positive/negative: HIV/AIDS at NYU Fales Library


Jake Quan

Curated by Brent Phillips, the positive/negative: HIV/AIDS exhibition is currently on display on the 3rd floor of Bobst Library at the Fales Library.

Natalie Hansford, Contributing Writer

Brent Phillips, a media archivist for NYU Fales Library, spends his days preserving rare audio and film for future generations. In “positive/negative: HIV/AIDS,” his first curated exhibition, Phillips focuses on preserving memories, pain and sense of community that the AIDS epidemic created, saying that it slowly became a footnote in the history books but decimated Manhattan’s LGBT community.

Phillips said he hopes the exhibition will prevent younger generations from forgetting the effects of the AIDS epidemic’s effects.

Q: What inspired you to curate the “positive/negative” exhibition?
A: Sometimes professors bring students in to see primary source material at Fales. What I was noticing year after year was that there was not much of an understanding of what happened during the AIDS epidemic. I truly believe it is something that used to be talked about and studied much more. So I wanted to try to get students in here to connect with the material we still physically have.

Q: The exhibit partially focuses on a more positive, community-oriented aspect of the AIDS epidemic.
A: Yeah, that would probably be the other impetus for doing the show. When I hear people commenting on the epidemic, it’s history being told in black and white. The beautiful thing about archives is that they can break that black and white history discussion and show that it’s a lot more colored. As horrible as the AIDS epidemic was, there was a lot of positive that came out of it. The LGBT community all of a sudden had a face. It changed this unorganized, nationally despised group of people and put them to the forefront saying, “We are human beings.” I think, 35 years later, that’s a major reason why there is this wonderful acceptance of LGBT people.

Q: How did you get started working at Fales?
A: I actually started as a professional ballet dancer. I was with the Joffrey Ballet here in New York for eight years, and one of the things Mr. Joffrey used to do was reconstructions of lost ballets. One time we were reconstructing a ballet and there were thirty seconds someone had filmed of this lost piece. When they showed it to us, I realized how important those 30 seconds were. So, when I left the dancing profession, I got my degree in film preservation and started working here.

Q: What spurred your interest in dance?
A: Gene Kelly, as I’m sure most boys would say. I saw him dancing with an umbrella in a rainstorm, and I thought that seemed like a lot of fun. And when I think about it, I always knew how important it was that those videos of Gene Kelly were preserved.

Q: Do you have any ideas for future exhibitions?
A: There are always ideas popping up. I probably won’t be doing another one for a while, but you can rest assure that the next one will have a lot of audio visual material. You can’t get back time in a better way.


“positive/negative: HIVAIDS” is on exhibition at NYU Fales Library, located on the third floor of Bobst Library, until Jan. 15, 2016.

Email Natalie Hansford at [email protected].