mercredi 1er avril 2020

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Human Health and Art

, Jae Wook Lee

Our World Our Say : Understanding HIV Risk and Resilience Among Adolescents who have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Hai Phong, Vietnam

Exhibition#1
Date : January 10, 2020 - February 6, 2020
Location : Schneider Hall Galleries, Hite Art Institute at the Department of Fine Arts, the University of Louisville, Louisville, KY

Exhibition#2
Date : February 21, 2020 to April 24, 2020
Location : Asia Institute Crane House, Louisville, KY

Exhibition view at Schneider Hall Galleries, Hite Art Institute at the Department of Fine Arts, the University of Louisville
Exhibition view at the Asia Institute Crane House

"Safety Above All" is currently the world’s top priority. We are in an unprecedented time. With the ongoing spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), the world faces many challenges. It is progressively affecting our society and our lives every day. For the last few months, schools have been closed. We have seen the lack of household supplies and grocery items. Restaurants have been forced to close. Service workers and part-time employers have lost their jobs. We are listening to updates and guidance from governors, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) as we help ensure the safety of our family, friends, and community. People are working tirelessly across the globe.

COVID-19 has a tremendous impact on artists, galleries, museums, and art festivals around the world. Most museums and galleries have been temporarily closed. Major biennales and art festivals postponed their schedule or even cancel the entire event. Due to the travel limits, many artists cannot travel outside of their home countries. Of course, this limitation creates greater negative consequences. However, “human health” has still not been a central focus in the field of contemporary art and theories. Due to COVID-19, Arguably “human health” is more pertinent today than before and should be taken more seriously especially at the beginning of our current, deeply worrisome crisis. What human health does in contemporary art needs to discussed and even practiced.

COVID-19 allows us to look back on other types of diseases in the past and how they have fundamentally changed the value of our lives. Right before COVID-19 became a critical issue in the U.S., an exhibition titled “Our World Our Say Exhibition” delivered messages around human health and safety. The exhibition took place at the Schneider Hall Galleries Hite Art Institute, Department of Fine Arts, the University of Louisville from January 10, 2020, to February 6, 2020 and the Asia Institute Crane House in Louisville from February 21, 2020 to April 24, 2020. The exhibition, which was curated and designed by Kyoungmee Kate Byun, explored the risk of HIV, specifically the resilience among adolescents who have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS and raised by their grandparents in Hai Phong, Vietnam.

Photo taken by an anonymous participant of the Photovoice Project
Photo taken by an anonymous participant of the Photovoice Project

The exhibition presented numerous photos and one video taken by anonymous Vietnamese adolescents, between the ages of twelve and nineteen, in Hai Phong, Vietnam as a part of the Photovoice Project in the summer of 2019. The Photovoice Project was part of the summer youth development program offered at a nonprofit organization in northern Vietnam, serving teenage orphans who were sent to the institution due to HIV/AIDS that their parents had. The program was led by the OWOS Art-Advocacy Exhibition Team, including Lesley M. Harris, Sara Williams, Victory Osezua, Chloe Scoggins, Laura Coleman, Rebecka Bloomer & Doroty Sato.

Photo taken by an anonymous participant of the Photovoice Project
Photo taken by an anonymous participant of the Photovoice Project

The Vietnamese teenage participants in the summer program were allowed to use photography as a means to voice their perspectives. The program called this “photovoice.” There were 7 photovoice sessions offered during the two-week camp duration. In the beginning, the participants received training regarding basic photographic skills and ethics when taking pictures. In each session, the participants were given a topic such as HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, sexual abuse, child labor, and reproductive health. After taking pictures, the participants were instructed to choose their top five photos to submit to the program leaders and researchers. Group conversations about the chosen pictures took place thereafter. During the group conversations, the participants identified serious risks within their historically-embedded “system” which included community, government, law enforcement and adults that compound existing risk factors in their lives. The participants explained how systematic risks impacted their understanding and experiences related to HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, child labor, sexual abuse, and reproductive health. The participants identified a cascading system of categories including (a) corruption in the systems (b) laws and enforcement, (c) lack of child protection, (d) exploitation, and (e) roles of adults in perpetuating problems impacted the lives of youth. The youth also spoke to several (f) community responses related to each topic. The exhibition, Our World Our Say, presented groups of photographs, reflecting the categories mentioned above.

Photo taken by an anonymous participant of the Photovoice Project
Photo taken by an anonymous participant of the Photovoice Project

It is easy to think that human health issues are independent of historical, political, financial, and systematic contexts. For example, however, the U.S. government currently uses COVID-19 as a political tool by calling it “the Chinese virus.” I believe it is not the right time to use this crisis as a divisive political tool. It is time to unite and collaborate with one another regardless of political beliefs, race, and ethnicity, among others to overcome the global crisis. Sadly, history showed otherwise.

Our World Our Say revealed human health is tightly related to other human problems in a meshwork of connectivity. Art can be a tool to highlight this complex connectivity. Our World Our Say presented the power of photography as a metaphor that uncovers the complicated systematic condition of Hai Phong, Vietnam in terms of human health and HIV/AIDS through the eyes of anonymous teenage participants of the orphanage.