Art in the age of AIDS

Issue 

Art in the age of AIDS

Don't Leave Me This Way — Art in the Age of AIDS
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Until March 5
Reviewed by Kath Gelber

At the opening night of this exhibition, Australian artist Brenton Heath-Kerr wandered among the regular patrons naked and sick. He wore a latex body suit, complete with hospital drip and only one eye to see from. He wanted to make a statement — about the medical interventions, humiliation and pain that make up the everyday lives of people living with HIV/AIDS-related conditions.

This exhibition makes many statements, some more and some less subtle. It seeks to broaden its audience's understanding that this virus has reached into the lives and homes of many of us, regardless of sexual preference, age, gender or skin colour. The photos of people living with the virus are poignant and realistic.

One section is devoted to the more political aspects of the epidemic. A poster declares, "Women don't get AIDS — they just die from it", a testament to the slowness of the US Centre for Disease Control in classifying diseases women with HIV were getting as "AIDS-related". Panels from the ever-growing quilt make their own statement.

Dark humour manages to surface more often than you would expect, evidence of the many different methods people call on to get them through the anger and grief. "It's my party and I'll die if I want to, sugar" on a colourful T-shirt is one that sticks in your mind.

On the way in, patrons are warned that the exhibition contains candid presentations of sexuality and death. It is candid. But in the age of AIDS this kind of openness, frankness and honesty is sorely needed.

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