"When Did You Figure Out You Had AIDS?": Hayat Hyatt
As part of our series NOT OVER, Visual AIDS asked artists in the La MaMa exhibition three questions about the ongoing AIDS crisis. The first question is taken directly from artist Vincent Chevalier's work, "So ... when did you figure out you had AIDS?," 2010. It is left to the artist to decipher the meaning of the question, to decide if it is a question about their status, how AIDS functions in the world, or both. Overall, the goal of the questions is to get at the complexity of HIV/AIDS -- understanding it as a virus in people's bodies, an assemblage that has changed the world, and as an ever-evolving phenomenon.
When did you figure out you had AIDS?
I remember lying in bed as a child, maybe six or seven years old, and staring at the wall; stretching my arms toward the ceiling and examining my hands for signs that I had AIDS. My mother and her girlfriends were in the living room talking as a TV special on the AIDS crisis played in the background. I was told to leave the room, but I listened from my bedroom. I was frightened because I had kissed a girl, but also kissed boys. And at that age I knew that I liked kissing boys.
What does NOT OVER mean to you?
There are three subjects most people don't like to discuss -- race, class and sex. To discuss these issues would mean admitting that racism, poverty and AIDS still exists. And that stigma exists. For me, NOT OVER is a response to this. There's a lot of media hype about HIV being over, or being just another manageable chronic illness. But AIDS is not. It is painful, complicated, life threatening and a drag to live with physically. AIDS will never be over in our memories and in history. We have lost and continue to lose some of the brightest stars of our generations.
What is AIDS in 25 years?
I'm not sure. I hope the truth isn't polished and wrapped in a designer package with a red bow on top of it.
The interviews will be collected on our Tumblr site: NOT OVER INTERVIEWS.