Looking ahead one century, what might you include to represent the AIDS pandemic?
by Alina Oswald
[dropcap]L[/dropcap]et’s pretend that a time capsule is being prepared to be buried for 100 years that will include cultural items related to HIV/AIDS. It would be a chance for our generation to speak to future generations—a record of what we hold dear and do want to be buried by the sands of time. The end of AIDS, which will surely have happened by then, does not mean our lives—our experiences, our realities, our struggles and triumphs—need be erased.
We invited artists, writers, entertainers, and advocates to participate in filling the imaginary time capsule, asking them: “What novel, memoir, movie, documentary, play, art work, etc., do you feel would help represent the first three decades of the pandemic and why? (We know it would be hard to pick just one, but rest assured many, many items will go in the time capsule!)” As you can see, we received many wonderful ideas!
as well as a “human being who just happens to have HIV,” selected How to Survive a Plague, by David France; From a Warrior’s Passion and Pain, by Jason Wood and Maria Mejia; and A&U Magazine. “This is very hard! I would have to choose the movie How to Survive a Plague (featuring Peter Staley) because it tells the story from the beginning [of the AIDS pandemic], and then I would include my own book From a Warrior’s Passion and Pain because I lived through it all, and it tells the story of how I dealt with it through my eyes. I will also have A&U Magazine. It captures us in a very accurate way!”
Bob Bowers, thirty-two-year survivor Founder of HIVictorious, Inc., selected the 1993 documentary Silverlake Life: The View from Here. “It was one of the most genuine and firsthand accounts of the epidemic that one could witness! It is beyond painful to sit through! Since viewing this film for my first time in 2004, I have a whole new commitment and tenacity to see an end to the scourge of AIDS! RIP, ANGELS!”
Ron B., celebrity host and entertainer, as well as a National Committee Member, LGBT Committee, SAG-AFTRA, selected Angels in America, directed by the late Mike Nichols and based on the play by Tony Kushner. “I was cast in the film, and learned of the plight of so many who suffered with this disease. [Angels in America] was also a successful play on Broadway before being adapted for this special Emmy-winning miniseries.
Hucklefaery, artist and activist, couldn’t choose just one: Longtime Companion, Angels in America, We Were Here, Vito, United in Anger, and How to Survive a Plague. “While there are many brilliant representations of the AIDS epidemic, from movies like Longtime Companion and Angels in America, to memoirs and documentaries [like] We Were Here, Vito, United in Anger, [and] How to Survive a Plague, to name an obvious few, for me, a truly personal, poignant narrative was found in What Looks Like Crazy On an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage, a beautiful representation of a woman becoming HIV-positive in rural southern America. What Looks Like Crazy On an Ordinary Day is a gorgeous story of struggle, stigma, survival, acceptance and love—greatly informing my own personal experience around seroconversion.
Anthony Johnson, Senior Intervention Specialist, and an advocate and activist for the past eight years and living with HIV for twenty, selected How to Survive a Plague. “How to Survive a Plague represents the battles that we as individuals infected and affected have had to face over the years to not just survive a devastating disease, but to overcome the ignorance, stigma, and fear associated with it. Though we have come a long way in many respects, the battle continues and the war has yet to be won.”
. “One of the tragedies of the AIDS pandemic is that so many lives could have been saved had the issue been given the attention it deserved at the onset of the crisis in the early 1980s. People with hemophilia, who relied on commercial blood products to treat their disease, were victims of corporate greed and the federal government’s failure to protect the blood supply. The personal stories and photographs in Dying in Vein bear witness to the devastating effects of AIDS within the hemophilia community.”
Lady Clover Honey, drag queen performer, transgender artist, cabaret chanteuse and television reporter, settled on Rent. “The stage musical and Broadway hit was also made into a film musical. Rent is actually a modern telling of the classic opera, La Bohème. It showcases a group of friends who lived in Manhattan’s Lower East Side/East Village in the late 1980s, which at the time was an artists’ Bohemian district The musical helped generate AIDS awareness to the mainstream, and to a new, younger group of people. It also shows that all types of individuals could become infected. The characters in Rent had to face AIDS as they created their art and lived their lives.
Dab Garner, CEO Dab the AIDS Bear Project, thirty-four year HIV survivor, activist, and speaker, as well as the creator of Dab the AIDS Bear, Dab the Breast Cancer Bear and Dab the Anti-Bullying Bear, along with worldwide holiday events for children living with HIV, called Teddy Bear Touchdowns, in memory of his god-daughter, Candace, who lost her battle with AIDS at age four, in 1989, selected his own heartfelt creation. “I hope this doesn’t sound egotistical, but I would say…one of the first Dab the AIDS Bears. The bear’s mission is to bring love, hope and compassion to people living with HIV since, especially at the start [of the epidemic]. In 1981, I gave the very first bear on March 21, 1981 to my best friend, to let him know he was loved and not alone. Back then in San Francisco, people could not visit their loved ones in quarantine. Even the doctors wore hazmat-suits. The second bear was given on July 5, 1981, when my first partner was placed in quarantine after taking him to the ER.
“I have been very lucky and honored to have two Dab the AIDS Bears as part of exhibits at the Smithsonian, in DC. One is in Ryan White’s bedroom, donated by Jeanne White Ginder. The second [became] part of the DC Cowboys display after they disbanded, a few years ago. They have been using the bear in one of their dances for years honoring those who had lost their battle with AIDS.”
Benjamin Fredrickson, artist and photographer, chose The Living End, a 1991 film by Gregg Araki. “The Living End is a film about two HIV-positive men who go on a road trip together and give society the middle finger. It tackles the subject of HIV/AIDS, while it was still in its infancy, before protease inhibitors existed, capturing the sense of urgency within the queer community at that time, when queers were angry and fighting back. You can feel the rage in this film. It’s guerilla filmmaking in its finest form, and one of the most important queer films ever made.”
Alina Oswald interviewed artist Benjamin Fredrickson for the May 2015 Gallery.