By KRISTA DRUMMOND
KENNESAW, Ga.– The Zuckerman Museum of Art is the only location in the South that hosts “Art AIDs America,” an exhibition that raises awareness and empathy regarding AIDs victims.
“Awareness does not necessarily always mean empathy,” said museum curator Sarah Higgins. “I think it’s an important aspect of this exhibition that it really never loses sight of the importance of not just telling people about a thing, but helping them relate to it.”
It took co-curators Rock Hushka and Dr. Jonathan Katz 10 years to put “Art AIDs America” together. Higgins said the faculty of the Zuckerman have been communicating with Hushka and Katz for the last three years to bring “Art AIDs America” to Kennesaw State University.
“This museum is ambitious, because this is a huge show,” Higgins said. “This is the kind of exhibition that you expect to see at really world class museums. For a museum this young to be taking it on and to have even been able to get it just sends a really powerful message about the future of this museum.” The exhibit will run at the Zuckerman until May 22.
When “Art AIDs America” was in Tacoma, Washington, it received protests due to the lack of African-American artists. Director of curatorial affairs Teresa Bramlette Reeves and Higgins addressed this issue by adding eight African-American artists to the exhibition.
“The impact I hope it has will be to rejuvenate people’s faith and belief in art to not just point at or comment on culture, but to actually participate in the way that culture moves forward,” said Higgins.
The show emphasizes the influence that the AIDs epidemic had on art. AIDs killed important artists who had careers that would have been vital to art history.
“American art during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s was very kind of cold in its modernity,” said Robert Sherer. “They didn’t really encourage artists to create artworks that were highly personal. … They wanted them to create artworks that had no real sense of authorship
“When AIDs came along and started killing off all their friends, they started trying to come up with ways to make art that would address the HIV AIDs crisis and there’s only one way to do that and that’s to get personal, to make art that’s personal.”
Sherer is a professor at Kennesaw State whose work is featured in the exhibition. Sherer has been painting with blood for years without fully knowing the impact it would have on people.
“I’ve had people get really freaked out when they realized that the pictures were painted with blood, much less HIV positive blood,” said Sherer. “I’ve had them jump back a few feet, like actually step back as if somehow the virus could jump through the picture frame and get them.”
Sherer usually paints with HIV negative blood, but for his painting of roses being cut, he used both HIV negative and HIV positive blood.
Referring to his painting, Sherer said, “You cannot tell somebody is HIV status simply by looking at them, you know. The red HIV positive blood and the HIV negative blood look identical. You couldn’t tell it apart.”
“Art AIDs America” aims to create awareness. Just as a sexual revolution brought an epidemic in the 70s and 80s, the same ideas could bring destruction to millennials. Instead, people should educate themselves and use preventive measures.
Sherer has had people tell him his work is too traditional and, because it is a type of warning, people sometimes feel judged for their sexual habits. “Art AIDs America” is not meant to be a judgment, but a cautionary tale to prevent history from repeating itself.
Higgins said after “Art AIDs America” leaves, “A View Beyond the Trees” will premiere on June 18. This show includes historic and contemporary landscape paintings and will be curated by Dr. Daniel E. Sachs.