CHAMPAIGN — At first glance, the issues playing out on the screen in the lower level of Krannert Art Museum throughout December might not seem to directly intersect.
A 55-minute loop of seven videos will play, discussing homelessness, drug use, race and class.
“Each one is different from the last and each brings up a whole different set of rich issues,” said museum Curator Amy Powell.
The short documentary-style videos all have at least one thing in common, though: They discuss those topics in the context of HIV and AIDS.
The collection of short films is commissioned by Visual AIDS, an organization that utilizes art to highlight issues concerning HIV and AIDS. The topics of the videos, which will play in similar exhibits across the country, include a look at Keith Cylar, who helped find housing for homeless New Yorkers living with AIDS; the disproportionate effects of HIV on black women living in the South; the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS; and more.
“Recognizing that the fight against HIV and AIDS is an intersectional issue, it involves so many different ways of thinking, whether it’s homelessness or drug use, race and class, and that was true of activists and artists in the ’80s and ’90s," Powell said. "So we still have a lot to learn from that time and from folks who are involved now.”
On Monday, which is World AIDS Day, the films will play on loop both at Krannert Art Museum and in the lobby of Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. They’ll continue to play on loop at the museum through Dec. 23.
“It’s just such a powerful program that we wanted to show it a little bit longer,” Powell said. “We’ve worked in the past with (the UI’s Department of) Gender and Women’s Studies, and I’ve heard from their students and faculty how moving the program is, both from an artistic perspective and a kind of social justice activist perspective.”
To Powell, the program isn’t simply about HIV and AIDS or any of the specific topics discussed, although keeping alive the conversation about the disease is part of the mission. It’s about the legacy of activism surrounding the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and ’90s and learning how to apply it to current times.
“It’s important for a few reasons to keep that time alive,” Powell said. “First, because the AIDS crisis is not over. And for whom it’s not over is a big question. But also ... those strategies of protest are useful again to us today.
“We are living in a time of crisis, and we have a lot to learn from our forebears in the arts who were activists and who organized when they were facing death and extermination.”