One of the events that will be marking World AIDS Day on 1 December will be a vigil held outside the British Council in London.
I spoke with one of the organisers, Ash Kotak, to discuss why we should be lighting a candle on World AIDS Day.
Why is a vigil an appropriate way to mark World AIDS Day?
A vigil is a visible bringing together of friends and strangers, in memory, in remembrance and in grief and in hope. Emotion and memory are related thus vigils connect histories, narratives and form. They are ritual-like bringing collective relief, but they may surprise, bringing up a sudden, unexpected flood of sadness.
We can never be free of the past, we are always it’s prisoners no matter how much therapy we may have. We learnt how to deal with the trauma of illness, of stigma, of death. The resultant PTSD many of us have, was embedded funeral after funeral. It remains very real to us and grief is not only profound but it also has social, cultural, physical, cognitive, behavioural, spiritual and philosophical dimensions.
AIDS was a war. Many of us are scarred from the numerous battles. Shame was our own and stigma was everyone else’s. At the time there was no time for community grieving and today our memories remain. AIDS is a human rights issue. AIDS was moralised and shamed. HIV has been demonised. People living with HIV and AIDS and those who have died from AIDS have been dehumanised.
But we also celebrate survival while remembering those who didn’t make it.
We are bringing back a past tradition – the yearly London AIDS Vigil – and it will continue until there is a national tribute to HIV in the UK. Vigils have continued in Brighton and I think Manchester too.
The vigil stands as a temporary, yearly reminder of unity, the bringing together of people regardless of difference to fight for hope and dignity.
So, a vigil in 2018 is as poignant as it was in the pre-life-saving meds times of the 1980s and 1990s in the UK, only now we’re fighting for fellow humans who are not as lucky as us in the West – it’s very much about luck and privilege.
Why is it important to ensure that as many people as possible are able to access effective treatment following diagnosis of HIV?
Fifty percent of all people living with HIV cannot access medications. So much has been achieved, and this number is reducing, but there is still so much more to do.
No one needs to die due to HIV in 2018, and we must keep on fighting, yet AIDS-related infections and diseases still kill over 2500 people worldwide per day.
People on effective HIV medications with a sustained undetectable viral load cannot pass on HIV to anyone else. It’s a perfect tool to EndAIDS2030 alongside PeP, PrEP, and condoms.
What will happen at the vigil at the British Council?
This will be an electric candlelight vigil with poetry, a two-minute silence, and a time to take photos and to reflect.
All are welcome. It’s open to all.
The theme this year is Remembering Women Affected by HIV. So many women stood up in those early days to care and to love people dying from AIDS.
HIV has always killed many women worldwide, and it continues to today. Over half of 35 million people living with HIV worldwide are women. Too many new infections yearly are seen in young women, often due to violence and poverty. Fifty percent of all people living with HIV cannot access medications, many are women.
What do you hope that people feel as they’re taking part in the vigil?
HIV and AIDS bring up so many emotions, and each individual will have their own experience. Any lasting tribute to HIV must not dictate to anyone how they are meant to feel but allow for openness and interpretation so the viewer, who will become a participant, can reflect for themselves on what HIV and AIDS means to them.
A good example of this is the 7/7 Memorial in Hyde Park. I finish the scupture for myself with what I bring to the space. This is why it’s crucial to bring in an artist to create an installation or environment which is non invasive.
AIDS changed society, it forced us to confront prejudice about sex and sexuality, gender, race, colour, religion, culture, human rights, and so much more.
The vigil will be held on 1 December 2018, 4-5 PM, outside the British Council in London.
#AIDSMemoryUK are leading this vigil revival, with StopAIDS, Pride in London, and the British Council. It’s part of the #EndAIDS2030Festival which runs 26th November until 3rd December to coincide with 30th World AIDS Day on 1st December 2018.