Performance Art’s compassion for AIDS as seen through Glenn S. Fox’s quilt panel
A research and analysis on theater and dance activism for AIDS awareness and support
This is analysis on the quilt of Glenn S. Fox and its embodiment to the performing art’s relations to the ongoing AIDS epidemic in America and how the arts has changed the public opinion on the AIDs virus and empower individual victims of the virus.
Introduction: a truth revealed and story to be told:
“You gave us all your love and happiness. You will always be a part of us” … “You danced through life like a cool breeze on a hot summer day” … “We will always remember our yearly ventures to the theater.” … These are all parts of letters in memories of Glenn S. Fox who died of the HIV/AIDS virus in 1990 and provided by the director of the NAMES project Atlanta. The letter goes in hand with a quilt panel that all of Glenn’s family and loved ones created in order to immortalize his life and embody his loving and passionate nature. This particular quilt panel is just one of hundreds that are a part of the Atlanta NAMES project, a foundation that strives to memorialize the lives of people that lived with the HIV/AIDS virus In the 1980s the HIV/AIDS virus was out of control millions all over the country were getting infected by the virus and many did not even know why; the government did little to nothing to help and no treatment or cure seemed to be in sight for the infected. Thousands died but the people did not let them die in vain and so they memorialized their lives through quilts, thus the birth of the NAMES project foundation. As the foundation started getting more and more quilt panels they started presenting them on display for the world to see at events, marches, and collaborations.
Glenn S. Fox’s quilt has several patches aligned around a photo of him, like the two Greek muses mask, dancing shoes, paintings, and other works of art that his loved ones created in his memory. The fine and performing arts are deeply embodied into the quilt signifying a strong interest to Glenn. But these patches embodied more than just his likes and interest, each of them has a story and meaning of their own. The quilt panel’s embodiment of the fine and performing arts community testifies to the powerful role that the arts communities have played in the fight against HIV/AIDS, in their support of individuals suffering from the disease, their contributions in effort to shape public opinion towards those suffering, and their funding raising for cures and treatments. This analysis is to solidify those relationship of the fine and performing arts and AIDS as a loving and embracing. Solidifying a clear relationship between the arts and AIDS as earnest and passionate to one another it will embody the type of person Glenn was and how loving and caring he was to those around him. Since most of the audience seeing the quilt will not see the letters that his Glenn family and friends wrote, making the relationship clear will allow the audience to be fully immersed with quilt and comprehend who Glenn S. Fox was.
The performing arts since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s have been active contributors to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Major theater groups and dance studios have donated and raised significant funds to the AIDS movement and have actively advocated to the equal rights and care of infected people of AIDS in the United States. In theater entire plays have a dedicated to the struggle that people infected with HIV/AIDS have to live through and in dance culture a completely integrated style of contemporary dance was created to empower and inspire audiences. Today many of the same studios and theaters memorialize the struggles that the HIV/AIDS community had to go through in past by annual performances. The AIDS epidemic changed the course of style and play of these arts and in turn they have change the fate that these AIDS community would have faced without them.
The performing arts community in America became fully immersed with helping the AIDS movement, they gave heart and passion to the movement that they thought was worth fighting for. What these communities did for HIV/AIDS is more than just charitable giving but love and support that someone would give to family or loved ones. Just like the love and passion that Glenn gave to his family and loved one and that they gave to him.
A performance to remember and a mission to be accomplished:
When the HIV/AIDs epidemic started the performing arts community wanted to help but not with just donations or advertising but to completely immerse themselves to struggle to send a message to their audience in a meaningful way. They did it through the best method they knew how, through their arts. The dancing community in particular did used the most original method to immerse themselves into that role of a struggling person with HIV/AIDS. What they did completely changed the style of dancing forever. The new style that emerged was a new form a contemporary dance, it reshaped the way that a message could be said through dance and body movements and it galvanized the audience. In Joshua Chambers-Leston’s review of “How to make dance in an epidemic: tracking choreography in the age of AIDS by David Gere goes over how this new style came to be and the way it changed the lives of HIV infected victims. Chamber-Leston states how choreography changed “by focusing on how bodies were choreographed for political means (107)”. He also states that “Gere sets out to read the ways in which choreography constructed networks of meaning, transgression, affirmation, mourning, and transformation through the organization of bodies, in this case, those of gay men affected by HIV/AIDS (Chamber-Leston 107)”. The dance brought a new way of focusing body and soul together in order to relay deeper message that can words, advertisement, or money could not say. This dance instigated emotions in people’s hearts that made the audience that made them comprehend the pain and humility of those living with AIDS had to go through. Because of such a powerful message those who watched the performances felt inspired and courage to support the AIDS movement understanding just how much discomfort HIV/AIDS causes. A study from The Process and Collaboration for Empowerment and Discussion (PACED) says, “. It suggests a shift from using art as entertainment to convey messages regarding HIV/AIDS toward a more participatory, communal, and empowering approach made possible through the use of art (Boneh and Jaganath 455)”. There were so many limitations with activism with words alone, Chamber-Leston even mentions that “Gere gestures to the impossible nature of writing a comprehensive analysis of a disease that has developed across racial, national, gender, and class boundaries (108)”. Most of the general public would find these kind activisms uninteresting and would not feel inspired to invest their time and resources on it. However, because how, as Gere phrases the dances, deep the “Speech Act-performance” were it sparked the spirit of activism to the public. It similar to how in the Civil Rights Movement used sit-ins, boycotts, and marches to relay a deeper message of equal rights to the government. Actions speak louder than words and the performing arts and dance communities rooted that thought in their performances.
And Glenn took actions to show his love just as dance culture did for the AIDS community. He expressed his love to others in a way that would materialize and immortalize his presence to the people who he spent time with. In a letter from his nieces she says,” I will never forget all the wonderful and thoughtful gifts you gave me”. His cousin wrote how she would treasure the memories of the vacations they took to the Seaside Heights and remembers them as “a very special time in our lives”. These loved ones embodied the special moments and the imprint that Glenn left on them through the quilt panel. The embodiments extend the affect the Glenn had on them, in each letter the writers use “forever” or “always” to describe the memories he left with them. The everlasting and powerful effect that the performing arts community left with the AIDS community is embodied through Glenn’s panel.
Empowerment to those who need it most:
But what makes the performing art most compassionate for the AIDS/HIV movement is their ability to empower their audiences. Many of the “Speech Act-performance” were so moving that it changed the ideals of not only public opinions of HIV/AIDS but the mindset of those infected with the virus as well. An academic journal and study by Galia Boneh and Devan Jaganath claims that watching these live contemporary dance performances actually empower people living with aids through “personal empowerment… relational empowerment… [and] collective empowerment (458)”. Their study showed that “art can stimulate the imagination to visualize a better world and then push it to its realization (Boneh and Jaganath 455)”. The problem within most people living with AIDS is their mental mindset. They are anchored down by the thought of the burdens they will be facing and often do not display healthy communication which leads to more consequences. But powerful performances have often shifted that balance Boneh and Jaganath brings up a study from the Process and Collaboration for Empowerment and Discussion (PACED) that states, “a movement from a narrow use of performance to deliver messages toward the potential of art to empower and provoke critical discussion in the community (462)”. Most of society neglect or ignore people with HIV/AIDS because they don’t fully comprehend the lives that they go through. The public plays ignorance and as a result thousands have had to suffer more because of it, but through the use of theater and performing arts that mindset has been changed. The theaters in this study even made sure that the actors were well educated on the AIDS disease so they would be fully immersed in their role and their performance would better educate the audience (Boneh and Jaganath 463). What made the plays so effective was appealing to the entertainment aspect of the play to the audience, with amusing performance using “comedy acts [to break] the ice with jokes about relationships, sex, and condom (Boneh and Jaganth 455)” to ensure that the viewers would find the performances amusing and at the same time educating and opening their minds to ongoing struggle that people living with HIV/AIDS faces. Bringing awareness and funds are all very important to helping the fight against AIDS but what the performing arts did was on another level. These performances helped infected people living with aids by “developing consciousness and confidence to confront oppression … [and encouraged] action at the local or higher level to change oppressive social structures (Boneh and Jaganth 458)”.
Glenn did the same with people around him, he empowered and encouraged them to reach new levels of their lives they would not have been able to do themselves. For example, Glenn’s friend Albert writes in his letter for the quilt “How refreshing it is to find myself in you. I’ve touched many souls in my existence, but none as bright and as pure as yours… once by chance I met myself, but from that chance I met you”. From his letter Albert is implying that by meeting Glenn he had his own soul brightened. Albert has made many meaningful relationships in his life but his friendship with Glenn was the one that heightened his soul to become as pure his Glenn’s. Similar to how the theater community encouraged individual to deal with their own struggle with AIDS in a positive manner and community to support and understand the lives that people living with the virus had to go through.
Putting your money where you heart is:
Then all the funding the funding that the performing arts did for the HIV/AIDS research and relief. Many theaters and dance studios donate a significant sum of money to the AIDS foundation every year. The Broadways cares foundation, which is a group that supports and give donations to AIDS research and fight for equal rights, gave an estimated sum of over $21 million dollars in 2016 to help the fight against AIDS. The Alvin Ailey dance foundation, who are big supporters of AIDS equality and research gave an estimated sum of 39 million to the AIDS community. Even smaller groups like the C.B dance academy raised over $30,000 to AIDS research in 2009. And these are very generous donations considering that performing art studios and theater do not profit a high amount every year. The performing arts give little what they have to serve those who need it.
The call and answer:
Glenn S. Fox’s panel embodies the compassion and love that performing arts gave to the HIV/AIDS community. They used dance and theaters as a form of activism and empowerment that reshaped how the public saw victims of AIDS and even how victims saw themselves in society. Performing arts made a culture and community around AIDS to embody their undying loyalty and support to help ensure that victims will not be left unheard. Glenn’s quilt embodiment of performance arts represent the love and passion that they had for the AIDS community, a similar love and compassion that Glenn had for his family and loved ones.
C., B. “Dancing to Conquer Aids.” Dance Spirit, vol. 15, no. 2, Feb. 2011, p. 60. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ibh&AN=57659506&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Chambers-Letson, Joshua. “How to Make Dance in an Epidemic: Tracking Choreography in the Age of Aids.” Dance Research Journal, vol. 39, no. 2, Winter2007, pp. 107-109. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=s3h&AN=27961840&site=eds-live&scope=site.
Boneh, Galia and Devan Jaganath. “Performance as a Component of HIV/AIDS Education: Process and Collaboration for Empowerment and Discussion.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 101, no. 3, Mar. 2011, pp. 455-464. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.171991.
“Rating for Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation.” Charity Navigator, www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=8185.
“Rating for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.” Charity Navigator, www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=3389.