ALTERNATE ENDINGS, RADICAL BEGINNINGS by Visual AIDS: Thomas Allen Harris
December 1, 2017 marked the twenty-eighth anniversary of Day With(out) Art, a day of mourning and action in response to the AIDS crisis. A presentation of short film and video works held concurrently at over one hundred art institutions and universities, Day With(out) Art is organized annually by Visual AIDS, the only contemporary arts organization fully committed to raising AIDS awareness and creating dialogue around HIV issues today. This year’s program, ALTERNATE ENDINGS, RADICAL BEGINNINGS, prioritizes Black narratives within the ongoing AIDS epidemic and features seven new and innovative short videos from artists Mykki Blanco, Cheryl Dunye and Ellen Spiro, Reina Gossett, Thomas Allen Harris, Kia LaBeija, Tiona Nekkia McClodden, and Brontez Purnell. ALTERNATE ENDINGS, RADICAL BEGINNINGS screened at 116 venues worldwide, premiering at the Whitney Museum of American Art on December 1, with additional marquee screenings at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in collaboration with the Studio Museum in Harlem, as well as the MCA Chicago and LA MoCA.
As the AIDS epidemic in New York escalated during the 1980s, a young, out, black producer was fighting to get information about the crisis onscreen. Thomas Allen Harris, raised by activists in the Bronx and East Africa, produced a series of public television programs focused on HIV/AIDS, bringing folks who were previously ignored by mainstream media to the core of public discussion. Despite the program’s success in breaking open the narrative of the crisis, the pushback Harris received from the channel’s executives and constraints of corporate media ultimately led the artist to suspend work in public television. Twenty-eight years later, Harris draws from these resurfaced tapes and an essay he’d written at the time: “About Face: The Evolution of a Black Producer.”