Pegrum: A Big Disease with a Little Name
"AIDS doesn't change people, it just highlights certain aspects", says a character in Andrew Holleran's 1996 The Beauty of Men.41 It has been said that adversity brings out the greatest depth of human character, and this can be seen in the way artists have sought to come to terms with this phenomenon. Elegiac art celebrates love for those who are dying or departed; angry political art demands a voice and insists that moribund governments help their people; informational, educational and warning art seeks to contain and limit the tragedy; positive art celebrates the ongoing lives of those who are HIV+. Of course artworks do not fall into neat categories, and many of these themes overlap and intertwine in any given work. Often AIDS art is extremely traditional in character, because its primary aim is to communicate - whether the message is grief, anger or hope, or all three, it is trying to reach as wide an audience as possible. As the last section of this essay has shown, however, the deconstructive aspect of the AIDS virus has created a strong link between artists concerned with HIV and the wider postmodern penchant for deconstruction of standard body images.
Not only do all of these artworks, from the most traditional to the most inventive, from the saddest to the angriest, serve as a memorial to the sufferers, but as a record of how, when many governments were still hesitating and community leaders were debating issues of morality, there were a large number of artists - singers, photographers, painters, writers, cinematographers - who immediately became engaged both in the war against AIDS and its spread, and also in the battle to make sense of its devastating effects.
41. A. Holleran. The Beauty of Men. London: Macmillan, 1996, p.158.