there, the art would be disrespected. The art yearns to be heard, and not listening to it would be a miss for the exhibit’s argumentative thesis. These efforts will urge you to think about other ways of prevention, and you may find yourself wanting more. How about a petition for improving STD education in schools? An increase in the abundance of these trucks? All of this is additional momentum for the AIDS prevention movement.
Graves, Jen, “Art, AIDS, America After #StopErasingBlackPeople, Now in Atlanta” The Stranger. Last modified March 2, 2016. http://www.thestranger.com/slog/2016/03/02/23639563/art-aids-america-after-stoperasingblackpeople-now-in-atlanta