On the opening day of the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, Hamara Bajaj attracted more visitors than many of the scientific sessions. Three brighly-painted autorickshaws from India with AIDS messages were among the central displays as part of the Make Art/Stop AIDS project. No, the autoriskshaws were not specially shipped to Mexico as part of the Indian delegation.
“Autorickshaws from India are exported to Mexico, so we bought these three here and got the special paint job done,” says Rajeev Varma, director, MA/SA India. Why autorickshaws? “Autorickshaws symbolise mobility and art also moves people, and the whole purpose of our display is to move people into thinking about HIV/AIDS,” says Varma.
More important, the autorickshaw display was a huge hit in India at the launch of the National AIDS Control Organisation’s Red Ribbon Express — the train which is still going around all the states in India with AIDS awareness displays and messages. A part of the Art/Global Health Centre at UCLA, the MA/SA project started in India now does work inspired by local art in the US, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa.
The venue is Centro Banamex, the biggest business and convention centre in Mexico City, which is also home to the serious business of horseracing. The Hipodromo de las Americas’ horse tracks are part of the 185,000 sq m complex, that can house 50,000 people, 10,000 cars and innumerable horses. It’s one of the few centres where business is conducted overlooking race tracks and astro turf interspersed with artificial ponds and stables. No one could tell me what happens to the horses when over 20,000 people take over their space for a week. PETA should look for answers to this one.
Security guards looked confused when 20,000 people with job descriptions as diverse as sex work and vaccine research rub shoulders with each other. Still, one checking bags at the entrance was quite taken aback when a young man dumped a huge suitcase on the table for inspection. “What is it? Clothes?” she asked. “No, condoms," he replied. “You are a happy man. That must be some party you are going to tonight,” said the guard. Just for the record, the condoms were for distribution, and I can vouch for the fact that there were more condoms at the venue than delegates and coffee.