The following statement was written by Jonathan David Katz for the (re)Presenting AIDS public forum on culture and accountability hosted by Visual AIDS, the Pop Up Museum of Queer History, and the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at CUNY on August 20th. It was read by Visual AIDS programs manager Ted Kerr.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Statement by Jonathan David Katz

Beginning in the early summer of 2015-16, we’ll be mounting a traveling, four-museum exhibition called ArtAIDSAmerica—a project whose very title, with the word AIDS mediating between Art and America, gives a clue as to its politics. Refuting the view of AIDS as merely a tragic tangent to American culture, with no lasting or generative import, ArtAIDSAmerica instead makes it clear that AIDS has long been a motor of change in American cultural life—often most powerfully when and where it has been most powerfully repressed.

Refusing minoritizing narratives, ones that suggest that others, or the Other, had AIDS, we begin from the recognition that AIDS is collective and communal. From this perspective, we then explore how and why AIDS culture developed a range of strategies, from activist declaration to the most baroque codings, to negotiate the variously phobic contexts of the last 30 years. Central to our thinking is that AIDS is always in dialog with a larger cultural context, its meanings never its own. As a result, AIDS activism often took on a double charge—to refute general prejudice and ignorance while mobilizing isolated individuals into a community with the power to begin to define themselves.