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The New York City AIDS Memorial in Manhattan (image courtesy New York City AIDS Memorial)

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“If I’m dying from anything, it’s from the fact that not enough rich, white heterosexual men have gotten AIDS for anybody to give a shit,” Vito Russo, the activist and author, pointed out in 1988. In 2020, his rousing words still ring devastatingly true, and every year, December 1 marks a global health day that, in a better world, would be a bigger part of conversations year-round. After all, a diagnosis extends well beyond a single commemorative day.

In the US, the ongoing AIDS crisis signals not just a public health disaster, spurred by years of intentional government neglect, but the loss of friends, lovers, family members, and mentors — folks who might have changed our lives for the better, but whom we never got a chance to meet or with whom we didn’t get enough time.

Emphasizing the human toll of the AIDs crisis sits at the heart of Hear Me, a new sound installation that will debut on December 1 at the New York City AIDS Memorial. Every night at 7pm, the Greenwich Village monument will broadcast poetry, speeches, music, and readings of historical texts related to the epidemic, putting voices to dizzying and infuriating statistics. Likewise, each morning at 10am, another recording — featuring the names of over 2,000 New Yorkers who have died of AIDS-related illnesses — will play, read by members of What Would an HIV Doula Do?, a collective of friends, caregivers, activists, and long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS.

A rendering of the light and sound installation Hear Me, New York City AIDS Memorial, 2020 (image courtesy New York City AIDS Memorial)

Among the cultural workers represented in the evening installation are visual artist and dancer Kia LaBeija, who will read one of her poems; artist David Wojnarowicz, represented by his recording of ACT-UP demonstrations in 1989; and of course Vito Russo, of the landmark speech “Why We Fight” (1988) mentioned above. 

The third exhibition of the NYC AIDS Memorial Arts and Education Initiative, Hear Me comes at a time when the ability to gather and grieve is as difficult as it is sorely needed. Fittingly, the outdoor installation will permit visitors to take in the moving tribute while still staying safe. Those who can’t make it in person can also check out A Time to Listen, a series of online conversations. The six-episode series features numerous artists, activists, and thinkers coming together to share accounts of the impact that HIV/AIDS has had specifically on New York City.

When: Nightly at 7pm EST, December 1–31

Where: New York City AIDS Memorial, corner of West 12th Street & Greenwich Avenue, Manhattan

See New York City AIDS Memorial for more info

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Dessane Lopez Cassell

Dessane Lopez Cassell is a New York based editor, writer, and film curator, as well as the former reviews editor at Hyperallergic. You can follow her work here.