HIV/AIDS Advocacy at IMSS

Annual HIV/AIDS related programming at the International Museum of Surgical Science, emphasizing the role of artists in illuminating the fight for visibility and care. Inaugurated December 2015, ongoing.

This program is partially supported by grants from the Illinois Arts Council Agency and Gilead Sciences, with additional support from the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, AIDS.gov, and the Video Data Bank at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

-The Screening Room: Selections from the Video Data Bank (2016)

November 15, 2016 – December 30, 2016

about this iteration

Produced at the height of the AIDS Crisis, and addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and communities of color, Ellen Spiro’s “(In)Visible Women,” (created with activist Marina Alvarez) [1991], and Marlon Riggs’ “No Regrets” [1992] present unique accounts of living and loving with AIDS in America -addressing intersectionality as it impacts factors such as representation, visibility, and ultimately access to education and care. Both titles were included in the “Fear of Disclosure Project,” (1994) produced by Phil Zwickler and Jonathan Lee. Leveraging the unique qualities afforded by video as a medium, these titles deeply engage their documentary format while emphasizing poetic reflection – two equally important representational models for the topic during and since the AIDS Crisis.  Both titles screened continuously on a loop during public hours.

about the videos and their authors

“(In)Visible Women” [1991] records the heroic responses of three women with AIDS in the context of their respective communities. Through poetry, art, activism, and dance, they explode notions of female invisibility and complacency in the face of AIDS.  Ellen Spiro is an internationally recognized filmmaker whose documentaries have been broadcast around the world. She has been awarded two Rockefeller Fellowships, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, Whitney Museum Independent Study Fellowship, First Prize in the USA Film Festival, Golden Gate Award, Prized Pieces Award from the National Black Programming Consortium, Paul Clere Humanitarian Award of Excellence, and others.

In “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (No Regrets)” [1992], five HIV+ black, gay men speak out about their individual confrontations with AIDS through music, poetry and quiet self-disclosure, illuminating the difficult journey African-American men make in coping with the personal and social devastation of the epidemic.Marlon Riggs is regarded as one of the most prominent media artists and critics of the late ’80s to early ’90s. His extensive output included insightful, personal, and controversial documentaries about black gay identity. His works sparked debate over government grants and of television censorship.

-Then and Now: 35 Years of HIV/AIDS – Timeline Installation and Evening Film Series (2015)

December 1, 2015 – December 31, 2015

about this iteration

In the form of a large-scale text installation run across the Museum’s 4th floor public galleries, a timeline of HIV/AIDS charted the intersections of medicine and social topics from the first recorded appearance of the disease in 1981 to the present day. Its grand scale operated simultaneously as immersive resource and solemn memorial. The timeline was open to the public through the Month of December and used extensively by visitors, particularly during group and school visits. This installation was complimented by two free evening film screenings selected for the contrasting treatment of their shared subject – David France’s “How to Survive a Plague” documenting the explosive activism forged in the crucible of the AIDS crisis, and Derek Jarman’s “Blue” delivering a personal, poetic, and evanescent account of ailing from AIDS.

about the films and their directors

Faced with their own mortality an improbable group of young people, many of them HIV-positive young men, broke the mold as radical warriors taking on Washington and the medical establishment. “How to Survive a Plague” [2012] is the story of two coalitions—ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group)—whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition. Despite having no scientific training, these self-made activists infiltrated the pharmaceutical industry and helped identify promising new drugs, moving them from experimental trials to patients in record time. With unfettered access to a treasure trove of never-before-seen archival footage from the 1980s and ’90s, filmmaker David France puts the viewer in the middle of the controversial actions, the heated meetings, the heartbreaking failures, and the exultant breakthroughs of heroes in the making. (Screened December 1, 2015, 6:00PM – 8:00PM)

In his final and most daring cinematic statement (a year before his death from AIDS in 1994), “Blue” [1993] lays bare filmmaker Derek Jarman’s physical and spiritual struggle through a rich soundscape of voices and music—set against a pure cobalt screen. The British filmmaker is remembered as a maverick, and champion of the New Queer Cinema – emphasizing a rejection of heteronormativity, a plurality of sexual expressions, and a focus on characters operating outside the traditional social bounds. (Screened December 15, 2015, 6:00PM – 7:30PM)