Bliss, in my ghostly eye
Kiss me on the lips
On the eyes
Our name will be forgotten
–Derek Jarman, 1993.
By the time Derek Jarman made his film Blue, he was dying of AIDS and plagued by retinal lesions that clouded his vision. Blue was the only color he could see.
Blue, Jarman’s eleventh and final film, was his last optical will and final personal testament—the result is a crown jewel in the canon of queer cinema. Executed with tunnel vision intensity, Jarman’s sparse dialogue plays out against a backdrop of a raw, intensely pigmented Yves Klein Blue. Jarman’s final work of art spoke to and for a generation suffering from a disease that claimed over 50,000 lives—overwhelmingly men—at its peak in 1995, two years before the film’s release. Blue is also important for another reason—it survived. These days we take information for granted, but twenty years ago AIDS was claiming more than just people. History was dying, too.
Kyle Bella, an LBGT journalist and cultural critic living in Brooklyn, is determined to revive the legacies that vanished at the peak of the AIDS crisis. “History stays alive only as we keep animating it,” he tells me. “History is assumed by so many…to be plain and simple Truth. But there’s nothing plain or simple about history, particularly a history that works in the context of an ongoing global health pandemic.”
The crisis is far from over—the CDC estimates that 1,144,500 persons aged 13 years and older are living with HIV infection, including 180,900 (15.8%) who are unaware of their infection. Biopolitics, stigmas and shame still wrap red tape around the past histories and present circumstances of many at risk or suffering from HIV and AIDS.
“I’m really interested in exploring how shame affects the way we have sex, the way we talk about sex, and the ways we remember the histories of this AIDS crisis,” Kyle says. “There is obviously a lot of silence here, but we’re also having a lot of sex and thinking about it.” Silence=death. And, “if not physical death then emotional, psychological, and cultural destruction.”
Kyle hopes to address the shame that still silences many in his community, particularly those who don’t want to talk about sex. His latest project, Viral Legacies, hopes to do just that. Initially born from a Fulbright application, Viral Legacies has grown into “a documentary poetics project centered around HIV/AIDS histories, memorialization, and the emotional legacies of the initial crisis on present day queer male communities.” Part anthropological case study, part experiential preservation, Kyle will travel to Europe this summer to “revive histories that may have been pushed aside, erased, or outright destroyed [and keep] HIV prevention and sexual practice alive, because I would rather fight back against silence, shame and erasure than further contribute to the problem.”