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Winter 2004
Art in the Time of AIDS
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Female performers of an HIV/AIDS-awareness dance piece

Male dancer in dramatic dance position

Members of Sapphire dance Workshop and other groups perform HIV/AIDS-awareness pieces.

Gere recalls observing a show performed at dusk in a village in the area of Chennai (formerly Madras) by a theater group called Nalamdana — a Tamil word meaning “Are you well?” “The performance was about a young couple, a bit like an American sitcom, with some broad humor and a lot of fun,” he says. “People are laughing right away, but as the play progresses, the humor turns more serious when it is discovered the wife, who is pregnant, is HIV positive.” Shock and distress soon take over when the wife is blamed for being unfaithful. Eventually, however, a doctor explains that she contracted HIV through a blood transfusion.

“Then comes the information — what should she do? What medicines should she take? Should she breast-feed?” Watching the audience during the play, Gere says, “I could see the depth of connection the artists are making. Faces that had been joyful turned very serious. Their delight turned to intense focus. It was an amazing experience to watch.”

Afterwards, audience members are invited to ask questions, and those who do are praised and given prizes for having the courage to speak up. Even when the show is done and the stage dismantled, Nalamdana is not through. “The cast members go door-to-door in the villages talking to people, educating them. The fulsomeness of the approach is what’s so extraordinary,” Gere says.

MAKE ART/STOP AIDS created “a successful ripple all over India,” says Nandita Palchoudhuri, a curator-designer of Indian folk art in Kolkata and a participant in the Make Art/Stop AIDS conference. Palchoudhuri, who uses ancient storytelling techniques to communicate HIV information in Bengali rural areas, says the conference provided not only information on how to effectively use art to educate but it inspired the artists and “renewed flagging spirits.”


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