Hugh Ryan: How to Whitewash a Plague

Roundup: Talking About History
tags: museums, AIDS, exhibits, Hugh Ryan, New-York Historical Society

Hugh Ryan is a freelance writer and the founding director of the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History.

THE New-York Historical Society’s current exhibition “AIDS in New York: The First Five Years” accomplishes a neat trick: it takes a black mark in New York City’s history — its homophobic, apathetic response to the early days of AIDS in the early 1980s — and transforms it into a moment of civic pride, when New Yorkers of all stripes came together to fight the disease. It’s a lovely story, if only it were true.

To judge from the opening animation — a short video titled “What is AIDS?” — this show is aimed at AIDS neophytes, and as an informational vehicle it succeeds. Many of the images and ephemera are powerful testaments. But such details sit against an apologist backdrop that sees the city through rose-tinted glasses.

The medical community is handled with an especially light touch. While the show rightfully praises those who worked tirelessly to find a cure and provide palliative care to the dying, someone without prior knowledge of the epidemic could easily leave without understanding the bitter, hard-fought battles that activists waged to gain treatment....

Read entire article at NYT

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