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Winter 2004
Art in the Time of AIDS
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Noorie, an HIV-positive prostitute and heroine-addict, says she only shares needles when she can't afford her own.

GERE’S ACTIVISM CRYSTALLIZED IN SAN FRANCISCO “when the AIDS epidemic was ramping up, and people I knew and loved were dying.” He volunteered to help with the Names Project, which at the time featured nearly 2,000 quilt panels inscribed with the names of those who died of AIDS. He went to Washington, D.C., where the quilt was laid out on the National Mall. Gere helped develop the concept of having celebrities read the names of the dead.

When he first came to UCLA, he thought of putting AIDS activism behind him. After all, there is only so much death one can handle. But later, learning of India’s HIV epidemic, “I realized that my two worlds were colliding.”

In the United States, the first storm of anti-AIDS activism came from the artistic community because that was the group most notably affected and most vocal about the issue. But in India, he says, a different population was affected, starting with sex workers and heterosexual truck drivers, who then brought the virus home. For a variety of reasons, including government inaction and because many of those affected are uneducated and in rural areas, he says, prevention and treatment information was not getting out. Artists, he thought, could help remedy that.“I wondered, ‘Can some of the lessons learned by the artists here be applied there?’ ”

So he returned to India and created Make Art/Stop AIDS, which he recently brought to UCLA in conjunction with UCLA’s Year of the Arts and World AIDS Day. UCLA festivities included an old-fashioned teach-in December 1 (World AIDS Day; see “Spotlight,” page 56) with a diverse international roster of speakers, followed two days later with a daylong version of Make Art/Stop AIDS, again joining artists, scholars and activists. Funding came from the UC Humanities Research Institute, the International Institute, the UCLA AIDS Institute and the Ronald W. Burkle Center for International Relations.


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