Artists Are Using Theater to Raise Awareness About India's HIV Crisis

A recent performance in Delhi aims to start a dialogue about the disease.

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May 21 2018, 9:00pm

Photo by Vijay Pandey

This article originally appeared on VICE India.

India has the third largest HIV population in the world, and awareness about the disease is still relatively low. On May 18, on HIV Vaccination Awareness Day, organizations like International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), Delhi Dance Theater, PULSE, and I Am Positive India came together in Delhi and hosted a performance called I am + : Dance Theater on HIV India.

The directors for the performance flew in from New York City, while some performers were chosen from the Delhi Dance Theatre.

Held at the LTG Auditorium, the performance featured characters such as a man who contracts HIV and is ostracized by society, and a doctor who has a powerful impact on an HIV patient. The performance was preceded by an art exhibition at the same venue.

According to the National AIDS Control Organization's 2017 report, there are new areas of infection throughout India—specifically in Gujarat, Bihar, Delhi, Chhattisgarh Rajasthan, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand. An estimated 62,000 people died from AIDS-related diseases in India in 2016.

VICE India spoke to some of the artists, both on stage and behind it, who made the event possible.

Emily McLoughlin, Director

"Every country is different to work in. I've worked on many awareness projects, and what I find different in India is that we were asked so many questions as to why we want to use performing arts for education. We encountered a lack of support from organizations in understanding the aim of I am + and how we intend to use music and dance to disseminate the information about HIV in India."

Sumiran Kabir Sharma, Costume Designer

"Our clothes are very drapey and flowy. We give the freedom to the wearer to be fluid. So as a dance-dominated performance, the performers felt a connection with the fabric. Our clothes and the performers are sort of misfits who fit together."

Nawa Lanzilotti, Music director and cellist

"A difference that really stood out to me in doing a piece about a social issue—and on top of that, a public health issue such as HIV—in India against other countries, was silence. The silence around sexual health, sexual and reproductive rights, and women's empowerment in the general population provided a challenge."

Fakhroddin Ghaffari, Musician

"This isn't easy; it's very different from playing a purely musical performance. The enthusiastic response demonstrates the unique musicality and sensibility of this ensemble. It’s a testament to how all of us were able to not only connect to each other, but to what was also happening on stage."

Leah Raphael Curtis, Director

"Theater, dance, music, and visual art are excellent mediums to reach and cross borders. These are the vehicles and currency of culture. And value systems of a people are defined by culture; for example, how a society treats its weaker sections like women."

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