12th World AIDS Conference
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...bridging the gap

LAST UPDATE: Friday, 9 July, 1998 22:48 GMT   COMMUNITY REPORT                    ...all the news, as it happens

Report of the Cultural Programme


Summary of events to Friday, 3 July, 1998

Friday, 9 July Never has a disease generated so much art as AIDS. It began with quilts sewn by friends of the departed, it inspired novels and essays, poems and plays. But culture is not only a reflection of pain and death. It is also a means of prevention, of education, of activism and of awareness. The folklore, music, literary traditions and performances highlighted in Geneva 98's Cultural Programme have contributed to bridging the gap between people living with AIDS and the uninfected, between North and South, between activists and those who need to be taught about the danger of AIDS.
Thursday,  2 July
5.30 PM
Hall 2

Surprise Performance/ Dialogai Direct Action
"Le Ballet des gélules" ("A Pills Ballet")

This performance by Dialogai made reference to today's session on "Current Limits and Future of ART". Three giant pills walked around Hall 7 and in all of Palexpo. Named AZT, 3TC and Saquinavir, they were led by a figure representing a "mentor" from a pharmaceutical laboratory. The musical accompaniment was provided by the pills themselves who sang a song about easy money: "Oh, if I had one franc fifty, I’d soon be two francs fifty richer..."

The three 2 metre-high pills were a great hit with many conference participants who asked to be photographed next to them, which made Palexpo look a bit like a "Disneyland of protease inhibitors"...

Wednesday, 1
July 3 PM
Hall 2

African Research and Educational Puppetry Programme (AREPP)
AREPP artists from South Africa presented their show called "Check your Mate" to an enthusiastic public. This performance, which targets an adult audience, asks spectators to participate in a kind of talk show.
Through interactive games and quizzes, the audience has to feel concerned by the story of Joe and Mary, a couple whose lives are affected by their HIV infection.
In the purest tradition of TV shows, their lives are revealed to the spectators who must, in turn, find the means of avoiding to undergo similar experiences.

Wednesday 1 July 1998, Saint Pierre Cathedral, Geneva

Interfaith Ceremony
The bells of Geneva’s ancient cathedral pealed to welcome more than 400 people to an interfaith ceremony and meditation on HIV/AIDS. Gongs echoed as the congregation entered the cathedral where spiritual leaders from numerous faiths were praying, each according to their ritual, in various languages from Hebrew to Sanskrit. Some were chanting, others reciting, others playing musical instruments. Some wore a suit; others wore white, saffron or burgundy robes.

Participants moved freely from one religious representative to another and joined in prayer or meditation. "This path, this pilgrimage is like life", said one of the ceremony leaders, "it has movements and moments of rest. It is sometimes harmonious, sometimes discordant."

On a table next to the altar, candles were lit in remembrance of friends who died from AIDS. A final meditation, where the seated congregation was asked to hum together, concluded with the testimonials of four people living with HIV/AIDS from different regions of the world. They shared their grief and their hope and spoke movingly on how the disease changed their faith, their relationship to their families and friends, their community and to God.

As the congregation dispersed, volunteers handed out apricots and cherries, symbols of the promise of life and the message of hope carried by the Conference slogan "Bridging the Gap".

Tuesday, 30 June
5.30 PM
Hall 2

Cultural and Artistic Responses to HIV/AIDS
Although this symposium was meant to be an interactive roundtable and the expected debate didn't really take place, the session was eventful and highly interesting.

Artists participating in the Geneva 98 Cultural Programme presented a short excerpt from their performances as intermissions between the speakers.

At the end of the symposium, the local gay group Dialogai once again made the headlines by having 20 Marilyn Monroes holding condoms run to the speakers.

They sang messages of prevention on famous tunes by the American sex symbol.
Two salient features emerging from the speakers’ presentations were:

  • That artistic messages are, by definition, engaged in a constant process of re-definition and re-evaluation of social values and phenomena. As such, artistic and cultural works relating to HIV/AIDS are both instruments of tradition and change, bearing witness to the different and evolving ways in which HIV/AIDS affect societies and individuals.
  • That artistic and cultural responses to HIV/AIDS, as reflections on the tragedies of the pandemic or dreams on a world free from the inequalities related to HIV/AIDS, are invaluable tools of education and prevention, particularly when they merge these messages with traditional vehicles of cultural and artistic expression.

The symposium resolved that future Conferences give higher priority to interactive cultural activities in terms of both budget and programme, and that these be integrated into all aspects of the programme.

Tuesday, 30 June
3 PM
Hall 2

Marta Julia Macchiavelli: "Je suis sorti avec" ("I went out with")
This Argentinean-born puppeteer targets 15 to 17 year-olds in her performance, but "depending on the country, it can be shown to younger schoolkids."

"Je suis sorti avec" is a show about teenage sexuality, an unfortunate love story between two teenagers who die after unprotected sex.

"Teenagers lack experience," says Marta Julia Macchiavelli, "but they still have to protect themselves from HIV." She adds that puppets can simplify characters and situations that would be more aggressive if actors were used.


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