In the early days of the epidemic, people living with HIV/AIDS often felt isolated and lacked sufficient care and stable housing, leaving many to die in the shadows of neglect and shame. Today, the Museum of the City of New York’s exhibit AIDS at Home: Art and Everyday Activism brings intimate stories of the epidemic to light and reexamines caretaking and community through photography, paintings, film and archival objects from activist groups.
“Looking at HIV/AIDS through the lens of home reveals a largely untold story and changes our understanding of the epidemic, both who is impacted and what counts as activism,” curator Stephen Vider said in the exhibit’s press release. He noted that although many chronicles of the AIDS crisis in New York City emphasize public activism and medical innovation, an enormous part of the epidemic’s history has unfolded far from the public eye, often in people’s own homes.
According to the museum’s press release, to better explore this hidden history, the exhibit is divided into the three themes below, as well as a coda looking at responses to HIV/AIDS in the present.
One of the earliest responses to the epidemic was the establishment of caretaking networks to address the physical and emotional needs of people living with AIDS. This section of the exhibit focuses on caretaking efforts, including the Buddy Program at Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), which matched people who had HIV/AIDS with friends for socialization and support, and God’s Love We Deliver, a meal delivery program; it also features sculptures, painting and photographs.
Housing and Homelessness
The epidemic also led to a spike in homelessness as people living with AIDS lost or were forced out of their apartments by a range of circumstances. This section examines the organizations that emerged to tackle this problem, including Housing Works, an advocacy group that emerged from ACT UP. Other works of art in the section reflect on gentrification and conditions within city-funded supportive housing.
The early epidemic also started conversations about the meanings and limits of family. This section looks back to the emergence of domestic partnership and same-sex marriage. LGBT artists and activists pushed for an expanded vision of family and kinship that could include gay and lesbian couples and broader friendship and community networks.
Coda: HIV/AIDS at Home Today
This final section considers the ongoing experience of people living with HIV/AIDS and pays remembrance to those who died. The section also includes a short documentary by curator Vider and filmmaker Nate Lavey that looks at three artists and activists working today: Ted Kerr, of the caretaking collective What Would an HIV Doula Do? Wanda Hernandez-Parks, of the community group VOCAL-NY, and photographer Kia LaBeija.
AIDS at Home includes over 50 works of art by more than 20 well-known and emerging artists, along with items from activists and support organizations. The exhibit runs through October 22. To learn more click here.