Ethan Toth / Contributing Writer
To commemorate World AIDS Day, FIU recently held a virtual event; “Positive: HIV in the Arts, Medicine, and Everyday Life.”
The panel brought together choreographers, professors, and medical experts to discuss HIV and how it affects the arts, medicine, and everyday life.
The panel was hosted by the director of the Center for Humanities in an Urban Environment, Phillip Carter.
“There should be no shame associated with illness and no shame associated with prevention,” said Carter.
Alexandra Cornelius, director of FIU’s Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, noted people often gravitate towards the arts and humanities to escape traumatic experiences, adding that artists offer means for people to face the fear of a public health crisis.
Panelists discussed the artistic effects of HIV at length, such as, how it affected artists mentally and physically.
Miami based choreographer Pioneer Winter described how dance affected performers with HIV.
“The body can’t hide. Those who perform with HIV visibly wore the effects of the disease on their skin and asked audiences to witness their lives,” Winter said.
Winter’s recounted the story of Bill T. Jones, a choreographer whose performances such as “D-Man in the Waters” (1989) and “Still/Here” (1994) encapsulated AIDS culture at the time.
After Winters spoke, assistant professor of history at FIU, Dan Royles focused almost entirely on the lives of Joe Beam, Essex Hemphill, and Marlon Riggs, all black, queer, artists who lived with AIDS.
Royles showed a clip from Riggs’ documentary, “Tongues Untied” were gay, black, male protesters carried a sign that read “Black Men Loving Black Men.”
“It means that black men’s self-love, self-esteem, and caring for one another is a revolutionary act, and it’s that message, created in the context of one epidemic, that makes this work so relevant today,” Royles commented.
The panel also discussed how HIV affected the community and those within it.
Jennifer Brier, a professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and History at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was hesitant to compare COVID-19 to HIV, as medicine alone would not be the key.
“Medicine alone will never be the silver bullet to end disease and ill-health,” Brier said.
Brier played the audio of one woman’s journey living with HIV, Marta Santiago, who Brier believes to be one of the oldest living women with the disease.
Shortly after, professor of anthropology at FIU, Mark Padilla, discussed PhotoVoice, a technique that uses photographs to reflect a large-scale issue then analyzes it and calls for action, usually through community-based participatory research.
This technique is also utilized in a course Padilla co-teaches, “PhotoVoice as Community Engagement”. Students immerse themselves in community events such as volunteering and fundraising for Pridelines, an LGBTQ youth development program.
“Students were the protagonists, every step of the way,” Padilla said.
Mellon assistant professor in the interdisciplinary humanities at Wake Forest University, William Mosley, also spoke of his personal experience in Miami in the early 2000s.
“That time of my life as a black pre-teen, living in Miami, in which coming to terms with my queer sexuality came with an awareness of risk of contagion, that manifested most palpably in discourse of HIV, anti-Haitian sentiment and anti-blackness most broadly,” Mosley said.
He also spoke about how Miami was particularly effective at separating queerness and “latinidad” from blackness.
Associate professor at the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, Dr. Cheryl Holder took a medical stance on her presentation.
She recounted the first time she met an AIDS patient, a young man, in her fourth year of medical school and how she continues to treat young men in Liberty City today.
Holder continued by saying there did not seem to be an effort being made to further address the issue in Miami, which was the city with most new infections in 2015.
“We are going to end AIDS and we can.” Holder said.