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How to Make Art in a Global Epidemic: HIV/AIDS and the Arts

David Gere, Assistant Professor, World Arts & Cultures, University of California, Los Angeles

This project received a partial grant from CIRA

Project Description:


To kickstart a three-year initiative on global HIV/AIDS and the arts, which will be funded from several sources, we are requesting a UCLA Comparative and Interdisciplinary Research on Asia Grant to support a reading group and working group meeting in fall 2003, leading to an international conference on the subject of art and HIV to be held in Bangalore, India, summer 2004. The Bangalore conference will be followed up with a summary re-presentation of expanded conference papers back at UCLA in fall 2004, with an invited keynote speaker from India. This second conference will serve as an important stepping stone toward completion of a timely edited volume on the subject of art and global AIDS.

Tentatively titled How to Make Art in an Epidemic, this project—which is both comparative and interdisciplinary in its basic design—is meant to instigate a worldwide conversation among artists, activists, and academics on how the arts and artists can help stop the spread of this disease. Team leader David Gere, whose previous work has focused on theatrical AIDS choreography and AIDS protests by gay men in the U.S., is shaping the Indian component of the project while conducting research on art and AIDS in Bangalore as a Fulbright fellow. Street theater troupes performing AIDS plays at bus shelters; a popular detective drama on national television whose main character doubles as an AIDS educator; and AIDS-themed performances by the Bharata Natyam dancer Mallika Sarabhai are among the new Indian art genres to be addressed at the conference and written about in the resulting edited volume. Such artistic interventions are expected to prove particularly crucial in India, where some analysts are predicting the current sleeping epidemic to blossom to 20-25 million infections by 2010, up from 3.9 million in 2000. The primary goal of the team’s three-year initiative—with additional research in Suriname and South Africa, as well as a proposed museum exhibition—is to save lives by sharing tactics among global cultural workers and researchers. This first phase of this project will focus specifically on India, with a general focus on Asia. The disciplines represented will include cultural studies, performance studies, dance studies, epidemiology, molecular and cell biology, public health, and the new field of art and health, which includes aspects of each of the contributing disciplines.

The plan for fall 2003 is to begin with a reading group for faculty and graduate students, led by team member Robert Sember of Columbia University’s School of Public Health. (With funding from other sources, team leader Gere and Sember will co-teach a new undergraduate course on global HIV/AIDS and the arts in fall 2003; the proposed reading group will extend the work to faculty and graduate students.) At the conclusion of fall 2003 the team of faculty and graduate students will join in the daylong working group I to lay out the parameters of research and writing to be presented at the Bangalore conference in summer 2004. The conference in Bangalore will bring together the five faculty team members and five graduate students from UCLA with artists, activists, and academics from India, in situ. The event will include the presentation of papers by team members and Indian guests. The papers written by UCLA faculty and graduate students will be offered in a re-presentation to the UCLA public in fall 2004, with Rustom Bharucha as keynote speaker. Bharucha, who is based in Calcutta, is the author of seven books on the arts in post-colonial India and he is currently working on projects in relation to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Thus, he and his work will serve as the centerpiece of the summary UCLA event. Working group II will situate the papers for publication.

The publication of the resulting papers in an edited volume will be timed to coincide with a proposed museum exhibition, summer/fall 2006, on the arts in relation to global HIV. David Gere, who has coedited two previous volumes of scholarship, one for Schirmer Books, the other for Wesleyan University Press, will take responsibility for seeing the project through to publication. The proposed publisher is University of Wisconsin Press, publisher of Gere’s forthcoming book on dance and AIDS as well as two additional edited texts, one on dance, the other on AIDS and the arts, to which Gere has recently contributed. As the publisher of ongoing series on the arts and on lesbian and gay studies, with a history of publishing books on HIV, Wisconsin University Press provides the best possible venue for this publication. The Press has expressed preliminary interest in our project, contingent upon peer review of the complete manuscript.

2003 Reading Groups

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