by David Waggoner
December 1 marks the twenty-sixth anniversary of World AIDS Day and the twenty-fifth anniversary of Day With(out) Art. As much as these commemorative days honor those we have lost in the fight, they also shine a spotlight on the present moment. What will we do today to secure access to lifesaving treatments, to destigmatize HIV/AIDS, and to dismantle the structural poverty, racism, homophobia, and gender inequity that help create an environment of risk? What will we do today to nurture our community, face to face (or, in this age of social media, avatar to avatar)? What will we do today to create tomorrow?
The creative aspect of this labor of love we call the fight against AIDS resonates with me, especially. As an artist and an art lover, I know that painting and photography and sculpture can be a life-affirming force. Art signifies the empty space that comes before brush touches canvas, or before hands touch clay. No matter what the art is about, it reminds us that out of nothing we can build anything and everything.
As a witness to the devastation that AIDS caused across the arts communities since the early days of the epidemic, I know the loss is incalcuable. That’s one of the reasons I started A&U magazine—to create an archive of artists and writers responding to AIDS. It seemed more like the end of something than a beginning. As the years went by, our mission expanded—we became an inventory of what had happened but also an inventory of where we were and where we needed to be.
Visual AIDS, it champions the momentum that comes from memory. Through art, we can enter a space of expression that travels through time. A painting by Frank Moore, an iconic print by Keith Haring, or a photo by Mark Morrisroe can instantly merge 1989 and 2014 faster than a DeLorean. These artists, and many more who are still with us, created dialogues and actions related to HIV/AIDS in their day. And, almost like magic, the work still creates dialogues and actions today—with every new viewer.
That’s why we always need to remember to express ourselves now, even if we think that no one is listening. This month’s cover story interview features someone who never bites his tongue—Dick Donato, or Evel Dick, as he has nicknamed himself. As Senior Editor Dann Dulin found out, Donato is using his HIV-positive diagnosis (which he disclosed to the public on the most recent season of Couples Therapy) to educate, no holds barred: “Look, I’m an open, straightforward, everything-on-the-table kind of guy. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to go public. HIV is a…disease….This is not a gay disease; it’s not a straight disease; it’s just a fucking disease!”
Admittedly, not all of the voices we’ve included in this issue are as ribald as Dick’s, but that doesn’t mean they are any less powerful. In Gallery, Eric Rhein charts his evolution as an artist living with HIV, drawing connections between then and now, between the ethereal and the earthy, through lyrical and often quiet images. And, in The Culture of AIDS, documentary filmmaker Andrew Jenks brings together three young individuals living with HIV in It’s Not Over, which beautifully melds the urgency of addressing the crisis and the optimism that comes with youth. Visual AIDS, to commemorate Day With(out) Art, launched “Alternate Endings,” a program that commissioned original short videos about how the epidemic might end differently than what has been scripted by society. Some are raucous and angry and some are funny, and some are both at the same time.
All the voices in this issue circle back to the impulse to create—create in the midst of death and destruction—and we need to embrace that impulse. It’s how we go back to the future. It’s how we create tomorrow.
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine.