In 1984, a special ward was opened in St. Vincent’s hospital in New York City for people suffering from HIV. In the 80’s, the little-understood disease was considered a death sentence.
Today, HIV and AIDS are still frightening, but are no longer the killers they once were. New treatments and preventatives have changed “dying from HIV” to “living with HIV.” Many doctors are now considering it a chronic condition closer in impact to diabetes.
One of the councilmen who attended the ward’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, Corey Johnson, is himself HIV-positive. But it cannot be overstated how lethal HIV once was. By the mid 90’s, more than 100,000 New Yorkers died in that ward, and their loss must be remembered.
To that end, a new memorial was unveiled in West Village on December 1st. The New York City Aids Memorial, a plaza featuring a white sculpture and a text piece, now stands near the site of that early ward at St Vincent’s Triangle.
The sculpture, a white geometric canopy nearly twenty feet tall and made of triangular lattices, was designed by Studio ai, an architecture practice studio in Brooklyn. It centers the small plaza, hovering over a granite bench.
Beneath canopy and bench is the text piece. Long excerpts from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” (1885) are set in spirals in the granite paving stones. This is a poem about the ways in which identity is both tied to and free of the body, in health and infirmity.
“The Whitman poem is a beauty from a man in full and glad possession of his body,” said Jenny Holzer, the artist responsible for the pacing stones. She is also developing an app that will link the text installation to more relevant works of literature.
While the memorial was unveiled on World AIDS Day (December 1st), with attendance from Mayor Blasio, it isn’t expected to open to the public until the end of December. The last component, two long lines of granite benches, are expected to be delivered and installed over Christmas.