Kia Benbow speaking at (re)Presenting AIDS: Culture and Accountability

On August 22, 2013, Visual AIDS along with the Pop Up Museum of Queer History and the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, held a public forum entitled, (re)Presenting AIDS: Culture and Accountability. The event was recorded and transcribed. Panelists were invited to present a short statement about their work related to AIDS, art, and representation. Below, artist Kia LaBeija discusses her work with grenAIDS, speaks with Ann Northrop about the need to address children in schools, and talks about her mom.

KIA: Hello everyone. I hope you are all doing well today. Thank you so much for coming and thank you so much Ted for inviting me. My name is Kia, I am HIV+. I have been positive for 23 years, I was born with HIV, I lost my mom when I was 14 and since then I have been trying to piece together how to help the younger generation deal with this. I feel like something that is not spoken about a lot is the children that are born HIV+ and I think that is a big issue. A lot of us born to positive parents we lose our parents, and we lose that kind of guidance of how we relate to the world, being positive, being young, being sexual, being all these kinds of things. So I co-founded grenAIDS, a new artists’ collective, and what we are trying to do is reach out to the younger generation by using our art and connecting with popular culture. We really want to create something the younger generation can really cling on to, not just because it is something important to talk about, because it is something interesting to them, it catches their eye. I feel like there has been a lot of art - not just art - but I feel like the representation of HIV/AIDS is kind of a little old. I feel like it needs to be brought to the forefront, it needs to have a fresh look. It is not over, it's not done. It's not dead, it's still happening.

I feel like one way we can get people to notice is if we do work that is aggressive and stuff that people will really take notice of. It is interesting, innovative, and colorful. You know, it does not have to be sad. It does not have to be black and red. It can be pink, and blue, and all these other things, you know? And what we are trying to do is really trying to help de-stigmatize people living with HIV. We want to help differentiate between HIV and person. Because there is a very big difference and I feel like a lot of people just don't see that.

Some of the things we are working on are things like posters and t-shirts and things that are interesting to carry around. You know, bags and things that will say something like, “HIV is not racist, but you are”. That is kind of what we are trying to get at. You know, “HIV is not sexist, but you are”. “HIV is not homophobic, but you are homophobic”. I am really happy to be here today and that is all I have to say right now.

ANN: Can I ask a question? Are you trying to politicize people at all? Or are you trying to educate them about basic facts?

KIA: Well, it is kind of both. We want to educate and we also want to point out the people that are doing wrong. I spoke at an HIV/AIDS assembly at my high school that I went to, a performing arts high school in midtown, and I spoke to all the high schoolers and the middle schoolers. And after I was done I had all these middle schoolers coming up to me, 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, saying “Oh my god, thank you so much for coming to talk to us about it because we don't know anything about this. I don't know anything about this. No one ever talks to us about this, I don't understand it, and I don't get it." That is the reason why there are more cases of people getting HIV, because it is not being talked about to the youth, it is not being talked about to them. And that is so important. And then they can't protect themselves. And it makes me go - I didn't even have the chance to protect myself. I didn't have that chance. And I would like to give that opportunity to everyone else, to the people who are in those situations, you know. I hear friends of my mine talking about having unprotected sex and all this kind of stuff and I am like, guys, c'mon. Think.

Download the full transcript at: (re)Presenting AIDS transcript

Kia LaBeija