20 April 2018
My artifact is a quilt-poster that was made for Tom Bade, a man who died in his battle against HIV. Tom Bade was not only an activist for those struggling with his same condition, but also an actor, novelist, painter, and poet. Tom’s friends designed the poster with the message“Bon Voyage, Tom” written across the quilt. The message was meant to say farewell to Tom, as he was getting ready depart on a vacation to London, England. After his return to the United States, Tom decided to hang the poster over his bed. During the period of time that Tom endured the effects AIDS, he offered to paint portraits of others who had contracted the disease in an attempt to commemorate them forever, even after their passing. It is evident that Tom used art as a way to express his emotions generated by his battle against the disease. His condition must have caused a great deal of unrest in his life, and his artwork probably allowed him to hold onto the things in life that he valued most: his loved ones.
Like Tom, many other artists and activists diagnosed with AIDs have used modes of expressionist art as a healthy outlet for their feelings. Since 1981, people whose lives have been affected by the sad reality of AIDs have contributed to this movement in hopes of diminishing the stigma that surrounds those who are HIV positive. When the AIDs epidemic first plagued the gay male community, activists in the social justice arena caught the attention of the public by adapting classical, well-known pieces into displays of the graphic nature of the virus; such works included paintings originally completed by the renown Henri Matisse (Hans). The original intention of HIV related artwork was to educate the public about the tragic nature of the disease. These artists felt as though not enough medical research or education was being implemented to combat the worsening conditions of the growing community of those who were HIV positive (Hans). Many organizations have been founded since the early 80s to perpetuate said cause, which in turn has fostered a gradual shift in the public consensus of AIDs, raised financial support in search for a cure, and have touched the lives of many people that suffer from the disease (Hans).
Art for Aids was founded in 1996 by a collective of artists who were left devastated after some of their loved ones had been killed by AIDs. In the mere two decades of its existence, Art for AIDs has raised over two million dollars that has been dedicated throughout its years to research and therapy centers for those who have contracted the virus (San Francisco Bay Times).
Other institutions have employed comedic rhetoric in their artwork in attempts to convey the message that AIDs is no longer a definitive death sentence. In one of his pieces, Keith Haring paints the ‘condom man’ to promote the importance of safe sex. He was able to make light of a topic that is usually seen as grave and looming while reminding people of the dangers of unprotected sex (Hans). This shows how the use of art as a social justice platform has evolved during its existence. The movement has shifted from broadcasting a serious, urgent message to exhibiting satire to convey the idea that AIDs no longer has to be viewed as a threat to human existence (Hans).
An organization that has contributed greatly to the cause and is one of the largest collection of artists is a group called Visual Aids. This clever play on words is yet another attempt by the artistic community to liberate those who are HIV positive from the stigma that they are doomed to die of AIDs . The founders of this institution have used their platform to promote the work of independent artists who have become inspired by the sentiments of the movement (Visual AIDs).
The first show that delved deeper into the artistic response to the HIV/AIDs epidemic was Art Aids America held in 2015 at Washington’s Tacoma Art Museum. This show was a highly anticipated event that most critics believe was a long time coming. New York Times art critic Holland Cotter commented “What took museums so long?” in response to the Art Aids America show (Tacoma Art Museum). Art has long been used as a form of expression in hard times for those struggling, and that is no different for those struggling with HIV. While describing the struggle with AIDS and the artistic reaction it inspired Greg Ellis states “People who lived through the epidemic experienced in a lot of ways the same kind of trauma that people experience during war times, and it takes decades for people to be able to address that (Muri).” The purpose of this exhibition was to collectively define AIDS activism and shape the discussion as to what AIDS activism truly is. Visual AIDS, as discussed previously, has an exhibit that plays a huge role in the new show (Visual AIDS). The “VOICE=SURVIVAL” exhibition put an emphasis on the urgency of the disease and the reasons that speaking out giving this disease a voice will help many people live to see another day. The show aims to provide a true representation of the psychological impact aids has had on the world and how it continues to affect people everyday (Muri).
The Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights Aids foundation is a foundation for AIDS which specifically supports those with the disease that are involved in theater and art. The Broadway Cares foundation is organization which Tom Bade was personally involved with as he developed close ties to the theater community throughout his life (Muri). The Broadway Cares mission statement aims to mitigate the suffering of those with HIV/Aids using the unique abilities of those involved in entertainment. Tom’s idea painting portraits of those affected with the disease directly aligns with this mission statement as his unique ability directly influenced the lives of those affected in a positive manner. Another piece of the mission statement is to provide direct support to those suffering with HIV/AIDS and other disease within the entertainment industry. They have done that with a program called the actors fund, which has donated over $5.6 million to those in the entertainment industry affected by the disease (Muri). Along with the actors fund, another program ran by Broadway Cares is the National Grants Fund which has donated over $6.8 million to Aids and family service organizations in 50 states, including Puerto Rico. These donations are designed to cover the cost of necessities such as food, counseling, social services, financial assistance, community support, healthcare and life saving medications (Muri).
In summation, activists involved in the movement raised millions of dollars toward research: they have been the driving force behind reversing the social stigma of HIV and have inspired those who struggle with the reality of AIDs to remain hopeful. More specifically, hopeful for a more effective path to finding a cure and not allowing their disease to hinder them from living their lives to the fullest. By utilizing the power of art to unite those affected by the disease, the movement has created a sense of community. The collection of artists that have fueled said cause over the span of its existence have utilized a versatile array of mediums and motifs. Initially, painters used more serious forms of expression to stress dangers of the disease. however as attention and support was rallied behind the HIV community, artists began to shape the purpose of the movement into creating a better understanding of the disease among those unaffected by AIDs. This movement displays true altruistic motives; HIV/AIDs has taken the lives of millions of people around the globe, yet organizations such as Art for Aids (San Francisco Bay Times) and Visual Aids have been able to conjure a message of positivity from something so grim. It is evident that without the hard work, determination and passionate efforts of the art community, the collective battle against the HIV virus might not have progressed as far as it currently has.
“Two Decades of Art for AIDS.” San Francisco Bay Times, 22 Sept. 2016, sfbaytimes.com/artforaids/.
Villarica, Hans. “From Haring to Condom Man: Art as Weapon in the War Against AIDS.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 5 Dec. 2011, www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/12/from-haring-to-condom-man-art-as-weapon-in-the-war-against-aids/249229/.
Assunção, Muri. “How AIDS Changed Art Forever.” Vice, 21 Aug. 2017, www.vice.com/en_us/article/3kkvdk/how-aids-changed-art-forever.
Visual AIDS. “Art, AIDS and Activism.” Visual AIDS, www.visualaids.org/gallery/detail/340.
ART FOR AIDS. 2015. Tacoma Art Museum, Washington.