Trucks towing illuminated billboards aren’t unusual to see on New York City streets. But on December 1, a fleet of them will carry a special message: The AIDS epidemic, and fight against it, continues.
For World AIDS Day, the contemporary artist and activist Jenny Holzer will turn the city into a performance piece by dispatching roving billboards featuring quotes about the epidemic from people living with HIV and/or AIDS, artists, activists, poets, and educators. It’s part of #LightTheFight, an event that commemorates World AIDS Day and celebrates the launch of the NYC AIDS Memorial Arts and Education Initiative, a program that will support artwork that honors people who have been affected by HIV and/or AIDS, from caregivers to activists and people who have died from related illnesses.
While AIDS epidemic is no longer front-page news and medicine has advanced so that a diagnosis isn’t life-threatening, it’s still a global health crisis. Over 39 million of people around the world are living with HIV. In 2017, 940,000 people died from AIDS-related complications and 1.8 million people became newly infected.
According to the World Health Organization, HIV remains a public health problem because it “disproportionally affects people in vulnerable populations that are often highly marginalized and stigmatized” and because “most new HIV infections and deaths are seen in places where certain higher-risk groups remain unaware, underserved or neglected.” Men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, people in prisons, sex workers, or transgender people, or the sexual partners of these individuals, account for 75 percent of new HIV infections outside of Sub-Saharan Africa.
New York City was profoundly changed because of the infection, socially, culturally, politically, and even spatially. But awareness is still a challenge. Holzer’s performance piece both raises awareness about HIV and AIDS today, and its history. The organizers and artist hope it evokes anger, hope, sorrow, respect, empathy, tenderness, and action in people who see it.
It will begin at the AIDS Memorial in St. Vincent’s Triangle—a sliver of public space south of the hospital regarded as “ground zero” for the epidemic in the 1980s. The trucks will then stop at historically significant sites in the city, including the Whitney Museum, the Piers, Times Square, the LGBT Community Center, and Harlem.
“We were inspired to create a living, breathing, mobile NYC AIDS Memorial, one steeped in history with an eye towards the future as the epidemic isn’t over,” says Keith Fox, chair of the board of directors for the NYC AIDS Memorial Arts and Education Initiative. “Our goal of the performance is to revisit the NYC’s history which has moments of darkness and sorrow, but also contains voices and acts that are heroic, political, and inspiring.”
The performance begins on December 1 at 4:30 p.m. at St. Vincent’s triangle and includes a Flower Bomb installation by Lewis Miller. Visit nycaidsmemorial.org for more information.