Afflicted Nature: Artistic Inspiration to Get Tested

At the end of 2012, there were an estimated 914,826 persons living with diagnosed HIV infection in the United States, according to statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). By 2013, there were approximately 47,352 more diagnosis of HIV infection made across the nation. And almost 1 in 8 (12.8%) of those people are not aware of their infection.

Following Charlie Sheen’s latest revelation of his HIV diagnosis, the almost forgotten disease reappeared in the spotlight. “I simply took issue with a double standard in the industry,” Jenny McCarthy wrote on Twitter, the 43-year-old actress who played Sheen’s love interest many times in the show Two and a Half Men, “I believe that if an actress has to disclose all of her business before kissing a male co-star, that actor should be required to disclose something [as] major as an HIV diagnosis”. Even though many people are trying to raise awareness and to promote prevention methods, there are still much ignorance and stigma in our society regarding the disease.

In a dance/gallery event hosted by DConstruction Arts, the artists used choreography to raise awareness of the continual spreading of HIV. Ultimately they wanted to inspire more people to get tested and to be more cautious. DConstruction Arts is a non-profit multimedia and arts organization founded by Tavi Stutz and Jane Rose McKeever, who is a professor from the Television & Film department at Cal State LA.

The gallery was held on Saturday, Nov. 14th, at the Gleason Theatre in Hollywood. Stutz and McKeever’s choreography was filmed and projected in the theatre next to the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The film was played in a loop, therefore the guests had the pleasure to enjoy their work and the quilt at their leisure, as well as amazing live performances by Womack & Bowman and Lamonte “Tales” Goode.

Stutz and McKeever’s original inspiration of this project was the AIDS Memorial Quilt and the popular play in the ‘80s Angels in America by Tony Kushner, in which two characters met in a dream. They were both working in the theatrical community in the ‘90s. Stutz was in New York City and McKeever was in Chicago. “There was a really strong community about AIDS awareness and prevention, which inspired us [to create this project],” McKeever told the University Times, “a lot of narratives were lucidly taken from one of the characters in the Angels in America, [Prior and Harper], and it was really important for us to tie in the imagery of the quilt”.

The first part of the film featured Stutz as a patient infected by HIV and McKeever as the nurse taking care of him in the hospital. The characters then entered a state of hallucination, where they used body languages to illustrate elements of the quilt. In the last part of the piece, they added in their aerial performance with excellent acrobatic skills to portray the after death experience, the big “What If” and to remind people that we could change this ending.

Guests included Leah Pablo, a post-production coordinator for Secrets and Lies on ABC and Edwin Rivera, a television editor on FOX. Rivera told the UniversityTimes, “It was a very beautiful display of performance. Stutz is very committed to not only awareness, especially for HIV, and for many other issues. It’s great to see them so dedicated to art and they are constantly figuring out new things to do”.

People seem to forget that HIV is still a present day issue and it’s not a gay-exclusive disease. “Nowadays, HIV is no longer the death sentence that it was in the ‘80s,” Stutz said. “But it is still a major problem. It’s something that’s passed from person to person, if we have the information, there’s no reason why we can’t stop it”.

He also agreed that education is the key. The more information people have, the better they can prevent it. He said there are a lot of people out there don’t know they are infected. Some of them know they are HIV-positive but continue to think it is the responsibility of others to be cautious rather than have the duty of disclosing their diagnosis. “Everyone thinks ‘each man for himself’, as oppose to we are a collective community and let’s work together,” Stutz stated the core issue of transmitting disease.

As co-founder of DConstruction Arts and community engagement enthusiast, Stutz believes that as people, we are more alike than we’d care to admit. We get caught up by our own lives, in which we feel fear and anger being separated from each other. But if we say that we are all alike, then we can relate to each other and learn to appreciate, honor and respect one another.

Stutz and McKeever have the opportunity to give back to the community through their artistic projects. “I want to be able to see the impact I made and work with the people because I’ve been given a lot,” McKeever said. “I wouldn’t get the training I needed without people’s support.”

This gratitude also inspired her to teach. As a professor at Cal State LA, she engages with students, see them develop and become inspired. She also used a number of our students on this project. “The key component is always outreach, social engagement in community,” she said in the interview, “we are trying to create commonality.”

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