On June 15, 2022, the final piece of artwork comprising the AIDS Memorial Pathway is installed. The last work of art is Horatio Hung-Yan Law’s "Ribbon of Light," which joins the work of four other artists or design firms commissioned by the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture. The public art, along with digital stories, images, and interactive experiences, are intended to build community awareness, commemorate lives lost, and serve as a reminder of the ongoing fight to end HIV/AIDS. The Pathway project was initiated in 2015 by Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen and carried out by a committed group of volunteers and community leaders, including individuals living with HIV, people of color, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Its $2.8 million price tag is funded half with public funds and half with private donations. The art is located on the north side of Seattle's Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill and on the public plaza of the Capitol Hill Light Rail Station.
There’s Healing in Remembering
In 2015, Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, finishing his last term in office, suggested the idea of a memorial to tell the history of Seattle's AIDS crisis to colleagues on the city council. Approving the concept, the city council asked the Museum of History and Industry to assist with a plan, and a 35-member steering committee was formed. In 2016-2017, a budget goal of $2.8 million was identified, site selection was underway, and fundraising began in earnest.
In 2018, the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture issued a call for artists to participate in creating "a physical place for remembrance and reflection, utilizing technology to share stories about the epidemic and the diverse community responses to the crisis and providing a call to action to end HIV/AIDS, stigma, and discrimination" ("Seattle AIDS Memorial Selects Lead Artist").
A five-member panel from the community was responsible for identifying a lead artist to develop the master art plan. As part of a competitive process, Horatio Hung-Yan Law was selected to create not only one of the key art installations for the AIDS Memorial Parkway (AMP) but also develop the thematic thread that would tie the various artworks together. He worked with a team of developers, architects, landscape architects, community members, tech consultants, and others to map out the artistic concepts for this community-driven memorial project.
In King County, there have been more than 5,000 AIDS deaths since 1981. Because there are too many stories to tell and too many names to list, "instead, the AMP aims to tell the common chorus that ties the stories together — the loved ones lost, the community banding together to help and protest, the clubs where they danced their troubles away, the friends who became family. When it is dedicated ... the AMP will become one of only a handful of memorials honoring those lost to the AIDS epidemic and those who fought for and cared for them" (Paul).
In addition to Law, the other artists whose works are represented in the AMP are Christopher Paul Jordan ("andimgonnamisseverybody"), Civilization ("We’re Already Here"), Storme Webber ("In This Way We Loved One Another") and Novaby ("The Names Tree").
Horatio Hung-Yan Law was born in Hong Kong and came to the U.S. as a teenager. "Much of my work stems from my identity as a gay U.S. citizen of Asian heritage," he said. "As a public artist who is interested in socially engaged work, I value collaboration and partnership with community members through collecting ideas, cultural materials, and engaging residents in planning and production of public art" ("Seattle AIDS Memorial Selects Lead Artist"). Law had created public works for the cities of Tacoma and Seattle as well as the Oregon State Hospital, Portland Parks & Recreation, and Housing Authority of Portland.
His piece entitled "Ribbon of Light" is a series of three glass sculptures -- Monolith, Serpentine, and Lambda -- situated along the landscaped pathway. "The artworks of Ribbon of Light represent pieces of the sky that have broken into sculptural fragments and fallen to the ground, allowing the illumination of our communal mourning and embodying the ephemeral, changing, and shifting nature of grief" ("The AMP Artworks Complete ...”).
Tacoma artist Christopher Paul Jordan created a work called "andimgonnamisseverybody," which was installed in the central plaza above the Sound Transit Capitol Hill Light Rail Station. His work appears as a 20-foot-tall X made of large audio speakers. In an artist statement, Jordan explained his vision: "Today, in a country where 50% of Black gay men are projected to become HIV+ in their lifetime, the speakers call us into connection, hospitality, care, celebration, remembrance, activism, and support. One of our goals is to accompany the sculpture with an interactive archive of sounds, poetry, stories, music to forge an embodied portal into communion with those we love" ("About The Artwork"). The installation piece is named after a Bone Thugs-N-Harmony song, "The Crossroads," written as a tribute to rap artist Eazy-E (1964-1995) who died of complications from AIDS.
The design firm Civilization created a series of smaller artwork that uses protest signs in vibrant colors to serve as way-finders along the pathway. The signs were sourced from actual protests and demonstrations, complete with their original messaging: Human Rights for All Humans. Fighting for Our Lives. AIDS is Not History. The colorful signs help visitors locate exits and entrances to the park, around the plaza, and at the transit station.
Storme Webber, an artist and poet descended from Sugpiaq, Black, and Choctaw people, produced "In This Way We Loved One Another," which was installed on December 1, 2020 (World AIDS Day) in the community room of the Station House Building. Its large images and narratives highlight working-class people of color and women living with AIDS.
Enhancing the Experience Digitally
"The Names Tree" by Novaby, a digital art production company headquartered in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, is a digital memorial to the thousands of lives lost to AIDS in Washington. Created with augmented reality technology, a digital tree loaded with hundreds of pink leaves can be seen on the Pathway app. As the names of those who died are read, one leaf detaches from the tree and floats away. "The Names Tree" imagery is based on the 100-year-old Chinese Scholar Tree that stands in the northwest corner of Cal Anderson Park.
The MAP app provides additional ways to experience the stories, images, and elements surrounding each of the artworks as well as a virtual tour of the AIDS Memorial Pathway. The project’s website includes more information on each artist, a list of resources, names of individuals lost to AIDS, community-shared videos, and a timeline on the history of AIDS in Washington.
On June 30, 2022, a celebration to commemorate the completion of the AMP was held. The dedication event included speeches and participation from lead artist Horatio Hung-Yan Law, Gay City, AMP Steering Committee, Seattle Parks and Recreation, and the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture.
Rasmussen and the community members who helped the project get off the ground hope that the AMP will educate and inspire people. "It’s important to Rasmussen and the other organizers that the AMP be not only a place for memories but a living memorial as well, a place where people can draw the connection from then to now, and be inspired to take action" (Paul).