Oral History Interview with Curtis Wadlington indexed with OHMS

Our Oral History Interview with Curtis Wadlington is now indexed and text-searchable at the African American AIDS History Project! Thanks to generous support from the Chris Webber Memorial Fund, we have been able to move forward with making the interviews for this project more accessible and usable through the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer. Thanks to Maria Santiago for her hard work indexing this interview—we’ll have more indexed interviews to share with you soon!

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NYC AIDS Memorial Unveiled

Design for New York City AIDS memorial by Studio a+i. Image from Architizer.

Design for New York City AIDS memorial by Studio a+i. Image from Architizer.

The final design for the New York City AIDS Memorial, which will sit at the intersection of West 12th and Greenwich Avenue in the West Village, has been unveiled. The memorial will occupy a triangular site near the former St. Vincent’s Hospital, which offered treatment for people with AIDS early in the epidemic. As one commenter snarked on Architectural Record, the canopy in the new public park bears an unfortunate resemblance to a bus shelter, whereas the (more attractive, in my opinion) original winning design (also by Studio a+i) consisted of a grove of trees surrounded by three large mirrors, giving the effect of an “Infinite Forest.”

Original plan for New York City AIDS memorial: “Infinite Forest” by Studio a+i. Image from NYC AIDS Memorial.

The memorial raises questions about how to commemorate an epidemic that has so thoroughly devastated New York City, and where 1.4 of the city’s population (and 5% of Chelsea residents) today is reportedly living with HIV. Does the construction of a memorial further contribute to our sense of living in a “post-AIDS” world (which the advent of life-saving drugs in the late 1990s seem to inaugurate) while the epidemic rages among white gay men as well as in the most disenfranchised communities? Does placing the memorial in a wealthy, gentrified section of the city erase the loss experienced by other parts of the city that have also been heavily affected–say, Harlem or the Bronx? I realize the irony of my asking the first question, as someone actively involved in recording and writing the history of AIDS in US communities of color, but I think it’s one that the idea of the memorial encourages us to consider. On the other hand, it’s worth noting that San Francisco has had its “living memorial” in Golden Gate Park since 1991.

UPDATE:

From actup.org, a bonus rendering of the memorial at night! The lighting on the structure does make it seem somewhat less like a bus terminal.

Rendering of New York City AIDS memorial in nighttime. Image from actup.org.

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Today marks the thirteenth annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, a grassroots effort to bring AIDS awareness into African American communities that is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can find the official website here. If you watch the video for our Kickstarter campaign below, or at the project page, you’ll see that Pernessa Seele traces the history of events like these to the Harlem Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS that she started in 1989. If you want to find out what’s happening near you, the official site has a handy map, which you can find here.

ACT UP vs. Paul Ryan

by Dan Royles

Via Joe.My.God.: Two protesters interrupted Paul Ryan at the Family Research Council’s Value Voters Summit, shouting, “Corporations are not people! Take the money out!” Although one of the women identified herself only as a “concerned citizen,” the other told reporters that she represented ACT UP Philadelphia, and in classic ACT UP fashion, had a bag full of press releases at the ready.

In the mid-90s, ACT UP Philadelphia began recruiting lower income people of color into the organization while other chapters nationwide went into decline. Along with the shift in membership, which reflected the “changing face of AIDS,” the group intensified its focus on issues of economic inequality in the AIDS pandemic, both at home and around the globe. In 2000, protesters from ACT UP Philadelphia and sister group Health GAP followed Al Gore on the campaign trail, demanding that generic HIV drugs be made available to the developing world. Their efforts have led some to credit the group(s) in part for George W. Bush’s announcement of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003.

How to Survive a Plague

by Dan Royles

The ACT UP/TAG documentary How to Survive a Plague, which has a theatrical release set for September 22, has an official trailer…

…as well as a tumblr of ACT UP images that also invites users to submit their own artwork about current issues. 25 years later, the posters that ACT UP and the associated art collective Gran Fury put together are not only arresting, but sadly still relevant.

Gran Fury poster from 1988. Source: How to Survive a Plague
Gran Fury poster from 1987. Source: How to Survive a Plague

All signs point to this film being an out-and-out tearjerker; the trailer alone made me cry. But the larger point seems to be not just to elegize a movement and the millions lost to AIDS, but to inspire a new generation of activists to address their own social justice concerns. In his review, Frank Bruni testifies to the film’s sense of hope for the potential of mass action to effect real change. Indeed, last year’s Occupy movement seemed to echo ACT UP in its tactics and targets, if not in the precision of its message, and the two groups collaborated on an action in April and one over the Fourth of July, and members of ACT UP Philly helped train Philadelphia Occupiers in direct action methods when the encampment was in place late last year. While ACT UP has largely faded outside of a few strongholds in the urban mid-Atlantic (ACT UP Philadelphia being the only continuously active chapter, by their own claim) the growing economic inequality in the United States coupled with the energy of Occupy protesters has some hoping that a new truly progressive politics might be possible in this country. Whether it will materialize, and whether it will in the end look anything like ACT UP or Occupy remains to be seen.

Incidentally, my goal in undertaking the African American AIDS Activism Oral History Project and African American AIDS History Project is also to inspire, as well as to inform. Of course, the interviews that I conduct are a critical piece of the research for my dissertation. But beyond that, by recording voices that have been left out of many popular and academic accounts of U.S. AIDS activism and collecting digital copies of materials through the African American AIDS History Project site, we’re creating a repository of materials that will not only be available to scholars, but will hopefully inspire people to get involved with important issues at a grassroots level.

Cross-posted at Ye Olde Royle Blog.