Comic Velocity: HIV and AIDS in Comics, curated by Paul Sammut for Visual AIDS, is a new exhibition at New York’s PS122 Gallery, exploring how artists and activists, including Britain’s Kate Charlesworth and David Shenton, have used comics to create and shape conversations about HIV and AIDS.
From steamy safer sex booklets and soap opera-style public service advertisements to superheroes and underground zines, comics have long been utilised by artists and advocates to respond to the AIDS pandemic. As a visual and accessible medium, comics are often employed with the goal of democratizing information, engaging broad audiences, and representing communities erased from public health narratives.
Running until 11th July 2021, the exhibition’s title borrows from scholar Ramzi Fawaz’s writing on the varied emotional intensity of comics, illustrated in the exhibition through juxtapositions in tone and affect. Ranging from the light-hearted anecdotes of Michael Slocum’s Zander Alexander, PWA (1993-95) to James Romberger and Marguerite Van Cook’s urgent and cacophonic depictions of David Wojnarowicz’s writing in Seven Miles a Second (1996), the exhibition represents a broad spectrum of styles and approaches to comics and sequential art.
Comic Velocity collects both historical and contemporary educational material, activist projects and artists’ works that demonstrate how the medium of comics continues to contribute to the public understanding of HIV and AIDS through its democracy, accessibility and immediacy. The exhibition features a selection of items from the HIV Graphic Communication Archive, and the work of creators Alison Bechdel, Howard Cruse (1944 – 2019), Jennifer Camper, Kate Charlesworth, Chris Companik (1957 – 2012), James Romberger, Marguerite Van Cook, and David Wojnarowicz (1954 – 1992), Carlos Sánchez, David Shenton, Michael Slocum (1956 – 1995) and many others.
As part of the exhibition, four newly commissioned comics projects from J. Amaro & A. Andrews, Inés Ixierda & Clio Sady, Carlo Quispe and Mel Rattue will be available as free take-aways. These new works – also online – explore contemporary issues and experiences surrounding HIV/AIDS such as HIV criminalisation, women’s’ anti-stigma activism, and the fear of getting tested.
Visual AIDS utilises art to fight AIDS by provoking dialogue, supporting HIV+ artists, and preserving a legacy, because AIDS is not over.
The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated publication with writing by comics scholar Margaret Galvan, interdisciplinary artist Alexandro Segade, comics creator Leonard Rifas and, of course, lots of comics, available now from the Visual AIDS web store.
• Comic Velocity: HIV and AIDS in Comics runs until 11th July 2021 at the PS122 Gallery, 150 First Avenue, New York, NY 10009 | Tel 646-908-7666 | Gallery Hours: Friday – Sunday 12 noon – 6.00pm | Web