'The Graying of AIDS'
Art Center exhibit focuses on America’s largest group of people living with HIV/AIDS
By Carl Kozlowski 04/21/2011
Over the past two decades, scientific advances have made HIV/AIDS a long-term chronic disease that is not always fatal. But just as medicine has moved closer to a cure, so too has HIV/AIDS been redefined as a disease that not only affects young, gay men.
Over the years, we’ve come to understand that HIV and AIDS have touched the lives of people from every walk — from those infected through blood transfusions, others by careless intravenous drug use, and many through unprotected sex.
Today, as a result of education and these new understandings on the range of the disease, loss of life is no longer a given. In fact, people with AIDS are living much longer, and by 2015 half the people in America suffering with HIV/AIDS will be over 50.
In an attempt to educate the public about this increasingly important issue for the nation’s senior community, Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design presents “The Graying of AIDS Exhibition: Off the Wall,” part of the larger “Graphic Intervention: 25 Years of International AIDS Awareness Posters” exhibit at the college’s Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery through Sunday.
“Our project tries to address ageism and living with HIV/AIDS among older adults,” says Brian Rea, an instructor with the Art Center’s illustration department who teaches the school’s Off the Wall installation-art course. “Often they’re seen as statistics, so the students really took it upon themselves to address that, and take the most powerful things being said and make them the most accessible for those who might view the piece.”
Rea first learned of the project after being approached by Art Center’s educational department, Designmatters, which aligns students and faculty with outside organizations to produce art and design that can affect social change. Rea’s Off the Wall course, housed in the Illustration Department, teaches experimental image-making and installation work as they apply to illustration and design.
“The Graying of AIDS Exhibition: Off The Wall” is directly inspired by the national public awareness campaign, The Graying of AIDS, the first and only broad-based education and prevention effort dedicated to the issues of older adults and HIV/AIDS. Through the work of New York-based team Katja Heinemann and Naomi Schegloff, The Graying of AIDS campaign is bringing a vital public consciousness to the forefront, and educating health care and social service professionals about the risks, the damaging stigmas, and the inspiring truths associated with older adults and HIV/AIDS in our world today. Class members came up with a range of innovative ideas to help “The Graying of AIDS” campaign deliver its message.
Since the national campaign focuses on photo-based documentary essays about people’s stories, Rea and his students decided against an image-based exhibition . They had two days to install their piece after two weeks of brainstorming, and in the end used coffee and tea mugs with special messages emblazoned on them.
“Students wanted to have things that everyone can relate to from their homes, but which speak about the elderly in some way,” explains Rea. “They used coffee mugs or tea mugs that anyone can relate to having at home and which have identifiers on them like ‘World’s Best Grandmother’ and very simple, charming homespun graphics. They did one for every demographic, family member or activity and hobby an older person might have.”
Indeed, some of the 30 mugs in the final exhibit include messages for Democrats, Republicans and members the tea party. There are also numerous social groups represented, including bocce ball players, quilters, moms and grandmas — illustrating how people with AIDS who are over 50 are part of a diverse, stereotype-defying group. Once all the mugs were designed with those traditional-sounding phrases, the students then added stark reminders of the central message, with the result being phrases like “Grandma With AIDS” or “Grandpa With HIV.”
Finally, the specially designed mugs were hung along a solid line at eye level, attached to kitchen hooks along a large wall that is painted solid red. The wall is surrounded by the rest of the exhibition, which features more than 100 AIDS-awareness posters that have been utilized in worldwide campaigns over the past 25 years.
“‘The Graying of AIDS’ is pointing out AIDS is an aging disease, due to the fact medical advances are helping people live with it much longer,” says Rea. “People over the age of 50 are also sexually active, and we as a culture don’t think of older adults as sexually active. People who are suddenly widowed or divorced are out dating again and not asking questions about this disease.”
“The Graying of AIDS” is part of the “Graphic Intervention: 25 Years of International AIDS Awareness Posters” exhibition showing through Sunday at the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery of the Art Center College of Design, 1700 Lida St., Pasadena. Call (626) 396-2446 or visit artcenter.edu.