Students from the Illustration Department at Art Center College of Design created this exhibition that speaks to the topic of older adults and HIV/AIDS awareness.
With studies projecting that by the year 2015 more than half of all people living with HIV in the United States will be over age 50, New York based team of Katja Heinemann and Naomi Schegloff are bringing a vital public consciousness to the forefront with their awareness campaign, The Graying of AIDS. The first and only national education and prevention effort dedicated to this issue, The Graying of AIDS aims to educate health care and social service professionals about the risks, the damaging stigmas, and the inspiring truths associated with older adults and HIV/AIDS in our world today.
By 2015 more than 50% of all people living with HIV in the US will be over 50.
– from the Graying of AIDS website
The “Graying of AIDS: Off The Wall” studio was conceived to amplify the pressing dialogue inspired by the work of New York-based team Katja Heinemann and Naomi Schegloff and their national public awareness campaign, The Graying of AIDS. As the first and only broad-based education and prevention effort dedicated to the issues of older adults and HIV/AIDS, The Graying of AIDS campaign is bringing a vital public consciousness to the forefront, educating health care and social service professionals about the risks, the damaging stigmas, and the inspiring truths associated with older adults and HIV/AIDS in our world today.
The students in Off The Wall were invited to create an exhibition companion to the campaign, to spark awareness and provoke discussion around these timely topics.
From the initial briefings to the display of the 30 coffee mugs, this Off the Wall project hit a powerful chord with the students, teachers, and everyone else involved. By using the mugs as identifiers of personality and experience, the students were able to combine design and writing to create a unique and unconventional exhibit that conveyed deep emotion as well as penetrating observations.
– Brian Rea, Lead Faculty,
Illustration Department, Off The Wall Studio
Led by Illustration department faculty member Brian Rea, students in Off The Wall were initially asked to research and examine a wide range of complex topics in preparing to design their exhibition:
– What is ageism and how does our culture marginalize older adults?
– How can this piece galvanize a meaningful dialogue?
– Is this an education piece, an awareness piece, or both?
– Are there stigmas and stereotypes we should avoid or ones we should use?
– Can we make a piece that compels people to think differently and compassionately about individual stories?
– Is it stronger to discuss sexuality or an aging disease?
To do this, students and faculty held two initial briefing meetings including a skype session with Heinemann and Schegloff to further explore their expertise on ageism, sexuality for older adults, and issues with health care providers and social workers who struggle in communicating with an aging population living with HIV/AIDS. The students used these briefings and studio meetings to gather information from key stakeholders and process complex social topics. After their additional individual research, each student began sketching potential ideas for the installation space dedicated in Art Center’s Williamson Gallery.
Later, the students shifted to the role of art director and pursued two goals: 1) to raise awareness about ageism and older adults living with HIV/AIDS, and 2) to produce a relatable human story for audiences of the exhibition. Following their explorations the students felt strongly that the “human stories” behind their research were the most important messaging aspects of the project.
The students decided to use a common, but often personalized household item—the coffee mug—to assert the identities and stories of aging populations living with AIDS, and to repurpose an everyday artifact into a strong advocacy tool. The collaborative process among the multi-disciplinary team enabled the students to develop unique concepts that could harness the power of their research and transforming it into an accessible and personal vernacular via the messages on the mugs.
The last week of the studio focused on fabrication and installation. The students honed and further edited the coffee mug messages. Each student designed two to three mug messages digitally and transferred their designs using porcelain black markers. A 36′ x 15′ wall was painted red and the 30 mugs (white with black text) were installed at eye level in a single line for readability and to create a striking contrast to the large red wall.
“The Graying of AIDS: Off the Wall” Exhibition debuted in Art Center’s Williamson Gallery, alongside the prominent existing exhibition, “Graphic Intervention: 25 Years of International AIDS Awareness Posters.”
The Off the Wall project delivered a powerful and meaningful installation that aimed to poignantly complement the vitality of The Graying of AIDS national campaign. The students’ work asks audiences to recognize the human stories behind the mugs, in addition to appreciating the strong visual impact.