Krannert Art Museum to screen short films on World AIDS Day

Mykki Blanco.jpg

Mykki Blanco, STONES & WATER WEIGHT, 2017. Video still courtesy of the artist.
Mykki Blanco, STONES & WATER WEIGHT, 2017. Video still courtesy of the artist.

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Thomas Allen Harris, About Face: The Evolution of a Black Producer, 2017. Video still courtesy of the artist.
Thomas Allen Harris, About Face: The Evolution of a Black Producer, 2017. Video still courtesy of the artist.
Jodi Heckel - University of Illinois News Bureau

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Krannert Art Museum will show seven short films about the impact of the AIDS crisis in black communities, in recognition of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.

The program “Alternate Endings, Radical Beginnings” is part of Day With(out) Art. It is the first year the museum is hosting the film program, which is commissioned by the New York-based arts organization Visual AIDS.

This year’s theme for the film program is AIDS in black communities. In 2016, African Americans represented 44 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in the U.S., according to Visual AIDS. The seven films were all made by black queer artists. Amy Powell, the curator of modern and contemporary art at Krannert Art Museum, said it is important to highlight voices that are not usually heard.

“These artists are asking some of the most important questions for us today. I’m interested in the work that will be shown,” she said. “It’s important to show these works to broader audiences who might not know about the issues otherwise and to rally community around the folks who do. HIV/AIDS is not always framed as the urgent issue that it is. This is a way, from the art world, to reach a broader public.”

This year’s project, “Alternate Endings, Radical Beginnings,” is curated by Erin Christovale, the assistant curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and Vivian Crockett, a New York-based researcher, scholar and curator focusing on the art of African and Afro-latinx disaporas and Latin American art.  The videos selected for this year’s Day With(Out) Art will be screened internationally and will be made available online.

“What’s important to remember, it’s a day of activism and of mourning to bring awareness to the public on the effects of HIV and AIDS on everyone, not just the gay community, and to remember the people whose lives have been lost. It continues to bring awareness that the AIDS crisis isn’t over,” Powell said.

This year’s films will play continuously on three video monitors in the lobby of Krannert Art Museum from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 1-2. Each film is about seven minutes long.

Powell said many of the museums and galleries hosting the films sometimes organize screenings for groups to see the films together, then talk about them. She hopes to do the same at Krannert Art Museum in the future.

“I love this format as way to come together around a shared project with a community screening on one day across the country,” Powell said.

The filmmakers are: Mykki Blanco, a writer and hip hop recording artist living with HIV; Cheryl Dunye, a filmmaker, Guggenheim Fellow and professor in San Francisco State University’s School of Cinema; Reina Gossett, an artist, director and longtime community organizer on behalf of the LGBTQ community; Thomas Allen Harris, a filmmaker, Guggenheim Fellow and president of Chimpanzee Productions, a company that produces feature length films, performances and live multimedia productions; Kia LaBeija, a visual artist living with HIV who uses portraiture and performance art to explore community, politics, fine art and activism; Tiona Nekkia McClodden, a curator, visual artist and filmmaker whose work explores race, gender, sexuality and social commentary; and Brontez Purnell, a writer, musician and founder of the Brontez Purnell Dance Company, which creates works that combine punk rock subversion, free jazz improvisation, dancers and artists.

The Department of Gender and Women’s Studies is co-presenting the film program.

“This kind of work has to be done year-round. The challenge for us as an institution is how we facilitate conversations around art’s capacity to address social change and public health,” Powell said.

Visual AIDS organized the first Day With(out) Art in 1989 for the second World AIDS Day. More than 800 arts organizations, museums and galleries shrouded artworks and replaced them with information about HIV and AIDS. Visual AIDS has initiated a number of other projects since to commemorate World AIDS Day, including the dimming of the New York City skyline.

Since 2010, it has distributed films to various organizations, and in 2014 it began commissioning artists and filmmakers to create short videos sharing personal stories about the AIDS epidemic.

Note: This article was originally published November 27, 2017 by the University of Illinois News Bureau.