We are currently in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and coping with it has been a challenge. But coping with a disease that is this widespread is not something. Many people have referred to the 1918 flu while at the same time forgetting the more recent AIDS pandemic. Perhaps because the latter was stigmatized and labeled as a gay disease, but in reality AIDS is a human disease. AIDS can affect anyone that is a living breathing human and has many shades and colors. It is the vastness of experience caused by HIV/AIDS that the World Aids Museum (WAM) sought to convey when they commissioned artist Toby Gotesman Schneier to produce The Colors of HIV exhibition.
Aaron Darr, a local HIV/AIDS activist, and Chair of WAM’s Fundraising, Development, and Special Events Committee was the driving force behind the idea for this exhibition. Darr shared that “I wanted to WAM to showcase visual arts as forming the educational narrative depicting HIV/AIDS globally over the past 40 years“. With the idea in mind Darr, WAM’s Board of Directors, their staff, volunteers, and Schneier, came together and brought The Colors of HIV Fall 2020 Exhibition to life.
Darr came to know Schneier’s work through her Holocaust collection. “The images [in her Holocaust collection] were shocking, yet I found such genuine heartbreaking honesty in the portrayal of such a horrible time in our world’s history (The Holocaust)“. It was this honest and impactful portrayal of this unforgettable genocide that convinced Darr that Schneier was the right artist to portray the suffering HIV/AIDS had caused over the last 40 years. He also felt that Schneier could capture and convey the hope of tomorrow. “That hope being the importance of support systems and access to lifesaving medications and care that ensure that HIV is no longer a death sentence. Hope she has captured in this particular collection of works related to HIV/AIDS“.
Darr further elaborated on that the choice of commissioning Schneier for the exhibit was because “she has a history and a portfolio of creating and showcasing human suffering as it relates to tragedy in America and around the world“.
Schneier, who was at the opening of the exhibition, spoke with us about her journey in creating the pieces. She said that she collaborated extensively with Darr and really took the time to study the impact of HIV/AIDS on the world. Once she felt that she had fully grasped and felt in her soul the impact of HIV/AIDS she began creating the pieces. In the video clip below she shares her thoughts on what she believes is one of her most impactful and relevant pieces title, History Repeating Itself.
When asked what he hoped people would gain from the exhibition, Darr conveyed his hope that
“ …patrons and supporters of WAM will be able to take in the educational narrative behind the collection of 17 works showcased in The Colors of HIV Fall 2020 Exhibition. The works touch on everything from stigma to general adherence and the history of medications, risky behaviors that increase the likelihood of one contracting HIV/AIDS, how HIV/AIDS disproportionately impacts communities of color and the LGBT community, especially men who have sex with men, public policy relating to HIV/AIDS, and countless other narratives that are both informative and take the audience on a journey through the past 40 years “.
We asked Schneier the same question and she stated:
“I suppose that my myriad hopes for the takeaway from the show are that HIV/AIDS is a HUGE piece of history and not only WORTHY of learning about and teaching to our peers and our children, but CRITICAL to do so…That silence and complacency are NEVER acceptable in the face of an existential threat on ANY level…The obvious, that this is NOT a GAY issue, but rather an all- encompassing one…And finally, that art can breathe life and awareness into public issues that many consider to be dormant or irrelevant…”
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis was at the exhibition for the opening night tour. We asked Trantalis what he thought of the exhibit. He told us that Schneier’s art combined with the narrated tour allowed him to see from art piece to art piece “how HIV first surfaced, …from being in shock and then the ability of the community and the country to come to grips with it and find the resources to seek a cure“. Trantalis says he remembers quite clearly the 1980s AIDS epidemic and the hopelessness and stigma attached to the disease. Schneier’s work “tells a story through images, taking you from moment to moment- sadness, courage, accomplishment …. it shows us how the U.S. dealt with medically and politically…[to the point where] fewer people are now dying from it and it is a treatable disease vs. a death sentence“.
In telling the story of HIV/AIDS the exhibition is sharing a piece of a story of humanity that is not limited to South Florida. For this reason we asked Darr if the exhibition would be shown in other galleries.
“Speaking for myself, I think WAM is always looking for ways in which we can showcase the history of HIV/AIDS in America and around the world. After all, we are The “World” AIDS Museum. Sharing this exhibition has been a topic of conversation amongst the Board of Directors and we hope to share our collections with others, forming long lasting partnerships with other HIV/AIDS related organizations, furthering the educational narrative behind the museum in the process”.
Darr, himself HIV positive, is committed to telling the story of HIV/AIDS over and over again as many times as necessary for people to be educated and informed about the virus. However, he does hope that one day he will no longer have to tell the story :
“I think it’s important to keep telling the story of HIV/AIDS until the last story is told. And when I say that, I am referencing the last person who will ever be diagnosed with HIV or AIDS. I am very hopeful with the advancements we continue to see in areas of scientific research and medicine relating to HIV/AIDS. Until we obtain a vaccine or cure for HIV/AIDS, the work of WAM and countless other HIV/AIDS related organizations must continue. So we are there, fighting for the future, fighting to ensure the educational narrative of WAM is at the forefront of the work we do here in South Florida.”
For more information about the exhibit go to https://worldaidsmuseum.org/. To purchase any of Toby Gotesman Schneier’s works from the Colors of HIV collection or any of her other collections go to www.tobygotesmanschneier.com
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