“Science Fair: An Opera with Experiments” was a captivating and engaging work of art presented at HERE Arts Center in Soho. Hai-Ting Chinn attracted the audience with her mezzo-soprano voice along with pianist Erika Switzer. They collaborated together to create a harmonizing performance. The pianist started off by counting the number of audience members and writing it on the chalkboard. Then, they introduced themselves. This format gave the feeling of a classroom, where they were the teachers and we were the students. Hai-Ting Chinn showed the fun in science by creating volcanic eruptions, mixing glow-in-the-dark liquids, and extracting DNA from a strawberry with help from the audience, making this a more engaging performance. She balanced the overwhelming information about science with her humor and singing. Early on, she embodied the solar system through a skirt that contained the planets in a spiral. This was a very creative way to portray science and incorporate it into her costume. Her facial expressions and graceful movements along with the beats of the piano made the performance worthwhile and appealing to the eye.
The Art AIDS America exhibition at The Bronx Museum of the Arts presents a variety of artwork ranging from films and paintings to neon signs and strips of leather, illustrating the impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the United States toward the end of the twentieth century. Divided into different sections – Body, Spirit, Activism, Camouflage, and more – the exhibition gives us an inside perspective of the epidemic and its impact on artists who had HIV/AIDS or who had loved ones who did. Additionally, we are given personal points of view from LGBTQ artists, depicting the effects the crisis had on the LGBTQ community and the stigmas it left behind.
After watching the black-and-white film Tongues Tied (1989) by Marlon T. Riggs, which used personal narratives to depict the reality of being black and gay in the 1980s, you walk into the rest of the exhibition. Immediately, you are confronted by a large canvas painted with the words “Still Here”. Those two chilling words, in Deborah Kass’ painting, transition you into the reality, as you learn and remember that the effects, emotions, and social issues revolving around HIV/AIDS which are translated in the artwork still exist today.
Intimate and personal stories and emotions are translated through pieces such as Sweet Williams (2013) by Robert Sherer, a painting of hands cutting beautiful flowers made of HIV-negative and HIV-positive blood to memorialize the friends and acquaintances he lost through a childhood memory. While some pieces preserve and commemorate experiences of the artists and others as their lives and community fell apart, other pieces show the rage they felt- discussing political issues which led to thousands of lives being lost. Surrounded by personal photographs and paintings, a neon sign reading “SILENCE=DEATH” below a pink triangle looms over one of the exhibition’s rooms (Let the Record Show (1987) by ACT UP NY/Gran Fury). This piece gave the haunting political message that the other artwork in the room depicting death and suffering from HIV/AIDs would only continue because of that silence, unless social action was taken to bring attention to the crisis, the lack of government attention, and the lack of medical aid.
While the artwork was moving and powerful, its integration into the space could have been more cohesive and have filled out the area more. The collection was a bit too large for the space given, yet subtracting any of the pieces from the exhibition would not be beneficial due to the significance of each work of art in the show.
Additionally, there is a huge lack of representation in the exhibition: there are only 4 African American artists featured out of the 107 artists in the collection. Moreover, visual and performance artist Kia Labeija was the only African American female artist featured, and her photographs on display are the only representation in the show of a woman living with HIV. In a video with Sur Rodney conducted by the Zuckerman Museum of Art, Labeija stated,
“I am one of the artists in the show. I’m proud to say that I’m the only female African American artist in the show. I’m also the only representation of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in the show, and of a woman living with HIV who’s an artist in the show… being the only female representation of African American women in the show, it hurt very much for me because I’ve always felt like women, especially women of color, are not really recognized for being a part of the AIDS epidemic. We’re very, very silenced. We’re not really funded. We don’t have community. And as a child born with HIV who lost her mother at fourteen, I’ve felt very, very alone for a long time.”
Despite leading viewers on to think that the collection features a diverse amount of perspectives and experiences, this is unfortunately not the case.
Overall, the Art AIDS America exhibition is a poignant, enlightening, and influential show illustrating the effects of and the emotions behind the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. As well as reflecting on the past, the show effectively reminds us that this crisis and its long-lasting effects on today’s society must not be forgotten. The show, however, lacks the inclusivity which would have made its message and impact more powerful, as well as giving a voice to communities affected by the AIDS crisis who are constantly silenced and are in crucial need of representation.
I have recently been to visit the Studio Museum in Harlem, located at 144 West 125th Street between Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard and Lenox Avenue in Manhattan, New York. The museum showcases artwork by African Americans and people of African heritage.
A piece of work that really stood out to me was Stanza by Jibade-Khalil Huffman created in 2016. Huffman was born in 1981 in Detroit. He now explores timing within different types of artwork, from video to photography and also objects. Stanza is a video. It’s also includes objects such as windshields, license plates, and air freshener. The video was about seven minutes long. There were five windshields that were cracked, shattered, and layered. Some were hanging from the ceiling, some were leaning against the walls, and others were lying on the floor. Video and photography wasn’t allowed in this part of the museum, but it was allowed in the rest of the museum.
Another piece that I was fond of was Portrait of a Girl with Flowers and a Diploma by James VanDerZee created in 1932. VanDerZee was born in 1886 and died in 1983. He created a photograph using gelatin silver print, which is paper containing gelatin and silver salt. This piece contains an image of a girl with a headpiece holding flowers and a diploma.
I believe that these work focuses on imperfections and things that need to be fixed in society. The fact that we celebrate being able to go to college and living up to the time we go to college isn’t right. Those things shouldn’t be something we have to worry about. When I see a shattered windshield the first thing that comes to my mind shouldn’t be gun violence, hit-and-runs, and car accidents. I think this exhibit was made to bring awareness to the imperfections of the world right now. It also shows the difference between how people should view each other and how they do view each other.
Overall, I recommend going to check out the exhibitions before they’re gone. It was worth the time for me. It made me think a lot about the neighborhood and how everything is portrayed. If this kind of artwork is something you are into I hope you’ll think about going to see the amazing pieces for yourself.
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