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Winter 2004
Art in the Time of AIDS
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Daily Bruin staff at work

David Gere addresses attendees at the Make Art/Stop AIDS conference.

FOR SIX MONTHS THIS PAST YEAR Gere lived in India. Supported by a Fulbright grant and a $50,000 Global Impact Research Grant from the UCLA International Institute, he spent time with artists whose work deals directly with HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention. The trip culminated in July with Make Art/Stop AIDS, a four-day workshop in Kolkata (the city formerly known as Calcutta), followed by a daylong program in New Delhi that brought together a diverse international group of 65 artists and activists. Participants included an artist who features doctors and nurses instead of the usual mythical figures in her songs and “pats,” traditional scroll paintings; a puppeteer who humorously uses the exploits of a lascivious king to discuss condom use; street-theater groups who educate through skits and songs; a poet who adds AIDS-prevention lyrics to folk tunes hummed by village women; and a science teacher who created a shrine to an invented deity, AIDS-Amma, with educational messages on the icon.

Two dancers in expressive positionIn a country like India, where 43 percent of the adult population is illiterate and, according to the most conservative estimates of the World Health Organization and other international agencies, 4.5 million people are believed to be infected with HIV (a number that is second only to South Africa), utilizing theater, song and the folk arts may well be the best hope for raising awareness and getting a handle on the crisis.

“Art is the perfect way to get a message across to anyone, from the most educated person to the most illiterate,” says Gere. “You don’t need a lot of education to watch a puppet play or see a dance. Things that happen non-verbally can be very powerful. Artists are masters of communication. There’s power in performance.”

Power indeed.


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