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UMMA promotes AIDS awareness at Day With(Out) Art programs

Alumna Maya Jordan views sections of the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt on display at the U-M Museum of Art. The museum hosted a series of programs as part of the 14th annual Day With(Out) Art, an event held in conjunction with World AIDS Day. (Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

America has largely forgotten about AIDS, say staff members at the U-M Museum of Art (UMMA).

In order to bring more attention to the disease and its effects on the art world, the museum hosted a series of programs as part of the 14th annual Day With(Out) Art. The event was held in conjunction with World AIDS Day.

The Day With(Out) Art originated to call attention to the loss caused by AIDS in the artistic community, says University curator Sean Ulmer. "It's a day of both mourning and activism," Ulmer says. "It recognizes the very talented and gifted people who have died of AIDS, and encourages people to stop for a moment and realize the artbe it poetry, literature, dance, music, performing arts or visual artsthat has not been made as a result of people who have died from the disease."

This year's events captured a diverse range of artistic expression. On Dec. 1, AIDS activist, art historian and journalist Robert Atkins spoke and gave a presentation at the museum. He narrated a slide show that provided the audience with divergent images of AIDS: some slides focused on photographers' response to the disease, showing pictures of emaciated victims, while others displayed works of art, such as the NAMES Project Quilt. Following his presentation, Atkins engaged in a dialogue with the audience about AIDS issues. Atkins' visit to campus was made possible by the School of Art and Design's Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Visitors Series.

A Dec. 2 poetry reading also was a part of the UMMA Day With(Out) Art observances. Sponsored by the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs, the Division of Student Affairs, the HIV/AIDS Resource Center and various poetry groups and poets, the reading provided local writers with an outlet for their work on AIDS topics.

Five pieces of the NAMES Project Quilt were displayed in the museum's apse until Dec. 4, each conveying personal reactions to AIDS and memorializing loved ones who died from it.

Each quilt piece, called a "block," contains eight individual panels. Submitted by the families and friends of AIDS victims around the world, these panels are selected and arranged by the NAMES Project Foundation in Atlanta. In all, the quilt contains 44,000 panels and weighs more than 50 tons. Some of the famous names honored on the quilt include ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, actor Rock Hudson and fashion designer Perry Ellis.

When requesting panels for the museum, Ulmer looked beyond the United States. On display were panels from Cuba, Spain and Germany, as well as an entire block from Thailand. Ulmer says AIDS has become especially devastating abroad, particularly in Africa, China and Japan. He cites the availability of medications for management of the disease as one reason AIDS goes ignored in this country.

"There are countries which can't afford to provide medications. ... Especially in Sub-Sarahan Africa, these drugs are cost-prohibitive," Ulmer says. "They are wiping out entire countries and enormous numbers of people are dying every day, greater than there ever was; people don't realize that."

At the same time, Ulmer stresses that AIDS still is growing in the United States, particularly in the 18­30 age group. He finds that the University is in a unique position to present projects like the AIDS quilt, which promotes art in conjunction with education. For this reason, pamphlets containing AIDS and safe sex information accompanied the exhibit in the museum apse.

"I think the museum has a responsibility to educate its audiences in one way or anotherand I think on this particular issue it is vital to do so," Ulmer says. "We received materials so that when people see these quilts and are moved by them, they might wish to pick up material to find out how they can prevent becoming a [name on a] panel themselves."

Ulmer finds that the AIDS quilt is an effective way to make the epidemic real for the viewer. By providing a specific name and face for the disease, Ulmer says, one can relate to the person the quilt panel commemorates.

"While the viewer probably doesn't know the deceased person firsthand, by gaining a glimpse into their livesa glimpse into the things that made them happy or things that other people would remember them forit makes the disease very real and personal," he says.

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