Today, December 1, 2011 the Utah Museum of Fine Arts will participate in its annual observance of World AIDS Day by covering a selected work of art from the permanent collection with a black cloth. The UMFA will conceal a 17th century painting, Momento Mori, during visiting hours. This gesture is presented in recognition of Day With(out) Art, a global event that aims to acknowledge the complex issues surrounding the lives of individuals living with HIV or AIDS.
The painting Momento Mori by Vincent Laurensz van der Vinne serves as an example of a vanitas painting, a genre which emerged in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. Vanitas were still life paintings that depicted symbols meant to remind us of our mortality. The title, Momento Mori, is a Latin term meaning “remember you will die.”
The “absence” of this work in the UMFA galleries will enable visitors to reflect on the brevity of life, especially for those who have fallen victim to HIV or AIDS. According to a study conducted by UNAIDS (www.unaids.org), over an estimated 33 million people are currently living with HIV or AIDS globally.
Day With(out) Art was initiated in 1989 by Visual Aids (www.visualaids.org), a group of artists and activists, in response to the range of reactions due to HIV and AIDS. To promote positive action and increase public awareness that AIDS can touch everyone, more than 800 U.S. art and AIDS groups participated in the first Day With(out) Art by shutting down museums, sending staff to volunteer at AIDS services, or sponsoring special exhibitions of work about AIDS. Since then, Day With(out) Art has grown into a global effort with an estimated 8,000 participants including museums, galleries, art centers, AIDS service organizations, libraries, high schools and colleges.