Day With(out) Art at the High Museum of Art
This year, the High is partnering with Visual AIDS to share stories by artists who live with HIV/AIDS.
By Brittany Mizell, Public Relations Specialist, High Museum of Art
Art is often a response to what’s happening in society. As a form of expression, it can give words to things we feel unable to describe. To help audiences better understand the gravity of living with HIV and AIDS, institutions across the globe have partnered with Visual AIDS to promote action and examine the toll the epidemic has had on the art community.
Starting in 1989, Visual AIDS formed the first Day Without Art on December 1, which coincided with the World Health Organization’s second annual World AIDS Day, in response to the growing AIDS crisis across the nation. In 1998, Day Without Art became Day With(out) Art. The parentheses were added to highlight the ongoing inclusion of art projects focused on the AIDS pandemic and to encourage programming of artists living with HIV and AIDS. Since 2014, the organization has worked with numerous global artists and filmmakers to create films that detail their stories. And each year, these films are distributed to art institutions, museums, AIDS organizations, and schools to educate audiences on the epidemic, encourage care and support for those who live with HIV and AIDS, and promote action in finding a cure.
To gain more insight on Day With(out) Art and included works, we asked Blake Paskal, Visual AIDS’s Artist Engagement and Community Programs Manager, and Clifford Prince King, a participating artist in this year’s program and creator of Kiss of Life, to share further details on the organization and the work that went into creating a film for this year’s program, respectively.
Blake Paskal, Visual AIDS Artist Engagement and Community Programs Manager
Question: For those who don’t know, how did Visual AIDS’s Day With(out) Art come to be what it is today?
Answer: Day With(out) Art is our premier program, and it was started in 1989. Originally, it was Visual AIDS’s call to the art world and art institutions to respond to the ongoing AIDS epidemic on World AIDS Day, December 1. It was open-ended in the beginning, and it looked like lots of things. For some museums, that meant covering artwork and replacing it with information about HIV and AIDS. So if somebody came to the museum that day, they would see that information instead. That was the start of Day With(out) Art, and it’s grown and shifted over the years.
Q: Can you describe how it’s grown since inception?
A: There were moments where Visual AIDS distributed posters and banners for people to display for a time. But since 2014, the emphasis has been on creating and distributing video content that recognizes the fact that AIDS is very much still an ongoing pandemic and that there’s still long-term survivors who have been living with HIV since the 1980s or 1990s. But there are also younger folks, as well, who are living with HIV and are making work about this topic. The video commissions are a way to continue all of these legacies.
But even within the years that the video programs have been happening, there’s been a lot of change within that. The program has become more international, and we’re including artists from all over the world, particularly since 2020.
Q: With so many moving stories from artists all over the world, how do you all get these artists involved, and how do you choose whose works are shown?
A: The selection process is pretty competitive. For the past three cycles, there has been a jury process where we select four jurors who look through all the proposals that are sent to us. Those proposals include a short description of what the video might be about and past samples of other video works. The jury weighs all of that alongside the theme that we’ve decided for that year. They’re trying to put together a sampling of videos that covers a lot of bases in terms of different types of experiences living with HIV/AIDS (whether it’s somebody who is a long-term survivor or somebody who’s younger), different types of racial or gender experiences as they relate to HIV/AIDS, and geographic differences, while relating all of that to the theme. So this year’s program is titled Being & Belonging. It centers on the theme of belonging and highlights the narratives of those that have been stigmatized within their communities or left out of mainstream HIV/AIDS narratives.
Q: How do collaborations with other institutions come about?
A: We generally have a process where we are either initiating contact with organizations or people hear about it from others and reach out to us. It’s pretty easy for others to get on board from there. The videos come as a package. People just say they want to participate, and we’re able to loop everyone in as a screening partner pretty easily. But we are definitely looking for new regions to reach out to often.
Q: About how many institutions do you generally partner with, and how many will you partner with this year?
A: Generally, we have about 120+ partnering venues all around the world. It will probably be about the same or slightly more this year because we’re including more partners in East Asian countries and South America. The videos usually get translated into six or seven languages each year, including Spanish, French, Polish, Portuguese, Japanese, Turkish and Mandarin.
Q: Lastly, what can audiences expect to take away from this year’s short films?
A: This year is very powerful because this is the first year that all the videos come from people living with HIV, which is not always the case. It’s not necessarily a requirement for the project, because there are some circumstances where somebody might be telling us a story that is very historical or doing a video portrait and they may have a direct relationship to that history or person. The fact that all the videos in this year’s program come from people living with HIV has made a big difference for the program–the videos overall have a much stronger personal narrative and a reflective quality. They’re a lot more poetic, and the conversation overall is based in a contemporary moment rather than thinking of HIV/AIDS as a historical thing. I think that will be a big takeaway for audiences. Hopefully they’ll come out of it with this understanding that HIV is still very present and living with HIV looks lot of different ways as shown through the video program.
Clifford Prince King, participating artist and creator of Kiss of Life
Question: What made you choose the outdoor settings in your film, and what part do they play in the overall message?
Answer: I’ve always felt re-centered after visits to the mountains or unoccupied bodies of water. Living in a city, it’s easy to forget that nature can be very healing. My intention for the landscape scenes was to be micro-meditative visual moments. So in Kiss of Life, I thought it would be nice to go back and forth from scenes with dialogue and shots of nature to reset the tone and have moments of stillness, a break.
Q: Did you write the spoken word/poetry passages in the film? If so, what inspired these writings?
A: The first passage in the film is a poem written and recited by artist Nazareth Hassan. The second and last passages are poems written and recited by myself. I knew I wanted to commission a poem from Naz for the film and was grateful he wanted to be included.
Honestly, I just mentioned the words desire, rejection, self-doubt and self-reflection. I had written my poem maybe a few months prior, during a time when I was feeling lonesome and neglected while reflecting on my past relationships.
Sometime later, Naz and I met up in Crown Heights, and he read me his poem. Of course, I loved it and his words and voice/tone behind them. I then read my poem, which I wasn’t too confident in–I don’t really see myself as a poet or good with words. After reading it aloud, Naz told me to read it backwards, and it felt much better.
Q: Your film features two individuals, Michael and D’Angelo, sharing their backgrounds with HIV. What made you choose them?
A: I met Michael through a friend, who is also an older gay Black man. Over the last few years, he’s told me a lot about his life during the AIDS epidemic, and I knew I wanted to interview him and archive his courageous journey. When given the chance to interview or include an older gay person in my work, I feel very privileged. They can teach us so much.
D’Angelo is a close friend who I feel is very generous in sharing his experiences, and I love that about our relationship. He grew up in the South and has been living in New York City for the last few years, so I felt his perspective could be understood by many.
To view the Day With(out) Art films, visit the High on December 1. The films will be screened in the Anne Cox Chambers Wing Lobby and are free to view with Museum admission.