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“No creo en complots, interesa la vacuna del sida, pero es difícil” – Atlántico

ATLÁNTICO 24/10/2011

“I don’t believe in conspiracies; there is interest in an AIDS vaccine, but it is difficult”

Han Nefkens, who has been HIV positive for 24 years, opened an exhibition that deals with the illness.

Ana Baena – Vigo – 22-10-2011

Han Nefkens (Rotterdam, 1954) opened the group exhibition You Are Not Alone at MARCO yesterday. As president of the ArtAids Foundation, Nefkens promotes artistic actions as a means of raising social awareness in relation to AIDS. Through this exhibition and his own testimony, he seeks to transmit a clear message. In perfect Spanish, using plain language and with a certain gentleness he explained his legacy.

How does this exhibition raise public awareness in relation to AIDS?
Art has a great transformative power. An artwork is an image that stays in your mind, you dwell on it and it makes you think about HIV: the fact that it still exists, that it is important to be careful and take precautions, and to not exclude AIDS sufferers.

You acknowledged that you are HIV positive. How did you come to terms with the illness?
I found out 24 years ago, in Mexico. My initial reaction was denial: “It can’t be true, that’s not me.” It took me a while to accept it. In the late eighties, early nineties, it was a different story. I saw many people die of AIDS, my brother, friends. It was like witnessing the fate that was awaiting me too. From 1996, everything changed. New medicines came out, and hope grew. We went from living with urgency to making medium and long term plans

The exhibition is called “You Are Not Alone”. Did you ever feel alone?
I felt very much alone when I first found out. I was afraid of the reactions of my family, my partner, my friends. Then I learnt that if you make it clear that there is a difference between having a chronic illness and a terminal one, people understand.

One of the works in the exhibitions suggests that AIDS is a business. Is this debate taking place?
That’s the power of art, to open discussions. AIDS is good business for the pharmaceutical industry. But it is also the industry that developed the 20 pills that I take, which keep me alive. Without it, there would be no medicines. These companies invest huge amounts of money and they have a right to recover it. But we need to find a solution for those who don’t have access to them.

Why is it so difficult to come up with a vaccine?
I don’t believe in conspiracies. There are people interested in it; whoever discovers it will win a Nobel Prize and sell millions. But it is difficult because the virus mutates often.

The curator of the exhibition, Hilde Teerlinck, and Han Nefkens, with the work by Otto Berchem. Nefkens founded ArtAids in 2004 when he realised the power of art, which is part of his life as  an art collector who hangs his works in museums rather than at home.