July 2004 – Access for all
This year the International Aids Conference is held in Bangkok and through my friend Joep Lange, who is president of the conference I’ve set up an exhibition there at the Queen’s Gallery, the first one on HIV/Aids in Asia, a subject that is not often talked about.
Curator Hilde Teerlinck and I asked ten internationally known artists to make a work for this event inspired by the theme of the conference, Access for All.
Now there are ten magnificent prints hanging in the gallery by General Idea, Lawrence Weiner, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and several others.
Dozens of classes pass by and on the weekends whole families come, with children and grandpas and grandmas. Perhaps not so much because the Thai are interested in contemporary art, although they are naturally curious but more likely because the air conditioning in The Queen’s Gallery is set at twenty degrees Celsius while outside it’s over thirty.
A group of school children shuffle through the exhibition. They stop in front of a work by Shirin Neshat: two entwined hands that are decorated with Iranian motifs. The hands show solidarity and strength.
While the children are giving the works their full attention the teacher walks up to me. In his best English, he asks, ‘Excuse me, but how do you look at art?’ This simple question touches the very essence of art: how do we look at it? For me there’s only one way: you look with your heart. The more you look, the more the work will tell you.
He turns around and talks to the children. I can’t understand what he says, but I see a girl with long black hair and a Hello Kitty bag nod vigorously while others continue to fix their gaze on the works.
I’m seeing it with my own eyes, art can be a vehicle for change. ArtAids, my foundation whose purpose is to motivate people to break through the HIV stigma, is born.