Students break down barriers through art for World AIDS Day
By Halle Wyatt, Reporter
Art has always been a way activists have communicated with the world. Just as AIDS activists did in the 1980s, the high school’s students are teaming up with the David Serko Project to use art to spread their own message about AIDS to the Vashon community.
To honor Vashon’s celebration of World AIDS Day, students in John Rees’ Literature and the Elusive Now class and Kristen Dallum’s AP Studio Art class are working to create an art installation titled “Lost to Aids” to honor the AIDS activists of the 1980s.
Peter Serko, founder of the David Serko Project, is spearheading the project, along with several other events occurring during the four-day celebration. Serko created the projects in hopes of better educating teenagers about the AIDS epidemic.
“I’ve been very interested in bringing this story to younger folks because [teenagers] had no idea this happened,” Serko said. “You’ve learned a lot about HIV and AIDS as a result of being in school, but you have no context to understand it.”
The completed installation of “Lost to Aids” will consist of a wall built by Dallum with posters pasted onto it. The posters will be modeled after documents originally designed in the 1980s by AIDS activists themselves. Literature students will create cross-out poems, modifying posters from the original AIDS movement to create new poetry.
“Our main goal is to look at the barriers we create between ourselves, between each other, as individuals, communities, and cultures,” Rees said about his literature class. “With the big AIDS epidemic in the 80s, there were a lot of barriers that went up in a lot of different ways, so that’s kind of where our class is approaching it.”
While Rees’s students are focusing on showing the divisiveness created during the epidemic, Dallum’s class is taking on a different angle.
“Our class is creating a gallery experience to inform the visitors about the history of the AIDS crisis, as well as to honor the lives specifically of victims of the AIDS crisis who were from Vashon Island,” Dallum said.
In order to honor those lost to the epidemic, Rayne Plauche, a senior in Dallum’s class, is using a political funeral as inspiration for her poster rendition.
“When someone died from AIDS, [friends or family] would host a memorial for them and bring their casket on this walk-around protest,” Plauche said. “Someone would do a speech talking about how their friends or family are dying of AIDS and how the government wasn’t doing anything to intervene.”
Despite the fact that the rate of increase has slowed down significantly since the 1990s, the number of people living with HIV globally reached its peak in 2015 at 36.7 million people and still poses as a very real threat.
“I’m a member of the LGBT community myself, as I’m both bi and transgender,” Plauche said. “I’ve never met anyone who’s had AIDS, but I’ve met people whose family members or whose friends have had AIDS and died of it. Just seeing the trauma that occurs just terrifies me.”
Although AIDS can be an uncomfortable subject for some, celebrating and acknowledging World AIDS Day can be a powerful and educational experience.
“I wanted to do something for a number of years on Vashon to acknowledge World AIDS Day,” Serko said. “I always thought it was odd, since Vashon is such a gay-friendly place and has such a large population of gay and lesbian folks, but we’ve never done anything to acknowledge [AIDS]. So I thought, ‘let’s do something this year.’”
The art installation Serko organized will be at Vashon Center for the Arts for the whole month of December, opening on November 29th at 6:00 pm. Afterward, it will be moved to the Vashon Maury Heritage Museum.
To Serko, the benefits of the art installation are clear.
“Not everyone wants to come listen to a forum, but they’ll come to a concert or they’ll come to a theater performance,” Serko said. “So it’s just a different way of reaching people.”
Other events being held for World AIDS Day include We Remember: AIDS Oral History Project; Learning From AIDS: Stonewall to Border Wall Forum; “Crazy Little Thing Called Love: A Musical Tribute to Freddie Mercury”; and “A Normal Heart,” a play written during the early days of the epidemic.
“[The events are] an opportunity for [students] to learn about the individual lives and the people that were affected here in our very own community,” Dallum said. “World AIDS Day is important to me because I think it’s an opportunity to reflect on my own personal values and how I want to act… in supporting all people who might be suffering in whatever way.”
As communication in the ‘80s was largely limited to landline phone calls, activists turned to art as a way to interact with each other. Today, communication is simpler than ever before, but art is is still an influential part of our lives.
“Back in the 80s there was no internet, there were no cell phones, no social media. There was no way to communicate easily with a large group of people,” Serko said. “Art became a way of sharing a message among your followers and the people who were involved.”
People have been using art to speak with the world for centuries, and according to Serko, there’s a reason for that. “Art just has this way of communicating with people that other things just don’t,” he said. “Art has a power to transform.”