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Winter 2004
Art in the Time of AIDS
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There is another quote about the nature of art that in its way — perhaps a bit more flowery than he would like — helps to define Gere’s viewpoint. Written by the French philosopher and novelist Rémy de Gourmont at the turn of the 20th century, it states: “Art includes everything that stimulates the desire to live. … Born of the sensibility, it sows and creates it in its turn. It is the flower of life and, as seed, it gives back life.”

So, has Gere sown enough seeds to make a difference? He is almost too modest to answer. Instead, he tells a story about a clinic at Tambaram, near Chennai. It reportedly is the largest HIV clinic in India, where Gere says hundreds of people gather each day waiting for chits to allow them to see a doctor. Here, he says, he can see the seeds of his work beginning to bear fruit a mere six months after the Make Art conference.

"We don't need a cultural renaissance; we need cultural practices actively participating in the struggle against AIDS."

Gere told a doctor there about his ideas of using artists to help educate the patients. “I assumed he would have no interest, but when I told him about the earlier experiences I had, he lit up.” A street theater group, the doctor said, could educate the waiting crowd and prepare them for the clinic experiences. And since family members usually stay with the patient during the two weeks or so it takes to regulate the medicine regimen, entertainers could interact with and educate the family members.

A few days later, the hospital signed a contract with Nalamdana. The speed with which this came together is practically unheard of in India, Gere says. “I’m completely thrilled about this. Thrilled about the potential for that hospital and for the potential it has for other hospitals.”

Now, Gere says, “the network (for educating people) exists, and that’s positive.” But still, he downplays his role. “I’m like the host who makes a party. I just put people together.”

And like any good mediator and bridge-builder, all he really wants is “to continue to help host the party so the conversations continue.”

And plant a few more seeds.

Freelance writer Roberta G. Wax is a frequent contributor to UCLA Magazine.


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