Inside the Collection

World AIDS Day 2016

HIV is still here – and it’s on the move

Detail of Inside/Out installation
Inside/Out, Sebastian Zagarella

For folk who lived through the 1980s, AIDS was an omnipresent gargoyle. The disease was part of the contemporary culture. It had insinuated itself into current affairs stories and commercials, into youth culture, gay culture, tea-room discussions, into jokes, bullying; and into people’s bodies.

Despite the reality of what it meant to have AIDS, people diagnosed with the disease and the people who loved them achieved some acceptance – and ownership.

AIDS does not have the presence it did the in the 1980’s and 1990’s mainstream media, and it has thankfully lost its teeth (though not all of them) as a catalyst for bullying and exclusion; however, it remains a serious illness which requires ongoing research, activism, awareness and – as the theme of World Aids Day 2016 states – HIV is still here – and it’s on the move.

This year the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences will be a host for World Aids Day – December 1. Organised and promoted by Positive Life NSW, the event will allow the Museum to display two sections of the AIDS Quilt – one of the most poignant reminders of the impact of AIDS. The Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt, 97 sections of which of which are in the Powerhouse Museum collection, has been made by partners, families and friends of people who have passed away from AIDS. Each quilt comprises up to eight panels, each of which represents the life of one or more people who died from AIDS.

Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt
Quilt, Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt, remembering Steve, Morris Burns, Gordon, Michael, Maisie, Colin, Peter, Eddy, Danny, Emilio, Ian ‘Tracey Lee’ Turner, David Waters and JCB; Mahmoodi, Positive Women, Families of the South Support Group and Troy Lovegrove.

The event will also feature a significant artwork installation by Sebastian Zagarella. Inside/Out is Sebastian’s latest work which breaks a long hiatus from a highly prolific decade of work.

When Sebastian seroconverted – when the viris became detectable – in 2003 he was struck by the lack of dialogue around what it was like to live with HIV on a daily basis. What followed was not only the start of a lengthy period of self-examination but also the start of his long, complicated and ever evolving relationship with his virus. The sum of which culminated in Inside-Out.

‘Life-defining illnesses are that by definition. They can’t help but make you reassess your life and impact the way you respond to the world and change the landscape of your life. Shadows appear in areas where there was once clarity and light is shed on new ways of living. ‘Inside/Out’ speaks of life-defining illnesses being ever-present. It aims to bridge the gap between the battle that is happening inside, at a cellular level, and out.’ – Sebastian Zagarella, artist.

Photograph of Sebastian Zagarella
Sebastian Zagarella
Inside/Out Exhibition signage

The installation works around a friendly rendering of the AIDS virus cell, applied to the walls, floor coverings, and furnishings of a contemporary domestic environment. Inside/Out reveals the experience of having the AIDS virus now. It defines everything. It is part of the make-up of life. The recurring motif of the virus cell reminds us of this; and the way Zagarella has seamlessly woven it into his work shows us is not ugly or imminently threatening – just always there. The domestic setting allows for conversations about this.

Detail of HIV cell
HIV cell, Sebastian Zagarella
Inside/Out exhibition views
Inside/Out, Sebastian Zagarella
Inside/Out chair
Inside/Out, Sebastian Zagarella

‘My greatest hope in creating Inside/Out was to offer an opportunity for those present to stop and consider the reality of living with this life-defining illness daily and encourage personal conversations about experiences often left unspoken. There is no longer shame in living with HIV.’ – Sebastian Zagarella, artist.

Inside/Out is perfectly apt for World AIDS Day 2016. HIV is still here – and it’s on the move. We as a community need to be having discussions about it. Both having the illness, and being aware of how to prevent the future spread of the illness. Thankfully, we no longer have the grim reaper dispensing with bourgeois families and their babies on primetime television. But we do still have AIDS in the community. There were 1081 new HIV diagnoses in Australia in 2014. Although HIV is considered a chronic but manageable condition in Australia, we need to engage our friends and family in a conversations about HIV, and take opportunities to increase understanding, decrease stigma and dispel the myths that still exist in our society. Attending World AIDS Day events, or simply wearing a red ribbon on December 1 can start this.

Damian McDonald

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