Oral Histories and the Art of AIDS Prevention

 

More than thirty interviews were conducted with artists, arts professionals and public health workers for The Art of AIDS Prevention project. Complete transcripts of the interviews are available on this website. Associate Professor Paul Sendziuk, a historian from the University of Adelaide, travelled to the United States, South Africa and Australia between 2004 and 2008 to conduct the interviews. Each of the interviewees opened their hearts and spoke honestly about the effect of HIV/AIDS on their lives, relationships, and particularly their art. Most of the interviewees have produced significant bodies of work that deal with the themes of HIV/AIDS, loss, memory, anger and activism. They spoke about their backgrounds and training, the inspiration for their major pieces and the reaction of audiences, and their responses to other works of art about AIDS (including films, theatre, music, the AIDS Quilt and the Red Ribbon). They also consider the political response to AIDS in their countries. Among other topics, the arts professionals and public health workers discuss creating organisations and programs to promote AIDS awareness, and about using art to educate the community about AIDS and HIV prevention. 

 

Complete transcripts of the interviews, and brief introductions to each of the artists and images of selected works, can be accessed by clicking here. Audio extracts of the recorded interviews will also soon be available.

 

Most of the interviews have been transcribed verbatim (i.e. word-for-word), to retain the integrity of the artist's voice and thoughts. They have all been reviewed and approved by the interviewees. In reading the transcripts, please keep in mind that people do not speak in grammatically correct sentences when engaging in spoken conversation.

 

About the historian and oral history

 

Paul Sendziuk is an experienced historian who often uses oral history techniques as part of his research. He has conducted more than seventy interviews for projects concerning the history of AIDS, dental care and oral health, and Polish refugees and migrants. Some of his interviews are held by the National Library of Australia and the State Library of South Australia.

 

Interview-based oral history has become increasingly accepted as a methodology for compiling histories of the past. But because it relies on the memory of interviewees and the relationship between them and the interviewer, it has been criticised for being 'subjective', partial, and prone to producing accounts that conform with popular (or collective) memories rather than ones based on individual experience. Critics also worry about the power exercised by the interviewer in framing the questions in particular ways, and shaping the direction of the interview. Paul Sendziuk examines this critique, and other methodological issues, in a brief essay that will soon be available from this website. 

Image: Paul Sendziuk and Barton Lidice Benes, New York City,  20 April 2008. Courtesy of Katrina Stats.