Prefigurative Performance in American and African AIDS Activism

  • Ola Johansson


The essay compares responses to HIV and AIDS in the USA and sub-Saharan Africa in reference to performance practices, activism and documentary films. In both geopolitical spheres the epidemic onslaught was so acute whilst no effective antiretroviral treatment was accessible that performers created prefigurative actions, which not only impelled and expedited policy, cultural and medical responses to AIDS but also activist tactics used in future social and political crises. Groups like ACT UP in New York, the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa and community-based theatre groups in East Africa provided previously uncharted contact zones between governments and communities, which have, in effect, contributed to an intensified civil society and democratisation in these parts of the world today.


  1. ACT UP. (1989). A National AIDS Treatment Research Agenda. Accessed 25 Mar 2017.
  2. (on the symbol SILENCE=DEATH). Accessed 25 Mar 2017.
  3. (1984). Accessed 25 Mar 2017.
  4. Ajzen, I. (1980). Understanding Attitudes and Predicting Social Behaviour. Engelwood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  5. Allegue, L., Jones, S., Kershaw, B., & Piccini, A. (Eds.). (2009). Practice-as-Research in Performance and Screen. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  6. BBC. (2005). SA’s Zuma “Showered to Avoid HIV”, 05 April 2006. Accessed 25 Mar 2017.
  7. Beresford, D. (2005). Mandela Family United by Grief and Fight Against AIDS. The Guardian, 16 January 2005. Accessed 25 March 2017.
  8. Biggs, M., & Karlsson, H. (Eds.). (2010). The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  9. Boggs, C. (1977). Marxism, Prefigurative Communism, and the Problem of Workers’ Control. Radical America, No. 6, Winter 1977.Google Scholar
  10. Bookchin, M. (1990). The Meaning of Confederalism on the Webpage Green Perspectives, see Accessed 25 Mar 2017.
  11. Campbell, C. (2003). Letting Them Die: Why HIV/AIDS Prevention Programmes Fail. Oxford: James Currey.Google Scholar
  12. Conner, M., & Norman, P. (1996). Predicting Health Behaviour: Search and Practice with Social Cognition Models. Buckingham: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Crimp, D., & Rolston, A. (1990). AIDS Demo Graphics. Seattle: Bay Press.Google Scholar
  14. Dalrymple, L. (2006). Has It Made a Difference? Understanding and Measuring the Impact of Applied Theatre with Young People in the South African Context. Research in Drama Education, 11, 201–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Debord, G. (2007/1962). Sur la Commune. In W. Bradley & C. Esche (Eds.), Art and Social Change: A Critical Reader. London: Tate Publishing.Google Scholar
  16. de Waal, A. (2006). AIDS and Power: Why There Is No Political Crisis – Yet. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  17. Dugger, C.W. (2008). ‘Study Cites Toll of AIDS Policy in South Africa’ in New York Times., 25 August 2008. Accessed 25 Mar 2017.
  18. France, D. (2012). How to Survive a Plague. Public Square Films.Google Scholar
  19. France, D. (2016). How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS. London: Picador.Google Scholar
  20. Frank, M. (1995). AIDS Education Through Theatre: Case Studies from Uganda. Doctoral dissertation. Bayreuth: Bayreuth African Studies.Google Scholar
  21. Freudenthal, S. (2002). A Review of Social Science Research on Hiv/Aids. Paper prepared for Swedish International Development and Cooperation Agency (SIDA).Google Scholar
  22. Graeber, D. (2009). Direct Action: An Ethnography. Oakland: AK Press.Google Scholar
  23. Graeber, D. (2013). The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  24. Gray, M. (2013). Fire in the Blood. Sparkwater.Google Scholar
  25. Harrington, M. (1993). The Crisis in AIDS Research. Accessed 25 Mar 2017.
  26. Harrington, M., et al. (1988). A Glossary of AIDS Drug Trials, Testing & Treatment (ACT UP outreach committee), Accessed 25 Mar 2017.Google Scholar
  27. Harvey, D. (2012). Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  28. Hatherly, O. (2012). Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution—Review. In The Guardian., 12 April 2012, see Accessed 25 Mar 2017.
  29. Hubbard, J., & Schulman, S. (2012). United in Anger: A History of ACT UP. A film by Jim Hubbard. United States: A Hubbard & Schulman Production.Google Scholar
  30. Iliffe, J. (1998). East African Doctors: A History of the Modern Profession. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.Google Scholar
  31. Iliffe, J. (2006). The African AIDS Epidemic: A History. Athens: Ohio University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Johansson, O. (2004). Staying Alive. London: .CNN International, see Accessed 25 Mar 2017.
  33. Johansson, O. (2006). Performative Interventions: African Community Theatre in the Age of AIDS. In M. Franko (Ed.), Ritual and Event: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  34. Johansson, O. (2011). Community Theatre and AIDS. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Johansson, O. (2017). Prefigurative Performance in the Age of Political Deception. The Drama Review, 61:1 (T233), Spring 2017. New York University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.Google Scholar
  36. Kerr, D. (1995). African Popular Theatre: From Pre-colonial Times to the Present Day. Nairobi: East African Educational Publishers.Google Scholar
  37. Kramer, L. (1982). Interview: Accessed 25 Mar 2017.
  38. Kramer, L. (1985). The Normal Heart. Samuel French.Google Scholar
  39. Marks, L. (2000). The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment and the Senses. Durham/London: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Mlama, P. (1991). Culture and Development. Uppsala: Uppsala universitet.Google Scholar
  41. Mugyenyi, P. (2008). Genocide by Denial: How Profiteering from HIV/AIDS Killed Millions. Kampala: Fountain Publishers.Google Scholar
  42. Murphy, R. (2014). The Normal Heart. HBO.Google Scholar
  43. Natsios, A. (2001). See Wikipedia Entry for ‘Andrew Natsios’. Accessed 25 Mar 2017.
  44. Nelson, R. (Ed.). (2013). Practice as Research in the Arts: Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  45. Ormrod, J. E. (1999). Human Learning. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  46. René, N. (1989). Long Time Companion. American Playhouse.Google Scholar
  47. Salyer, D. (2001). A Look Back at the History of AIDS in the U.S. In The Body: A Complete HIV/AIDS Resource. Accessed 25 Mar 2017.
  48. Shilts, R. (1987). And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic. New York: St Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  49. Somi, et al. (2009, July). Three Years of HIV/AIDS Care and Treatment Services in Tanzania: Achievements and challenges. Tanzania Journal of Health Research, 11 (3), 136–143.Google Scholar
  50. Speakes, L. (1982–84). For Statements and Laughs., see Accessed 25 Mar 2017.
  51. Spottiswoodi, R. (1993). And the Band Played On. HBO Pictures.Google Scholar
  52. Starhawk & Williams, S. (2003). Not in Our Name: Pledge of Resistance, see Accessed 25 Mar 2017.
  53. Timberg, C. (2006). In South Africa: A Dramatic Shift on AIDS, Washington Post Foreign Service, 27 October 2006. Accessed 25 Mar 2017.
  54. UNAIDS (UNAIDS Global Update 2016), see Accessed 25 Mar 2017.
  55. de Vaal, A. (2006). AIDS and Power: Why There Is No Political Crisis—Yet. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ola Johansson
    • 1
  1. 1.Middlesex UniversityLondonUK

Personalised recommendations