Sunday, May 15, 2011

Art, Activism and AIDS

Angel in Central Park, by Alina Oswald

Art is what we leave behind, a legacy, a vehicle through which posterity will learn about us, as we do about those who preceded us; art is creation, in spite of destruction; sometimes a product of love, despair or revenge, or a way of exploring ourselves and the universe surrounding us, art makes a statement about us and the time in which we live; art also represents free expression, it represents us; it s a tool that helps us heal, and also fight; art helps us tap into that blissful peacefulness we’ve all yearned for, at times. Art may be misunderstood, but it’s always a product of work, inspiration, creativity, and sweat.
Angel in Central Park, by Alina Oswald

Recently, art has become a target, has fallen under attack. Due to recently proposed budget cuts threatening to eliminate art and art-related projects altogether, art may very well be at risk of extinction.

This threat brings up two questions: Can we live without art or the artists creating the art? and What will our world look like without art?

Day Without Art (DWA) was first held on December 1st, 1989, a “metaphor for the chilling possibility of a future without art or artists,” as explained on Visual AIDS website, a New York City arts organization. December 1st is World AIDS Day. The message of the initial Day Without Art was to raise AIDS awareness, to make the public aware that AIDS does not discriminate, and that it can touch anybody. The event attracted about 800 participants—art and AIDS groups—from across the country. On that first Day Without Art, museums, galleries, art centers and the like closed their doors to volunteer at AIDS service organizations. Over the years, the number of Day Without Art participants has increased by ten-fold, attracting participants not only from the United States, but also the world. After all, AIDS is a global pandemic, affecting—directly or indirectly—individuals from around the world.

In 1997, the Day Without Art became Day With Art, in order to promote cultural programs that helped the continuous fight against the pandemic. The word “with” remained, though, written as “with(out)” to maintain the original message—“a metaphor of the chilling vision of a world without art or artists.”

Day With(out) Art has been possible through the continuous efforts and dedication of Visual AIDS. As mentioned on its website, Visual AIDS is “the only contemporary arts organization fully committed to HIV prevention and AIDS awareness through producing and presenting visual art projects, while assisting artists living with HIV/AIDS.”

Because the fight against AIDS is not over, because, as Visual AIDS mentions, “AIDS is not over” and in order to “preserve the legacy” of artists lost to the pandemic, Visual AIDS has used art as a tool to fight the pandemic by bringing awareness about the disease, AIDS education and prevention, and a continuous dialog about how AIDS has touched people’s lives. Visual AIDS has achieved its goals through collaborative projects, annual web galleries, Postcards from the Edge and many others.

One of the shows organized by Visual AIDS was the 2003 Share Your Vision juried exhibition. The show featured a photograph, “Peering Through Darkness,” by Kurt Weston, an award-winning visual artist and long-term AIDS survivor. Kurt Weston uses silver gelatin paper when printing his images, “so that they can last forever,” he explains, because he wants future generations to be able to look at his work and say, “This was happening at this time in history and this is the impact it left on people whose lives it touched, this pandemic.”

Maybe one of the most anticipated shows is Postcards from the Edge, which fills the walls of Visual AIDS New York City gallery with postcard-size artworks from both established and emerging photographs and visual artists from around the world. Ever since 1998, Postcards from the Edge has been a benefit combining art and activism to fight the pandemic—part of the proceeds are donated to support AIDS-related causes.

Upcoming Visual AIDS shows include Witnessing “Survival AIDS” opening on May 7th. May is also AIDS Walk NY month. This year, AIDS Walk NY will take place on May 15th.

AIDS Walk attracts celebrities and AIDS activists, AIDS survivors and those who want to take part in eradicating AIDS, in making a world without AIDS. Each year, and 2011 will not be any different, rain or shine, some 50 thousand people will come together as one in Central Park, New York City, sing together the signature song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” then start on the 10k (6.2 miles) walk on the streets of Manhattan. In the process, they help save lives and unite with others in supporting the fight against the AIDS pandemic.

SOURCES:
Kurt Weston: www.kurtweston.com
Visual AIDS: www.visualaids.org
AIDS Walk: http://www.aidswalk.net/newyork/