Throughout its 50 year history, Modern Art Oxford has presented a programme which has showed an ongoing interest in socially-engaged artistic practices and, to greater and lesser degrees, exhibitions that deal with complex social and political concerns of the moment.
There are many examples during the 1980s and 1990s in particular, ranging from race relations and Apartheid, feminism and gender politics, to the CND and the nuclear disarmament movement. In 1994, Modern Art Oxford presented a touring photo-documentary exhibition exploring the complex individual and social responses to HIV and AIDS.
The exhibition was the culmination of a three year collaboration between The Terrence Higgins Trust and Network Photographers to mark the Trust’s 10th Anniversary and the second decade of the AIDS epidemic in Europe.
This moving exhibition was categorised into a series of ‘chapters’ documented by individual photographers focusing on the personal stories of those affected in different contexts, and aimed to offer a more sympathetic insight into a disease stigmatised by and sensationalised in the media.
On a personal note, as a young gay man growing up in the 1990s, this exhibition resonates powerfully with me. It attests to the dignity and resilience of a community still dealing with this appalling and devastating virus, and to Modern Art Oxford and those other galleries which chose to tour this important exhibition in order to generate empathy and understanding.