This document describes Seropositivo [Seropositive] (1994), the work by Fernando Arias (b. 1963), as a means of humanizing the disease, an attempt to expose the general public to the suffering, the fear, the pain, the rejection, and the “poor quality of life” of those who were affected. The tone of the article, and the way it is written, however, seem to portray the virus as something quite remote from the author’s reality. It is presented to the reader as though he or she were a spectator, someone immune to the virus. This is quite the opposite feeling to what the installation intended as it sought to involve the public in a multifaceted experience by presenting details on the syndrome’s rising rates of infection. The article also shows how the exhibition impacted the public, as a portrait of the phenomenon and as a report on the extent to which the disease had spread in those days. The exhibition was an early example of the social commentary that the visual arts pioneered in the 1990s.
We should keep in mind that there was very little information in circulation about the HIV/AIDS virus in the 1990s, in terms of how it was transmitted and the particular groups who were at risk; in those days, most people believed that the disease was confined to dubious populations, specifically prostitutes and homosexuals. Furthermore, the low mortality rates from the disease—compared to the death rates attributed to violence, for example, in the case of Colombia, which were (to date) estimated to be up to 107 times greater—meant that the syndrome was not studied in any great depth. According to figures quoted in official reports from the Colombian Ministry of Health’s National Program for the Prevention and Control of STD/HIV/AIDS (National Epidemiological Bulletin, 1995), the first case of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) in the United States was recorded in 1981. The first case in Colombia was reported just two years later, in 1983, in the city of Cartagena, and a couple of other cases were recorded that same year elsewhere in the country. From then until 1994, there were 12,455 cases of AIDS confirmed.
Fernando Arias earned a degree in advertising at the Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano in Bogotá (1987), and went on to specialize in art and design in London in 1991. He has received a number of awards for visual art work, for example from the Arts Council England?BFI Black World and Tate Modern(2005); a production grant from the Arts Council England and Live Art Development Agency, and the Prince Claus Foundation prize (both in 2004). He also received other awards in England, such as an arts grant from the Arts Council England (2004) and the Research and Development, Visual Arts Projects Award, London Arts (2002), among others. Arias, a Colombian artist, currently lives and works in New York.