CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Krannert Art Museum is screening six short films and presenting a panel discussion, with the Art Theater, about AIDS activism for World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.
“Alternate Endings, Activist Risings” is a program showing the impact of art on AIDS advocacy. The arts organization Visual AIDS commissioned the six films in the program. The films will be shown worldwide as part of the Day With(out) Art, organized by Visual AIDS to commemorate World AIDS Day and highlighting artists and artwork addressing current issues around the AIDS pandemic. KAM is the only venue in Illinois outside of Chicago to show the films.
This is the second year KAM has screened films commissioned by Visual AIDS. According to the Visual AIDS website, the program “seeks to reflect the persisting urgencies of today’s HIV/AIDS epidemic by pointing to pressing political concerns … including anti-black violence, HIV criminalization, homelessness and the disproportionate effects of HIV on marginalized communities.”
The films will loop continuously Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 on KAM’s Response Wall in the lower-level lobby. Viewers are encouraged to respond to the films by writing a note and posting it on the wall.
The films also will be screened at noon Dec. 1 at the Art Theater, 126 W. Church St., Champaign. After the screening, a panel discussion will include Mike Benner, the executive director of the Greater Community AIDS Project; Kate Donaldson, the sexuality educator and peer education coordinator at McKinley Health Center; Nancy Johnson, the HIV Prevention Program coordinator at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District; Megan Scoville, the community engagement coordinator at Planned Parenthood Illinois; and Ryan Wade, a University of Illinois professor of social work who researches racism and health disparities among gay and bisexual men of color. Amy Powell, KAM’s curator of modern and contemporary art, will moderate the discussion.
The speakers will talk about their reactions to the films and the discussion will allow people to learn about the resources and services that are locally available for people with HIV or AIDS, Powell said.
Wade will talk about some of the issues raised in his research.
“We’ve seen rates of HIV going down nationally, but there are sub-communities where the rate of HIV infection is going up,” and one of those groups is gay and bisexual black men, he said.
This group does not engage in risky behavior at any greater rate – and some research suggests that it actually has lower rates of risky behavior – than other groups, Wade said. He’s found that social and structural factors are part of what’s driving the higher rates of HIV infection among black men. For example, both discrimination against black men in the LGBT community and, on a larger scale, segregation of minority groups in certain areas may contribute to a closed sexual network.
“When rates of HIV are higher (within that closed network) … that’s a recipe for a vast proliferation” of the disease, Wade said. “People are being disproportionately affected. That indicates a deep inequality we should all be paying attention to.”
The films show a range of activism and focus on the most urgent issues for people living with HIV and AIDS and the most effective strategies for coping and raising awareness, as well as how the art world can be involved, Powell said. Last year, the video program included artworks produced by queer artists of color, while this year they were produced by activist organizations. One of the things both artists and activists are interested in is the role of media images of people living with HIV and AIDS, and how media images can be used to raise awareness, Powell said.
“When we think about HIV and AIDS activism, of course it’s a health issue, but we also have to look at it more holistically, I’m learning from these videos,” she said. “I’m really interested to see what the role of the art world is in these conversations and how it is used to bring a bigger spotlight to HIV/AIDS awareness.”
The arts and humanities need to be part of the conversation, in addition to social and behavioral sciences, public health and the hard sciences, Wade said.
“Artistic representation of the epidemic and how it’s affecting our communities should have a place, and I’m eager to see how it’s manifested,” he said. “Art is emotion and passion, and we need emotion and passion to confront the epidemic.”