It’s well documented that new cases of HIV/AIDS are rampant in South Florida. The region often ranks at the top, per capita, for new infections nationwide. The latest data from 2016 also shows that minority and disenfranchised populations are most at risk.
Those in the community who work in testing and education say it’s sometimes hard to impress on the younger generations just how devastating the epidemic was in the 1980s and early 1990s. Coupled with the arrival of new and effective drugs, there are some in the community who think the disease has been “cured,” even though there is no cure for it.
One of South Florida’s HIV/AIDS resources is in Wilton Manors – the World AIDS Museum and Educational Center – located at 1201 NE 26th Street. The museum opened in 2011, and what the board and its volunteers try to do sounds simple enough: increase awareness and decrease the stigma around the disease.
One way to do that,said board president Will Spencer, is to challenge local artists to create work that speaks to the stigmas surrounding HIV/AIDS, and the hope that the disease can be mitigated and eradicated one day.
“Stigmas stop people from getting tested and going for proper care and treatment,” Spencer said. “And that allows the disease to continue to be transmitted in our community.”
Stigmas include the idea that you can get the disease just by being around someone with it; that a person will surely die from it; and that it is only a result of risky or immoral behavior, (or only transmitted through sex and so on).
The museum and its partners, including the Community Foundation of Broward in Fort Lauderdale, organized an artist showcase to help combat some of the stigmas through art. The first of two such events took place at the museum June 29.
Dozens of artists – students and residents of Broward County – showcased their original artwork at the event. The second exhibit is scheduled to take place later this summer.
“They created their visions of hope related to those living with HIV,” Spencer said.
Rebeca Pinto Bottone is a Venezuelan-born artist now living in Pompano Beach who created a piece for the exhibit. She said her artwork, which includes one of her signature eyes, was inspired by a female friend who has been living with HIV.
She said the opportunity to showcase her work at the exhibit was intended to be a message of positivity for those who endure the complications and stigmas surrounding the disease.
Spencer said some of the artwork will eventually be selected as part of a permanent installation in Broward County.