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Brooklyn College Hosts First Ever ‘World AIDS Day’ Art Show

The World AIDS Day art show featured provocative work that centered around themes such as sex and sexuality.
The World AIDS Day art show featured provocative work that centered around themes such as sex and sexuality.

By Carmen Saffioti

Published: December 6th, 2017

Brooklyn College held its first ever World AIDS Day art show, hosted by the LGBTQ Resource Center in collaboration with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Alliance (LGBTA) at Brooklyn College on Nov. 28.  

The art show featured alum and student artists as well as professional artists, all of whom donated their work so it could be sold in auction at the show. The money generated at the auction was donated to HEAT, an organization dedicated to the treatment and prevention of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is a condition or syndrome that develops when the sexually transmitted human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes serious damage to the immune system.

Along with the artwork, the show featured a wide range of films focusing on the AIDS and LGBTQ experience. The art show featured a live performance by Tim Cusack who made a touching demonstration to memorialize his late partner.

There are an estimated 36.7 million people living with HIV worldwide, and an estimated 35 million died of the virus or related diseases since 1984. The World AIDS art show celebrated and memorialized those affected by HIV and AIDS by asking some attendees who they were thinking of this World AIDS Day. Curators, Erin Christovale and Vivian Crockett, kept the victims of the disease in mind when creating the show itself. While the art was beautiful and interesting, there were many informative aspects to the show; the featured films demonstrated different experiences of people effected by HIV.

“It’s important to memorialize and honor those who passed away, especially considering a large amount of those people were queer, transgender, and/or people of color, who were marginalized in other ways, too,” said Sami Binder, the office manager at the LGBTQ resource center and the president of the LGBTA. An important factor in the art show was the incorporation of intersectional identities. One of the pieces displayed in the exhibit was entitled “The Virgin Marsha,” referencing Marsha P. Johnson, who was a black transgender LGBTQ activist during the Stonewall riots. Short documentaries featured in the show also kept intersectionality in mind. Cheryl Dunye and Ellen Spiro’s “DiAna’s Hair Ego REMIX” explored the reasons why the black Southern community was still suffering from AIDS more than any other demographic in America. The organizers made sure to include the complexities revolving around the syndrome.

Tim Cusack’s “Tic-Tac Timeline” was a feature in the art show that was impossible to miss. From outside the exhibition room, attendees could hear Cusack’s methodical counting of pieces of candy. “It serves as the as the sole memorial to date for a specific individual, Jonathan Schwartz, my partner who succumbed to HIV-related lymphoma…Each candy represents one of the 8000+ days he might have been alive.” The candy itself also represents the antiretroviral drugs Cusack and millions of other take every day to stay alive and healthy. The performance was non-stop since the event started at 6:30 p.m. The sounds of Cusack’s counting was in the background of everything else going on throughout the show, which served as a constant, yet subtle reminder of the victims of AIDS.   

It was impossible to walk away from the art show without learning something new and valuable about living with HIV or AIDS. “It often isn’t something we think about, even when we talk about safer sex, so hopefully attendees will consider it and do some further research on it,” Binder said.  The show was as tasteful as it was informative. Student organizations specializing in awareness of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and safe sex were at the show giving demonstrations about the importance of safe sex and how to prevent the spread of diseases. The combination of information and emotion made the show a success, and certainly very memorable.

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