Focusing on artists who were raised after the HIV/AIDS crisis a generation ago, the exhibition One day this kid will get larger, showing at the DePaul Art Museum in Chicago, seeks to expand our understanding of the epidemic through the loupe of youth. A companion to the Art AIDS America exhibition at Alphawood Gallery, the group show of artists, activists, and photojournalists seeks to complement the larger traveling show's historical bent by prioritizing the diverse—namely, black, female, Latinx, and indigenous— voices of the people who were overlooked in their suffering and continue to face HIV/AIDS now.
“The focus on youth in the show is really compelled by the fact that the AIDS crisis is not over,” curator Danny Orendorff says. “And some communities that are most vulnerable to HIV infection today are primarily young, gay or bisexual identifying men of color.”
Conversations with artist and ACT UP videographer Rudy Lemcke—who has work in Art AIDS America—while living in the Bay Area first got Orendorff thinking about the intergenerational divide with the epidemic. For some, it was a war lived on the front lines, with the casualties to match; for others, a terrible but foggy memory of a tragic past. And for populations underserved by institutional efforts to treat HIV/AIDS, the epidemic has never really left, hanging on their eaves and haunting their communities.
“I began to think about how that is the priority of this show,” Orendorff says. “The sort of effort to make a case for HIV and AIDS being just as urgent an issue to organize around and bring awareness to as it has always been. Despite the fact that AIDS is no longer seen as the death sentence disease that it was, it still brings up a range of issues, primarily for low-income people.”
Amplifying and normalizing these voices is a primary motif of the works. In a video piece, Mexican artist Ivan Monforte, eyes wide and forward before a creamy plain wall, receives passionate hickeys from an unidentified black man. Images of artist Oli Rodriguez's father, who participated in the gay cruising scenes of Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, and Berlin before succumbing to AIDS complications, are displayed alongside correspondences between the artist and some of his father's lovers—whom he sought on Craigslist—and presented like a museum display.
Tiona McClodden's short film Bumming Cigarettes portrays all the mundanity and anxiety of an HIV test from the point of view of a young black lesbian. By actually showing the finger-pricking test and the stresses that follow, McClodden demystifies an institution which has not always had the best interests of LGBTQ, black, and poor populations at heart. “Trying to form positive relationships between community care clinics and very vulnerable populations I think is an aesthetic that Tiona is exploring, and I think it's really revolutionary,” Orendorff says.
It's not all doom and gloom, though; the exhibition’s soundtrack, curated by artist and DJ Jacquelyn Carmen Guerrero, a.k.a., CQQCHIFRUIT, is testament to that. Songs by Queen, Liberace, Debarge, TLC, Wu-Tang, Janet Jackson, C&C Music Factory, and others add levity and joy to the proceedings. That joy finds corporeal form in photojournalist Samantha Box's series INVISIBLE: The Last Battle, which depicts members of New York City's Kiki Ballroom as human filaments and bowstrings, intense kinetic passions whose bodies and bearings seem gloriously weaponized against negativity and pain. Via collage and paint, Rashaad Newsome's Ballroom Floor achieves the luxe appeal of even the most glossy-stock magazine, expensive bolt, or frozen accessory; it is an exemplary form of what Orendorff calls “DIY opulence,” a nifty shorthand for Ballroom itself.
“It was important for me that there be joy,” Orendorff says, noting that it was important to show that “regardless of they're experiencing HIV infection or not, that there is community and joy and freedom and art and music that's part of their life. It's so essential as well. I didn't want this to be a show that was just about pain.”
One day this kid will get larger will be at the DePaul Art Museum until April 2.