Artists discuss health care at World AIDS Day in boro

By Anna Gustafson

Those living with HIV/AIDS often lack access to reliable health care that could make the disease manageable and instead are relegated to society’s fringes, left to live out too much of their remaining time without needed care, artists said at the Queens Media Arts Development’s launch of the group’s World AIDS Day event Sunday.

“There are a lot of HIV/AIDS patients who don’t have coverage and go into bankruptcy trying to pay for their medicine,” said Ada Cintron, curator of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” an exhibit exploring the impact of health care reform on HIV/AIDS patients.

The Queens Media Arts Development unveiled the exhibit at the Queens Art Museum Sunday in observance of World AIDS Day, officially held Dec. 1, which has a theme of “Universal Access and Human Rights.” The exhibit will run through Dec. 20 and feature the work of 16 artists from the borough and throughout the city.

“The AIDS pandemic confronts the American people with the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of the health care reform,” Cintron wrote in a statement displayed in the exhibit. “This exhibition reflects on the socio-economic, political and moral aspects of the current health care system in the United States and the fact that it falls short of standards enshrined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights .%u2026 In recent years, concerns about HIV and AIDS have been lost in the debate over cost analysis of the proposed health care reform, leaving us to question: What is the value of a human life?”

For Hector Canonge, president of Queens Media Arts Development, there is no question: Health care should be readily available and affordable for all.

“I want people to reflect on what’s happening with HIV/AIDS,” said Canonge, a Jackson Heights resident. “It seems AIDS has been pushed to the back of our concerns, and I want people to see how artists with or without HIV/AIDS are exploring how to address that.”

In Kew Gardens artist Nancy Rakoczy’s piece “How Did I Become Invisible,” a dress shirt hangs by a thread and Rakoczy said its precarious placement is representative of the position individuals with HIV/AIDS find themselves in with health care.

“It’s devastating when you’ve got these staggering bills,” Rakoczy said.

HIV/AIDS patients frequently encounter difficulties when it comes to paying for their medication, and much of the 1.1 million people living with the disease are uninsured or under-insured, according to the HIV Medicine Association. About 50 percent of individuals living with HIV/AIDS do not have access to adequate medical care, according to the association.

“We need to work together to push the government, which has so much money, to help people with HIV/AIDS,” said Chin Chih Yang, an artist from Astoria.

Yang created an elaborate piece, using dozens of hospital oxygen tubes to form what he said was supposed to represent the government as a monster. One of the tubes connected to a lone dollar, symbolizing what Yang said was the little funding the government gave to support HIV/AIDS patients. Behind the dollar, a large screen broadcast images of water and information about HIV/AIDS funding.

“I used water because it seems like people with HIV are always under water, yelling, ‘Help! Help!” Yang said.

Michael Vickers, a Brooklyn artist originally from Canada, said he has experienced firsthand the importance of universal health care, which he received in his home country.

“For the first time in my life, I’m totally uninsured right now,” Vickers said. “I got hit by a cab a little bit ago, and luckily I was fine, but if I hadn’t been, I would’ve been screwed.”

QMAD’s fifth-annual World AIDS Day event included free on-site HIV testing facilitated by the Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS.

There will be a closing event Dec. 20 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the museum, including artist talks.

For more information, visit framingaids.us or qmad.org.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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