featured gallery for April 2018

Where Past Meets Present: The (R/D)onald Agenda

The following images were compiled by four undergraduate students, William Britton, Noah Dubay, Eskedar Girmash, and Darlene Ineza. All were students in the Fall 2017 class Viral Cultures: HIV/AIDS in Science, Policy and Culture, taught by Dr. Marika Cifor in the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. In this class, we explored both the history and progression of HIV/AIDS as a disease and an activist movement. We discussed the concurrent development of this disease as both a biological and social phenomenon—a virus that not only attacks bodies but the social structures that hold these bodies in place. Of much importance to this class was the issue of representation; specifically, the mediums used to disseminate messages from activists to broader world audiences. Students learned of the technological shift that enabled this dissemination. Online art repositories, digitized AIDS quilts, and ACT UP oral histories brought localized movements into the public eye. In this gallery we seek to dive deeper into the digitization of AIDS, art and activism."

In our current political climate, far too often policy makers have failed to deliver on their hollow promises to pass legislation that benefits the more marginalized members of society. After Donald J. Trump was elected to office, many Americans saw a feared overall shift in political priorities come to immediate fruition. We witnessed the almost immediate erasure of political structures aimed at combating HIV/AIDS. While serious progress has been made to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic since the 1980s, it almost seems as though our current political agenda regressed back towards that of the Reagan era. The collection of images within this gallery seek to portray the ironic reversal of time that we are faced with in our present day. These images will show how HIV/AIDS activists responded to this reversion, and how this response was mediated by the wave of technological advancements made over the past 30 years. Ultimately, through this gallery, and the multidimensional stories it represents, we hope to show the continuity of the AIDS epidemic and the political frustration that activists and people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) face today.

On January 20th 2017, the Office of National AIDS Policy website was literally wiped off of the White House website. This physical and symbolical erasure of an important public health initiative set the tone for the Trump administration’s approach towards HIV/AIDS—ignorance. By the end of Trump’s first year, all members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) had resigned or were fired. PACHA is a group composed of doctors, public health officials and PLWHA that has been integral in advising the White House on HIV/AIDS policy since 1995. The explicit erasure and lack of replacement of this national organization and its attendant programming leaves no room for doubt or confusion: The Trump administration is unconcerned about HIV/AIDS either in the U.S or around the world. As a result of this political negation, multiple American artists generated new AIDS activism in accordance to 21st century social and technological changes. This activism is still coupled to goals and tactics of 1980s AIDS activism. This is seen, for example, through contrasting Rafael Sánchez and Andrés Rangl images’ in this gallery. Both artists make allusions to South America and Spanish speaking individuals. Sánchez’ “World,” 1988 depicts a collage of a map pasted onto deserted background while Rangl’s “¿Habla Español?,” 2017 takes a picture of a collaged album page. The structural and subject matter similarity between these works of art shows how 21st century artists are reviving art activism to combat the same injustice as faced in the 1980s. This specific battle, for example, is the neglect of Hispanic LGBTQ communities in both Trump and Reagan era AIDS approach.

On top of this apathy, however, what is even more concerning in the current Trump regime is the passing of new legislation that could reverse important gains and policies. President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 includes cutting $40 million from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s HIV/AIDS prevention program and $26 million from the federal housing program for people living with AIDS. Additionally, the new healthcare bill provisions include denying quality affordable health insurance from those who have pre-existing conditions. These initiatives signify a major reversal in the progress that has been made in HIV/AIDS policy. Millions of people living with AIDS now face significant barriers in accessing proper prevention and treatment methods. These policy actions are akin to President Reagan's dismissal of HIV during the peak of the epidemic in the late 1980s. W. Benjamin Incerti "Untitled" photograph represents this correlation by highlighting that the “AIDS crisis is not over.” Though the photograph is from 1991, this same fact rings true today: despite all of the progress that has been made, the crisis is far from over; in fact, it is getting exasperated by the legislation that the current administration has put forth. It took millions of deaths, thousands of protests, and an excruciating fight to pass legislation for the voices of people living with HIV to be heard. Thanks to the resilience and sheer determination of activists and allies, significant progress was made on the AIDS front, including necessary changes related to policy, public health, and biomedicine. Trump’s administration is actively threatening this progress and repeating the atrocious trend of stripping individuals of the proper healthcare. Further, the administration’s discriminatory views on queer individuals prejudices its policy making and continues to leave millions of queer individuals without agency or rights. Such actions are strikingly reminiscent of the Reagan era and highlight the concrete erasure and reversal of decades of activism. Despite this reversal, activists are still stepping up and demanding for change. Numerous protests and creative acts of resistance have been held against the administration by AIDS advocacy groups as shown by Christopher Oates’ photograph “Fuck Trump,” 2016.

Similar to the ways in which ACT UP and Gran Fury practiced public demonstrations and vigilante art to protest the Reagan administration’s lack of response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, activists still continue to fight against the political apathy expressed by the Trump administration. Black Lives Matter, the National Women’s March, and, more recently, a group of students led in part by Emma González in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida school shooting have all utilized city streets and social media to further their causes. While less direct public action has been taken regarding AIDS in recent years, there is a lot of activity surrounding the archiving of the art and lived experiences of current and past AIDS activists and artists. As one of many possible examples, since 2014 Alexandra Juhasz and Ted Kerr have started conversations reflecting on archived AIDS films and media in order to bridge the knowledge gap between older and younger AIDS activists. They address the homogenization of AIDs representation—how AIDS is primarily seen through the eyes of middle class white gay men—and acknowledge the lesser represented fronts of activism, like the support systems that facilitate protests and movements. The work of these activists represent but one method used by our society to respond to the current political climate by questioning how we archive material on AIDS and how we should use this knowledge to more readily address the political injustice faced by PLWHA today.

In line with archiving works, the Visual AIDS Artist + Registry from the Visual AIDS website is a powerful example of how current artists and academics engage with past and present HIV/AIDS discussions. The Artist + Registry supports HIV+ artists from all over the world by honoring their work and stories. The focus on archiving and showcasing such works allows for the multiple narratives and experiences of PLWHA to retain a presence in the global sphere. Web galleries published on Visual AIDS also allow for people from various backgrounds to use the Artist + Registry and synthesize their own arguments or presentations. Our professor Marika Cifor’s web gallery "Towards An AIDS Archive" is one of the many thoughtfully curated web galleries on this website. Throughout our class we were excited by these projects and decided to curate our own gallery focused on a politically relevant topic.

The Trump administration erased the text and legislation that provided much of the foundation for AIDS movement, signaling how governmental bodies have taken away the very institutions that HIV/AIDS activists have fought to create. This message is powerfully put by Donal Mosher’s work in this gallery, “The World Takes” 2015. The work of AIDS activists powerfully counters the erasure of activist efforts through the use of art and technology to both educate broader audiences about the continued significance of this issue and archive accurate representations of the lived experiences of PLWHA. Through the images in this gallery, we display the frustration that current activists face as well as their work to create and sustain representation that reflects accurately the multi-dimensional narratives of all people living with HIV and AIDS.

Works Cited

Guarino, Ben. "Trump administration fires all members of HIV/AIDS advisory council." The Washington Post. December 29, 2017. Accessed February 26, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health...

HIV.gov, Date last updated: December 28, 2017, USHHS. “Members & Staff.” HIV.gov, SMAIF.

Accessed February 26, 2018. www.hiv.gov/federal-response/pacha/members-staff.

Juhasz Alexandra and Ted Kerr. “On Care, Activism, and HIV.” Hematopoiesis Press 2, (2017). Accessed Feb 25 2018. http://hematopoiesispress.com/on-care-activism-and...

Spering, Gene. B. and Michael Shapiro. “How the Senate’s Health-Care Bill Would Cause

Financial Ruin for People With Preexisting Conditions.” The Atlantic, June 23, 2017. Accessed February 26 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/...

Thompson, Melanie. “ The Trump Administration Is Dropping The Ball On HIV/AIDS.” The Huffington

Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 29 Jan. 2018. Accessed February 26 2018. www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-thompson-trum...