Everyone I Know Is Sick is a set of five short films commissioned by Visual AIDs, a charity placing art at the centre of the fight against AIDS, to mark World AIDS Day 2023. These films spotlight the connections between AIDS, illness, disability, and mental health, as well as the very current nature of the AIDS crisis.
The five films, Viejito/Enfermito/Grito (Old Man/Sick Man/Shout), Heart Murmurs, This Bed I Made, Losing the Light, That Child with AID$, each tell deeply personal stories of living with HIV. Over 58 minutes, each film highlighted the theme of searching for belonging and a sense of place in the world, and the challenges faced by those with HIV and other already isolating disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, with healthcare rendered stretched and inaccessible.
Viejito/Enfermito/Grito (Old Man/Sick Man/Shout) by Dolissa Medina and Ananias P. Soria opened the collection, emphasising the ageing nature of HIV through the traditional ‘Dance of the Old Men’ which is performed. It adds the almost ritualisation of day-to-day living, with the impacts of HIV, the taking of medication, the fatigue as well as joy and happiness being shown through dance.
Heart Murmurs by Dorothy Cheung and This Bed I Made by Beau Gomez both take place in domestic settings, invoking the everyday lives of the actors involved, emphasising their humanity and the personal impacts of HIV on them, their routines, and their partners.
Each film touches on feelings of isolation and self-discovery through illness, as well as the issues faced whilst navigating long-term care, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic where access to in-person healthcare was severely disrupted.
Kurt Weston’s Losing the Light is a visceral self-portrait of his loss of sight due to HIV-related illness and the fragmentation of body and mind as a result.
That Child with AID$ by Lili Nascimento and Hiura Fernandes follows the life of Lili Nascimento, a Brazilian activist and artist born with HIV on their experience, and the role of the pharmaceutical industry in perpetuating the AIDS crisis, and the systemic issues facing those with HIV.
The screening was followed by a powerful conversation between Dr Nat Raha and Sasha Saban Callaghan which emphasised the importance of art in shaping discussions around disability, race, gender and sexuality, with art being the best weapon against the pandemic of neoliberal capitalism which sows hopelessness in the world. The role of community and collective action in speaking up for one another against the tyranny of the perfect body and systemic injustice in the healthcare system was another key theme, with the need for care in excess of what is needed, rather than the current lack of care, to bring about an outpouring of love and utopia.
World AIDS Day 2023 comes at a time of multiple crises. Crises of public health, of climate, of inequality, cost of living and more. The screening and discussion recognised that it is often hard to stop and focus on one, or the collective, for a sustained period of time, with the world designed to move us from one issue to the next in a daze of hopelessness. These crises often filter out humanity and the lived experience of those they impact. Today asks us to consider the domestic, to consider the individual, the community and the art produced in hope of a more equal future. It’s a rallying cry in film for a better, more connected world.
With thanks to Lucy Howie, the St Andrews Centre for Contemporary Art and the Centre for Screen Cultures, alongside all others for putting on today's screening. To watch Everyone I Know is Sick and to read more about the artists involved this year, Visual AIDS and World AIDS Day follow this link to the Visual AIDS website: https://dwa.visualaids.org/ .
By Jack (they/he)