On Sunday, Dec. 1, the Princeton University Art Museum commemorated Day With(out) Art with an event that shined light on the works of artists whose lives have been affected or cut short by AIDS.
This year marked the 30th anniversary of the first Day With(out) Art, an annual event held to commemorate the contributions of artists who have died from AIDS and to spur positive action in response to the AIDS crisis. On the first Day With(out) Art in 1989, hundreds of museums closed or removed certain works from view. Today, museums have introduced programming to bring awareness to contemporary AIDS challenges.
Dec. 1 is also World AIDS Day, conceived of by the World Health Organization’s global program on AIDS in 1987, and is dedicated to raising awareness about the AIDS pandemic. About 37.9 million people around the world live with HIV today.
Caroline Harris, Associate Director of Education at the University’s museum, moderated a talk about the AIDS epidemic and the artists affected by it.
During the talk, Harris emphasized that within the United States, AIDS disproportionately affects African-Americans and poor Americans. She explained that globally, Sub-Saharan Africans account for 66 percent of all new HIV infections.
Open to community members, the talk focused on works made in the first decade of the AIDS crisis by Mary Berridge, Marcus Leatherdale, and David Wojnarowicz.
“Wojnarowicz’[s] art … even before the advent of the AIDS crisis, his work focused on depicting people and stories that he felt were silenced by homogenic and heteronormative society,” Harris said.
According to Harris, Day With(out) Art seeks to remember the artistic work of those who passed away from AIDS.
“It’s banal to say today, but you can’t help but wonder, like when you go to see his retrospective, what he might have done with the last 25 years,” Harris said.
Harris has planned the World Aids Day programs at the art museum for over a decade. Each year, the museum curates a different exhibition to honor lives lost to AIDS and raise awareness at the University.
“What younger people don’t realize is what a human and civil rights issue this was in this country,” Harris explained. “The fact that the government was not responding quickly to the epidemic, the fact that because the epidemic had first really hit in the LGBTQI community and also the community of intravenous drug users, there was a stigma that became attached to it that seemed to adversely affect response … It’s those stories we feel strongly shouldn’t be forgotten.”
Harris suggested that students who wish to learn more about the myriad of issues surrounding AIDS visit the museum’s current exhibition, “States of Health: Visualizing Illness and Healing,” which “investigates the manifold ways that suffering, care, and healing are represented in the visual arts,” according to the exhibition’s introduction. The exhibition will be on display until Feb. 2, 2020.
“This exhibition, which is really about the way that art helps us understand and confront illness and healing globally, is a great way to start, because it puts this epidemic in the context of others,” Harris said.
The exhibit also features University faculty voices speaking about how disease is regarded and treated in different cultures. A quote from Writing Program lecturer Carolyn Ureña reads, “Although most people tend to think of contagion as a purely biological phenomenon, when diseases spread, so does information about how we view the world … Contagion demands that we interrogate the sometimes deadly, sometimes salutary, yet always revealing results of the clash of culture and biology.”