A weekend of pre-conference activities that marked the start of AIDS 2014 was about to begin when the shocking news of MH17 hit. While stories of the tragedy flood our media and muffle coverage of the conference itself, Liberation Arts Network turns its focus on two of the pre-conference initiatives that used art to reach out to the public and share information on an important, and often overlooked, subject.
We gathered in the cold on Friday night outside the Hamer Hall. It wasn’t just the Melbourne winter that chilled us; the day’s news had brought fresh sorrow to an already sobering event.
We were supposed to be celebrating. Youth Empowerment Against HIV/AIDS, known as YEAH, was set to reveal their champion initiative: a digital art installation projected onto the façade of the Art Centre’s Hamer Hall that told the story of HIV today and the hopes for Australia’s first HIV-free generation.
The project would mark the start of the 20th International AIDS Conference, hosted this year by Melbourne, where thousands of scientists, activists, researchers, and key HIV advocates come together until July 25 to share knowledge and spread hope.
But sadly, several attendees of the conference were on their way to Melbourne via Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 that was shot down over Ukraine. The gathering turned from an uplifting look towards the future to a memorialisation of the key thinkers, activists, and fellow humans lost that day.
In an eloquent address to the crowd outside Hamer Hall, CEO and co-founder of YEAH, Alischa Ross, made a moving appeal.
“As tragedy heavies our hearts, so too does it offer the opportunity to strengthen our solidarity…and search deep in our collective humanity to hold hope for our future.”
Unperturbed in her determination, Ross pushed us to share that courage.
“Every life lost is one too many.”
“Our community strength and leadership is our resolve.”
To commemorate and acknowledge the lives affected by HIV today and in years gone, YEAH created Honouring the Past & Hope For the Future: Towards an HIV Free Generation, and projected it onto a cultural icon of Melbourne visible to many. Through a series of digital images, the installation featured original art created by artists from Melbourne and her six sister cities- Osaka, Tianjin, Thessaloniki, Boston, St Petersburg, and Milan- displayed proudly alongside visuals of panels crafted for the Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt.
Little more than a year ago, the idea to make this digital installation came to be. Ross was thinking about a way to reach out and “educate the public” and “positively inspire people to take action”. She decided to incorporate the work of the Memorial Quilt.
“I thought about how each one of these [quilt] panels is an artwork, and a dedication to a life,” she said.
Ross keenly understands what these panels mean for those who made them. A young woman now, she contributed her own quilt panel when she was 14 years old “to honour the life of my sister, who died so young, before treatments were even available.”
The Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt was officially launched on World AIDS Day, 1 December 1988 and gave birth to a strong motto: “See it and Understand”. Echoing this sentiment, Hope For The Future was punctuated with key ideas and statistics that were informative, moving, yet also encouraging, with contributions from local and international leaders. Barack Obama was quoted saying, “Our goal is no less than an HIV-free generation”.
Ross summed up their aim simply: “I hope, more than ever, the narrative we share tonight will engage the public…to recognise and understand the ongoing impact of HIV – here and around the world.”
Engaging the public through art didn’t stop there. Joining up with the AIDS 2014 Melbourne Youth Force, YEAH presented Legacy Street Art Project, where Youth Pre-conference participants could share their voice and leave their legacy in a mural painted along a public wall at the Queen Victoria Market.
Shortly after midday on Saturday, the young participants arrived at the Queen Street end of the Market and were greeted by spray paint and gear, as well as a stencil-framed, undercoated section of wall. But before painting could begin on the wall, participants designed and cut their stencils and a practice session was held.
The Legacy Street Art Project was funded by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation. It stands as a symbol of the movement towards greater understanding and participation in discussions about HIV/AIDS and discrimination.