Amy Sadao speaking about the need for mentorship within institutions

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 we invited to present a short statement about their work related to AIDS, art, and representation. Below Zach Frater, asks Edwin Ramoran and Amy Sadao how they navigate working in institutions as people of color.

ZACH: Hi everyone, I am Zach Frater. This question is for Mr. Ramaron and Ms. Sadao. We were talking a little bit before there are these histories that need to be shared. We all know friends whose work we want to have a platform. I would love Kia's work—both with grenAIDS and LaBeija—to be better known. I think at the same time, as a queer of color I fear that institutions tend to cannibalize a lot of the work that we make, not just for institutions, but work we may even make for ourselves or outside of that institution, in clubs - like voguing for example. I don't think it is a coincidence that we have - I tend to feel more comfortable at Dirty Looks or the Pop Up Museum, we don't - we almost, fear institutions. We don't want our work to be misinterpreted, I think. I guess my question is, how can we solve it - I mean not solve it - how, as people of color in institutions, how do you navigate - I mean, I feel sometimes - I would love to have an internship at the studio museum - well that is different - I would love to do an internship at MoMA. But at the same time I don't want to be the only one that looks like me and have to explain what this work is about, or on the other hand, hear what they think the work is about. How do you navigate that as people of color in intuitions?

EDWIN: It's funny that you said you wanted to do more related programming. World AIDS Day, Day With(out) Art—Can you imagine the Studio Museum being asked to do more Kwanzaa? So it is very much the tokenizing that happens. And you know what? Go get that internship at MoMA, because we need you there. Navigate is one thing. I glossed over a lot of the stuff I had done because we have a huge panel but I have been very fortunate to have been pushed by organizations like Visual AIDS as much as they are not institution, they are not MoMA, they are not the Met.

We put too much faith in museums. I came from a museum - so here I am. I think we do, we honestly do, put to much faith in museums, and they are not going to be the best, the most progressive the way we are thinking about it today—too be honest. And I have to give props to the organizations that do, to the alternative spaces that have been doing it for a long time, that were oppositional to the institution. I was fortunate to work with a lot of groups: APICHA in particular, a lot of street work that happened out of there, Street Works, the Latex Ball. These were all founded on very separatist notions, in a way. And this is important.

We always talk about de facto, de jour, like separatism within the US context; we have a lot of institutions and organizations that were founded back during the civil rights and gay and lesbian movement. They were founded to push forth—not a separatist notion—but really to find a way to integrate a lot of different voices and histories.

It is funny to always ask Visual AIDS to do World AIDS Day - don't ever ask them to do that. Cause every day is World AIDS Day. Everyday is Day Without Art. Everyday is Kwanzaa, everyday is Christmas. I have always been, the most progressive work I have done, has not been at museums. So I am never going trust them to tell my story. Not to be a pessimist. Yeah, Amy!

AMY: That is a hard one. When I got to the museum I was like wow, I was talking to so friends in Philly and I actually did an event where I went with my assistant and some artists I have worked with in the past and a few people I knew from Philly like Dan (Fishback) and Ezra (Nepon) and just put the word out to queer and trans activists, and also cultural workers to say, come over, meet the new director and why don't we all have a coffee and do a potluck or something. About 40 or 50 people showed up, and it was interesting. A lot people said “we want to see this in the museum”, or “we want to program this in the museum” and I said, I just got here in Philly and I will tell you that we do six shows a year and that is that and some of them will come from these ideas—and we are going to take that to the curatorial team. And part of that is by me. Like I do things outside.

I am coming from New York where my world was working with a lot of different people. Inside and beyond Visual AlDS, which was not even—it's an institution but not. And that I want a part outside of the museum and that is really important to me. I mean, I am with Edwin, take the internship at MoMA.

During these conversations I kept saying—it is interesting what ICA programs. Like, how they have Wu's film and they have all the people talking there, but the institution itself seems really straight and white and I went, yeah, cause it is an institution. What is great about ICA is it's connection to this Ivy League institution - but it's an Ivy League institution. And that is what it looks like, and trying to change that…I remember talking to Pato Hebert before I left, and he told me about how when he played football in high school and when he got to college there was a draft and you bring the kids up from pee wee, and think about that not only in terms of bringing people to museums. That is why we work here. I totally work here because people of color, queer people, activists, went out of their way and said, “you are smart, you can do this, come do this with us”. I think bringing people into an educational system, bring people in to Penn and—at the very least—what I am trying to do is create a sense of transparency. Because I don't really know another way to interact with people because of where I come from, which is bringing kids in. Queer, trans kids in from places like The Attic, or The In-School Project and literally have them come and sit in my office and I can tell you about ICA and why I am the Director: cause I worked for 10 years for Visual AIDS, and this incredible artist did this and taught me this. And this is the back of the museum, and it is not that much different. That girl down there is now the program curator. She got a scholarship.

At least for the people that work in the institutions there is more of a level - a sense people can break in there and hopefully we can transform these institutions.

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