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Sorrow and Rage at the Fundació Joan Miró

ARA 29/06/2011

The exhibition You Are Not Alone combats the stigmatisation of those living with HIV

Fourteen contemporary artists from all over the world join forces at the exhibition You Are Not Alone at the Fundació Miró to use art to combat the rejection faced by people with HIV

Antoni Ribas Tur, Barcelona

David Goldblatt’s Victoria Cobokana, housekeeper, in her employer’s dining room with her son Sifiso and daughter Onica, Johannesburg portrays three victims of Aids. Videos by Andalusian artist Pepe Espaliú, who also died of Aids. Otto Berchem’s deadheaded flowers. Even Japanese [sic] artist Danh Vo’s reproduction of the flame of the Statue of Liberty. All these pieces bring to mind the fallen petals of a withered flower. On show from today as part of the exhibition You Are Not Alone at the Fundació Miró, the works seem to express sorrow for people with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes Aids. At its core, though, lies another kind of death: the social stigmatisation suffered by those living with HIV, even though, in developed countries, medical advances have increased their life expectancy and quality of life.

You Are Not Alone, which comprises work by fourteen artists, marks the thirtieth anniversary of the first diagnosis of the syndrome. It is produced by the ArtAids Foundation and includes several specially commissioned pieces. Dutch writer and journalist Han Nefkens is not only president of ArtAids but also a unique art collector: he invites leading artists to create works related to Aids to help raise social awareness of the syndrome and fight the social exclusion of those living with HIV. “There’s no pill that can eliminate stigmatisation and open people’s minds; only art can do that”, he says. He exhibited several pieces from his collection at seven art spaces in Barcelona in 2009 under the heading On the Outside Looking In and currently has several others on show at museums throughout Europe. He isn’t planning on setting up his own permanent centre, however, since he finds the exchange of ideas that comes with working with different institutions far more enriching than having his own space.

An antidote to isolation

According to Hilde Teerlinck, curator of the exhibition and director of FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais, artists who don’t usually work with Aids-related issues often bring a wider vision. And by sharing this vision with visitors, they help create a chain to combat the isolation felt by those with the illness, as expressed in the title of the exhibition.

The artists’ different nationalities map out the global circumstances surrounding Aids in each country. South Africa, represented by Goldblatt’s photographs, has the highest number of cases in the world. Thai artist Sutee Kunavichayanont’s Thai Village evokes the ghost villages devastated by Aids in the north of the country. In the film Restricted Sensation, Lithuanian artist Deimantas Narkevičius exposes homophobia in countries in the former Soviet bloc. Lorena Zilleruelo, from Chile, plays out the story of heterosexual infection to the rhythm of tango in her film Pasos. And Moroccan artist Latifa Echakhch builds a broken brick wall to condemn governments’ handling of Aids, as in the 1981 infected-blood scandal in France, when some two thousand haemophiliac patients were knowingly given contaminated blood. Danish artist Michael Elmgreen and Norwegian artist Ingar Dragset are the driving force behind one of the most powerful pieces in the exhibition, a neon sign that reads AIDS is good business for some – a swipe at the pharmaceutical industry.

English artist Matthew Darbyshire has set up a mock information stand to criticise the media. His posters mix slogans from 1980s Aids campaigns with images of the Andrex puppy from toilet-roll commercials to unpick the discourses surrounding the illness that have emerged over the last three decades.

Three decades of art and activism

First it was politicians; now it is the pharmaceutical industry which finds itself in the sights of artists who have been addressing the issue of Aids for the last thirty years. In the United States in the 1980s, groups such as Gran Material and Radical Fury launched eye-catching campaigns to raise awareness of the pandemic whilst the Reagan administration turned a blind eye to the increasingly serious situation. Today, equal access to antiretroviral drugs, without which Aids wreaks havoc in developing countries, is one of the burning issues tackled by artists such as Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset.


Art to fight exclusion

01. Victoria Cobokana, housekeeper, in her employer’s dining room with her son Sifiso and daughter Onica, Johannesburg by D Goldblatt. 02. New Blood by Elmgreen & Dragset. 03. Untitled (from the series Access for All) by S Neshat.


Fallen flowers gather in Otto Berchem’s work. H&F COLLECTION