(re)Presenting AIDS

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Text & Photos by Alina Oswald
AIDS ON GOING GOING ON bags designed by Kay Rosen for Visual AIDS.

A lovely, late-summer evening and an honest conversation about arts, AIDS, and cultural institutions presenting HIV/AIDS-related exhibitions brought people out of their homes and into the impressive Skylight Room at The Graduate Center, CUNY, to attend a public forum, “(re)Presenting AIDS: Culture & Accountability,” hosted by Visual AIDS and the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History. The forum was, in part, inspired by reactions (including a critical New York Times op-ed by Hugh Ryan, writer and founding director of the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History) to a recent AIDS exhibition at New-York Historical Society that many felt failed to tell the true story of the pandemic.

A young individual from the audience volunteers to read a statement from artists/activists Peter Cramer and Jack Waters, while moderator Ann Northrop watches.
A young individual from the audience volunteers to read a statement from artists/activists Peter Cramer and Jack Waters, while moderator Ann Northrop watches.

On August 20, the Skylight Room opened its doors to invite attendees to look up and open their eyes to the majestic sky of midtown Manhattan, and their ears to the voices of distinguished members of the panel, which included Hunter O’Hanian, museum director of Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art; “NOT OVER: 25 years of Visual AIDS” curator Kris Nuzzi; Jason Baumann, New York Public Library LGBT Collections Strategist; grenAIDS artist Kia Benbow; Hugh Ryan; and Nelson Santos, Visual AIDS executive director. The panel took questions from the live audience, and also from Twitter (#ongoingAIDS), starting an interactive and engaging discussion about the way HIV/AIDS should be represented in the public sphere, the amount of history being “created” rather than “displayed” by institutions, the engagement between these art and historical institutions and the communities whose stories they’re telling, and, in a time when AIDS is still “ongoing and going on,” our role in ensuring that “the stories that need to be shared are told and heard by those who need them the most.”

Hunter O’Hanian, museum director of Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, answers the audience, as grenAIDS artist Kia Benbow (far left) and Visual AIDS executive director Nelson Santos observe the interactive discussion.
Hunter O’Hanian, museum director of Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, answers the audience, as grenAIDS artist Kia Benbow (far left) and Visual AIDS executive director Nelson Santos observe the interactive discussion.

For more information, log on to www.visualaids.org.

Read the full transcript here.

Dirty Looks assistant director Karl McCool watches as Amy Sadao, who is the Daniel W. Dietrich II Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, answers questions from the audience.
Dirty Looks assistant director Karl McCool watches as Amy Sadao, who is the Daniel W. Dietrich II Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, answers questions from the audience.

Alina Oswald is a writer, photographer, and the author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS. Contact her at www.alinaoswald.com.