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How the AIDS Epidemic Was an Attack on Imagination

Opening today at NYU Fales Library, "positive/negative: HIV/AIDS" is a multimedia exploration of the devastating epidemic in 1980s and 90s New York.
October 12, 2015, 2:25pm
Untitled poster from the Group Material Archive, Fales Library

Positive/negative: HIV/AIDS, which opens today at NYU Fales Library, is an examination of the AIDS epidemic in 1980s and 90s New York. The show exhibits the effect of AIDS not only on the arts, but also on politics, education, and religion. In this spirit, positive/negative: HIV/AIDS comprises a vast range of material—including everything from correspondence and photographs to clothing and posters—and aims to illustrate the widespread and lasting cultural influence of the disease.

The show itself came about almost by chance. In fact, “Fales did not intentionally set out to document this epidemic," says Fales media archivist—and the show's curator—Brent Phillips in the press release. Instead, in sifting through the impressive amalgamation of archives housed in Fales as part of the library’s permanent “Downtown Collection,” Phillips virtually fell upon a narrative reflecting the “violent disruption of imagination, the overwhelming loss, and the nearly unprecedented humanitarian achievement AIDS motivated," he says.

Hunter Reynolds /Patina du Prey’s Memorial Dress. Photo: Maxine Henryson

Incidentally, positive/negative: HIV/AIDS reveals an important gap in our nation's institutional history—a crisis which, as Phillips puts it, has "become mostly a footnote in American history books." It is, therefore, an ideal instructional gesture on the part of Fales and NYU, an educational establishment that was once in the geographical heart of the epidemic. “My hope is that [the show] will help our younger generation gain a better understanding how America responded to this disease at its onset,” the curator explains to The Creators Project. "[…] They didn't live through the nightmare; they didn’t see their peers suffer and die from the horrific and disfiguring effects of HIV. For many, there is little or no way of connecting or relating." He adds, "Hopefully those who view the exhibition—both young or old—can bear witness to the bravery, courage, and creativity on display during those dark years.”

Untitled photo: David Wojnarowicz

positive/negative: HIV/AIDS will be on display from October 12th to January 15th, 2016 at the Tracey/Berry Gallery in NYU’s Bobst Library. Learn more about the Fales Library and Special Collections here.

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