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Sue Coe, Aids won't wait, the enemy is here not in Kuwait, 1990

Video transcript

[Music] we're in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts looking at a print by the contemporary artist Zuko she's known for her political images images like this one aides won't wait the enemy is here not in Kuwait we have almost a battlefield of dead bodies the way she's laid out the bodies that have been ravaged by the AIDS epidemic looks almost identical to any history painting of an important wartime scene or battlefield scene except of course that here there's no weaponry the folks have died from this disease that has been ravaging the population around the country for over a decade and their bodies are strewn about on the battlefield of u.s. politics you can see that horizon line was actually curved so it looks like the battlefield would just keep going on and on over the curve of the world and because this is a print this is rendered in black and white these very stark contrasts for her the AIDS crisis is a black and white issue it is a moral imperative that the government deal with it aids came to the attention of the Center for Disease Control to the attention of the United States government in the early 1980s but it was years for her Reagan even spoke the word AIDS and President George Bush Reagan's successor was slow to allocate funding to talk about the problems of the epidemic and what needed to be done it struck first and most pervasively in the gay community community that was seen by many to have brought this on themselves the way the government didn't talk about what was real about AIDS did allow most Americans to think of it as a moral disease a moral affliction that was brought on by actions as opposed to health care risks in particularly isolated communities and so what you ended up getting was silence about a public health concern and of course what's ironic about it is that it's happening simultaneously with a government call for war and that's what Sukho is up in arms about in this particular work how can we not talk about something that's right here where people are dying how can we choose to not see and to not speak and to not hear and yet cell war so easily 1990 is the year of the Gulf War when Iraq invades Kuwait there are territorial interests at stake there's oil at stake there's economic interests at stake and tens of thousands of US forces are deployed this was a war that was really present in the media for the American public and yet it's opposite the absence of conversation the absence of imagery about the AIDS crisis you can see her reference to the silence and the lack of action on the part of policymakers in that television set you've got this very close-up picture of a mouth of a talking head on your television at home telling you what's happening in the world but of course this mouth is firmly closed in 1990 Andrew Sullivan wrote an article about the AIDS crisis so the very year that Zuko made this print there's a quote that I think helps to capture some of what Zuko is saying here in this print he wrote for gay men in America in 1990 death is less an event than an environment 100,000 people have now died of AIDS this year almost as many have died has died in all the previous years put together 10 times as many will die as have died more young men have lost their lives to AIDS then died in the entire Vietnam War 40 percent of these deaths have been among IV drug users and others of both sexes but 60 percent have been among gay men while the outside world thinks the worst is over 800,000 people on the lowest estimates now face the hard task of actually dying what she's been able to do is to remind us that even a country as big as the United States has finite resources and we make choices so that we have to think on our own which would I choose do I think I should go to the Gulf War I think I should fund AIDS research she's managed to ask us that question with a print you