In July 1998, Miami artist Xavier Cortada was invited to attend the 12th World AIDS Conference in Geneva to create a mural about AIDS. Cortada, who has used his art as an agent of social change on four continents, encouraged conference attendees to help complete a participant driven mural, titled “Bridging the Gap.”
The “Bridging the Gap” mural serves as the perfect vehicle to tell the compelling human stories behind AIDS. As we approach the end of the century, and the dawning of a new millenium, we are a global community looking toward the end of one of humankind’s worst epidemics. There is much to celebrate today as science and medicine offer a sense of hope against a disease that just a decade ago seemed unconquerable.
At the beginning of the conference, people from every country were given small pieces of paper and asked to draw images or write their thoughts on AIDS to be incorporated into the movable mural. Collaborators were asked to focus on any of several questions:
- How have you or your country been affected by HIV/AIDS? Is there any person or any event that you particularly remember?
- What would you say to educate your communities, what strategies would you recommend? What message would you like to give other members of the global community?
- Is there anything else you want to write, doodle, draw, paint of create to capture the collective thoughts, concerns and hopes of those who came to Geneva for this conference?
Through the creation of this collaborative mural during the summer of 1998, we had the unique possibility to capture the diverse stories of people with AIDS. The multi-lingual text incorporated into the mural offers a natural narrative as hundreds of hands joined to give life to an art project that captures the collective voice of AIDS. A proxy for individuals at various stages of the disease and from all over the world, offering insight into their personal struggles and triumphs. And presenting a full picture of the gains and the stumbling blocks, the disparities and the universalities, associated with the disease.
Artistic and cultural responses to 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. Artistic messages, constantly engaged in the re-definition and re-evaluation of social values, bear witness to the different and evolving ways in which AIDS effects societies and individuals.
The mural measuring six meters in length was unveiled before 6,000 people at the Palexpo Center during the Conference’s closing ceremonies. It was dedicated to the people of Geneva and for the World, through which it now travels. As the mural visits a new site, it serves as a catalyst for action and as an inspiration to Bridge the Gap.