This is how you survive: An exploration into the Art AIDS America Exhibition’s final weekend in Chicago

Daniel Sotomayor (1958–1992) “For Paul,” 1990. Photo Credit: Charlene Haparimwi

There are currently about 25,000 people living with HIV in Chicago, with the number of new HIV diagnoses increasing about a thousand people per year.

Roger Brown (1941–1997) Peach Light, 1983. Photo Credit: SAIC
ACT UP NY/Gran Fury, “Let the Record Show,” 1987/recreated 2015. PC: Melissa Gonzales de Leon.

This is what brought the Art AIDS America Exhibition tour, the first exhibition to explore how the AIDS crisis forever changed American art, to the Windy City. They wanted to show that HIV did not just heavily affect coastal cities like New York and Los Angeles, but also right in the heart of the United States as well.

Larry Stanton (1947–1984), “Untitled [Hospital Drawing],” 1984. Photo Credit: DNAinfo/Ted Cox
Deborah Kass, “Still Here,” 2007. Photo Credit: Charlene Haparimwi

The tour has being going on for 2.5 years, the most recent stop before Chicago being at The Bronx Museum. When looking for places in Chicago for the exhibit, co-curators Jonathan Katz of the Visual Studies Doctoral Program at the University at Buffalo, and Rock Hushka, of the contemporary and Northwest art at Tacoma Art Museum, could not find an already established public art space that would show the exhibit.

“For the Record” for Visual AIDS. Photo credit: Charlene Haparimwi
Barbara Kruger, “We Will No Longer Be Seen And Not Heard,” 1985. Photo Credit: Charlene Haparimwi

This is where the Alphawood Foundation, a Chicago-based, grant-making private foundation focused on human rights and the protection of LGBT people stepped in. They bought a space in Lincoln Park, that was previously a bank, and transformed it into the Alphawood Gallery, located at 2401 N. Halsted.

Brett Reichman, “And the Spell was Broken Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” 1992. PC: Charlene Haparimwi
John Arsenault and Adrian Gilliland, “Eden #31,” 2012. Photo Credit: Charlene Haparimwi

The Chicago presentation of Art Aids America is free, open to the public, and features 170 unique works of contemporary art from a diverse array of more than 100 artists. This presentation features the most amount of art works then any previous stop of the tour. Chicago’s own powerful history is voiced by the strength and diversity of its art community, amplifying the works of Chicago artists such as Gregg Bordowitz, Doug Ischar, Oli Rodriguez, and Patric McCoy, and the late Roger Brown and Daniel Sotomayor.

Judy Chicago, “Homosexual Holocaust: Study for Pink Triangle Torture,” 1989. PC: Windy City Times
Hunter Reynolds, “Survival AIDS Series 2 ACT UP Chicago with Memorial Dress,” 2015. Photographed by Maxine Henryson.

The exhibition has enjoyed a rich variety of public programming in association with local arts and advocacy community allies. From panels and discussions, to artist talks and performances, the Chicago community really helped to exhibition to life and give it an even more powerful message. The exhibition served as a catalyst for personal and citywide dialogue on the cultural, political, and personal impact that HIV/AIDS has had on the U.S.

Tino Rodriguez, “Eternal Lovers,” 2010. Photo Credit: Charlene Haparimwi
Hugh Steers (1962–1995), “Poster,” 1990. Photo Credit: Charlene Haparimwi

Though the AIDS epidemic broke only 30 years ago, the intersections of art, activism, public health, and LGBT individuals that the HIV/AIDS related art pieces display still reverberates in our culture today.

The Art AIDS America Exhibition Chicago opened on Dec. 1 of last year, which is the annually recognized as World AIDS Day, and closes on Sunday, April 2. The gallery recommends reserving a free timed admission pass here, and telling your own story of living with HIV/AIDS or losing someone close to you to this devastating illness via StoryCorps here, so that no story is forgotten. The gallery will also provide free HIV testing until April 2.

Karen Finley, “Ribbon Gate,” 2015. Photo Credit: Charlene Haparimwi
Kia Labeija, “Eleven,” 2015. Photo Credit: Gallery Gurls

Due to the tremendous success and recognition of this exhibition the Alphawood Gallery will stay permanently open as a social justice art space for all to enjoy. Their next exhibit, “Then They Came For Me: Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II and the Demise of Civil Liberties,” will be opening in June 2017.

General Idea, “White AIDS #3, AIDS is everywhere, albeit often difficult to see,” 1992.