“In the 80s we were talking about gay people, but we were talking about white gay people.”
In one line from DiAna’s Hair Ego REMIX, the purpose of last Friday’s World AIDS Day event at the UMMA was summarized; the museum was one of hundreds nationwide recognizing the day through screenings of ALTERNATE ENDINGS, RADICAL BEGINNINGS, a series of seven video artworks curated and presented by Visual AIDS, a nonprofit entering its 30th year of supporting HIV+ artists. Some works veered into traditional narrative and documentary territory while others were unquestionably experimental; yet all were common in their powerful centering of black narratives within conversation surrounding HIV/AIDS and queer/trans life, painting a picture of larger experience through intimate, individual video projects.
Two films from the event stood out to me in particular through their unique narrative approach and aesthetic distinctiveness; Atlantic is a Sea of Bones enveloped its audience in its swirling soapy water, colored lights, and powerful imagery of submergence and emergence from a tub as a drag queen reflected on her past from atop the Whitney Museum balcony. Directed by Reina Gossett, the short video served as an artistic celebration of black queer sexuality and history, as did Tiona Nekkia McClodden’s black-and-white art film, The Labyrinth 1.0, which made use of cuts of 16mm pornographic footage from 1970s bathrooms in what panelist Demario Longmire would describe as “an homage to this space where queer pleasure had happened.”
Featured together, the seven films screened at the UMMA began the process of reimagining what it means to be living with HIV/AIDS today through the ever-influential mediums of video and art film, turning needed attention to Black experiences and understandings of HIV/AIDS on World AIDS Day.