Corpus of Corpus
January 23, 2010
I was on the opening panel for “The Corpus of Corpus: A Symposium on AIDS, Arts, and (Counter) Public Health” held at UC Riverside, Jan 22-23. Jaime Cortez, event co-organizer Keith Harris (with Ricardo Bracho), and I joined Pato Hebert (via Skype from London) to discuss the seeming-ever-to-be-waning role of art in HIV prevention and harm reduction, given the demise of CORPUS, APLA’s glossy yet messy (according to Cortez) arts publication that modeled a sex positive, “soulful communion between art and HIV” (Hebert), through a mix of voices— seasoned and developing, male and female, young and old, and of all races—dedicated to representing the sexual and emotional well being of gay men of color.
We talked about how the AIDS industry, public health, and social services have required didactic, directive, prohibitive communications aimed at enforcing gay men of color’s sexual health, while artists and activists (from the very beginning of the pandemic) have insisted upon complex and contradictory representations that represent “what surrounds that choice” (to use a condom), “what leads up to it” (Cortez.)
While artists and activists have made representations of the multiple ways our lives have been effected by HIV—including our sexual blunders, messy desires, feelings of anger, shame, community, loss and pride—we have rarely been so well supported to do so (Corpus was funded by APLA, and 5,000 copies of each editions were distributed for free to its diverse audience of clients, educators, scholars, and artists). This we will surely miss.
Did Corpus fail because it could not last? Were dollars for art well spent given the material needs of gay men of color? Was Corpus even HIV prevention? This we debated. I suggested that while I do not think art saves lives, or even “stops AIDS,” it does make life worth living, it does mark the heart and soul of how we lived, it remembers those we lost, and it brings us together. Art makes life (worth living), as we were so gloriously reminded when the evening ended with a reading by Harris, Laurence Padua, Ramirez and Cortez.