'Day Without Art' activity encourages youth to think about AIDS crisis

The front line from (L) to (R), KC Connolly, Erika Kuenne, and Megan Connolly   They are with children from Beijing Guanggai School (北京光爱学校)Photo: sino-us.com by Rebecca Lin

The US Embassy in China collaborated with a US art group and local museum to put on a 'Day Without Art' poster painting exhibition in Beijing on December 1, the World AIDS Day, to attract Chinese youth to creative arts and pay tribute to talented artists died of AIDS.

The two sisters Megan and KC Connolly are from New York, and they represent the CHART Contemporary, a US art group now based in Beijing that calls to bring together art and people.

Megan Connolly has lived in China for over a decade, and on December 1, 2006, she and her younger sister KC, a professional art teacher, brought the ‘Day With(out) Art’ project to China.

Actually, Day Without Art (DWA) project began on December 1, 1989 in the US as the national day of action and mourning in response to the AIDS crisis. To make the public aware that AIDS can touch everyone, and inspire positive action, some 800 American art and AIDS groups participated in the first Day Without Art, shutting down museums, sending staff to volunteer at AIDS services, or sponsoring special exhibitions of work related to AIDS.

Since then, Day With(out) Art has grown into a collaborative project in which an estimated 8,000 national and international museums, galleries, art centers, AIDS service organizations, libraries, high schools and colleges take part. In 1997, it was suggested that Day Without Art be changed to a Day With Art, to recognize and promote increased programming of cultural events that draw attention to the continuing pandemic.

The Connolly sisters in front of last year's poster painting award-winning works. Photo:sino-us.com by Rebecca Lin

Megan recalled that in the first year of 2006, they organized a small group of eight Chinese middle school students and distributed red ribbons (global symbol for solidarity with HIV-positive people and those living with AIDS) in some subway stations. But after that, the Connolly sisters continued to try varied DWA activities every year, and from last year, the US Embassy joined in for helping and fully sponsoring the private project by the sisters and their art group for public good.

Over 200 middle school students and their parents attended the opening ceremony of the exhibition in the Inside-Out Art Museum that will last for two weeks and the museum provided the site for free this time.

The spacious exhibition halls separated into two big rooms showcased over a hundred posters by the young kids from neighboring schools, and a PPV about all the efforts devoted by volunteers was played non-stop in the sign-in lobby.

“Together with the embassy staff, we visited several local schools for talking with kids there about World AIDS Day, and presented them art works by some talented artists who died of AIDS. These young people would be inspired to draw creative poster paintings about the subject,” Megan said. ”The activity intends to make the Chinese youth aware that the fading away lives are not of no worth, in fact they had left works that could continue to influence people after their death.”

A huge piece of paper board was hung on an entire wall in the exhibition hall of several meters long. According to Megan, it was designed for graffiti by all attendees in memory of Keith Haring, American’s most talented street painting artist who was famous for his New York Subway graffiti and died of AIDS in 1990.

Middle school students from Beijing BN Vocational School (百年农工子弟职业学校)  Photo: sino-us.com by Rebecca Lin

Without doubt, the innovative on-the-spot drawing was the centerpiece of the ceremony, and in a few minutes, almost all attendees joined in. Young kids were seen sketching on it with markers of bright colors images related to the day and its special meanings. For those who could not scramble to the first line, they sat down on the ground and painted on separate paper boards.

Some adults also joined in, and one mother told the reporter that she hadn’t touched paintbrush for years and the activity inspired her to express all her negative feelings.

In the center of the room was a candy pile of half a meter tall, which Megan said was prepared in the honor of another famous American artist Felix Gonzalex-Torres, also an AIDS victim. “One of his most impressive installation art works was titled Infinity. He piled up candies on top of spread tissue papers, and every exhibition visitor was expected to pick some. When the candies were all gone, it marked the end of his exhibit,” said Megan.

KC Connolly arrived in Beijing in 2004, and she has been teaching art classes for colleges or some organizations. During the exhibition, she spent most of her time talking to the devoted young painters and providing advice to them.

According to her, the problem of AIDS has become global. Even in China, people are drawn to the subject these days. “It's hoped the DWA project could help connect the east with west, and allow Chinese youth access to better understand the AIDS crisis and become aware that AIDS could touch everyone, and inspire positive action.”

The Connolly sisters have always directed their DWA activities toward Chinese youth because they believe the younger generations in China would become strong in the near future and they should be inspired to give more serious thoughts to the global problem and consider more about what they could do to help with the current situation.

The Connolly sisters are watching a kid draw on the graffiti board. Photo: sino-us.com by Rebecca Lin

Erika Kuenne(L), the Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer from the US Embassy and Antony Song, the Cultural Affairs Specialist from the US Embassy. Photo: sino-us.com by Rebecca Lin

Megan Connolly talks with a student about his works. Photo: sino-us.com by Rebecca Lin


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