Programs Manager Ted Kerr shares some thought behind how the event Your Nostalgia is Killing Me was created.
There is a phenomenon happening across activist communities, in which emerging and younger generations of activists are feeling silenced, or boxed in by previous generations. This is also impacting the people for whom the activism “is about”. In turn this makes the established and older generation of activists also feel silenced, and can put them on the defensive.
We at Visual AIDS saw this clearly illustrated in late January with the circulation of the poster, "Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me". For the artists, Vincent Chevalier and Ian Bradley Perrin, the work was an articulation that their current life chances as people living with HIV were being reduced by a focus on AIDS of the past. The stigma, health, and social realities that they experience were being ignored in lieu of a look back.
In response to the poster many activists, namely members of the highly influential AIDS activist group ACT UP, felt attacked and/or confused by the poster. This came out in a contentious Facebook feed* on the ACT UP Alumni wall and other spaces on Facebook. ACT UP Alum wondered if they did not have a right to broadcast their past, which relates to their life chances. Many felt that they were being silenced or attempts were being made to render them and their work irrelevant. Regardless of the artists' intention and repeated statements that this was not the goal of the poster, the feeling remained for many veteran activists.
In creating the public event that takes it's name from the poster, Visual AIDS saw an opportunity to use the “Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me” poster and the response as a jumping off point for the larger conversation about activism now. We felt it was important that if the poster and the Facebook response were the starting off points, than they should be presented as it occurred. As it was noted about the Facebook conversation, it was primarily between white cis gendered men across the HIV spectrum. And so the panel to start off the event reflects that. It was with trepidation that Visual AIDS moved forward in this way. We understand the importance of representation, diversity, inclusion and what it is to be anti-oppressive, and more often than not our programming reflects that. We are saddened that not more women and people of color and other communities were able to be part of the conversation on the Facebook wall and beyond, but we thought to reflect the conversation as otherwise would be dishonest. As one person emailed offline during the Facebook discussion, "I am jealous of you white guys are arguing over representation, while me and my community are fighting for representation". So while we could have included others on the panel, we also see the worth in broadcasting the lack of diversity, and welcoming the frustration that comes with it. We do not agree with the lack of voices, and so we do not want to cover it up, or pretend that the conversation occurred any other way.
But for course we did not want only to create an event with only four white cis guys across the HIV spectrum speaking at a room of people. So 25 % of the time will be devoted to the poster and the response, and 75% of the time will be for community to speak to and with each other about the issues the poster and the response brings up – which includes but is not limited to nostalgia, ideas around generational divide, the lack of diversity of voices both being remembered and heard now + more. This will be happening in small groups, with facilitators, with talk back with the whole room to follow. While this is not a perfect plan, it was what emerged, and what we believe is a powerful way to engage in these conversations. As we were planning the event moderator Pato Hebert asked, “So what is killing us?” This seems like an important way to look at what can occur in the 75% time.
As the programs manager at Visual AIDS, I am interested in bridging the divide between, “we are all our own expects of our experience” and sharing what we know, with “no one is an expert alone”, and together we are stronger. This can look messy and seem counter intuitive, but as witnessed at FLASH COLLECTIVES, this decentralized, deconstructed way of working through issues as a community ensures that as we move forward we are educating each other, sharing our experiences, attempting to leave no one behind and ensuring that what needs to emerge has space to come to the surface.
No one event, or conversation is going to resolve the many issues we are all experiencing and working through. By creating environments, through art and culture, we believe we are setting up long term conversations between people, communities and organizations. This is what Visual AIDS has been doing for 25+ years, and it is what we hope to continue to do well in to the future.
You are invited to come to “Your Nostalgia is Killing Me” with all your confusion, criticism, anger, joy, will, and love. And you are invited to work through and share what you bring, respectfully, with others.
You are also invited to email me with your criticism, concerns, ideas and questions about programming at Visual AIDS.
* for those who would like a transcript of the Facebook feed, contact Ted Kerr at Visual AIDS.