DIFFA Gala Installatin


The year 2024 marks the big 40 for DIFFA, aka Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS, established in 1984 in New York City by a dozen industry professionals as the HIV/AIDS crisis was rapidly taking hundreds of lives worldwide. Some 500 guests came and celebrated DIFFA’s mission over the years, at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers. Four DIFFA Legends—former board chairs Cindy Allen, David Rockwell, and George Slowik, and former executive director David Sheppard—from each decade of the nonprofit’s history were celebrated with video dedications from the likes of John Edelman, Steven Kolb, and Fern Mallis, live performances by Lady Gaga musical director Brian Newman and Tony Award winner Matt Doyle, and a spirited table fundraiser MC-ed by drag queen TV star Miz Cracker that raised $22,000 on the spot. There were also immersive DIFFA-focused installations by students from local design schools FIT, NYSID, Pratt, and SVA providing an inspiring backdrop.

Prof. Quin Wu and students from FIT Interior Design Department take on the task of encapsulating the essence of the 2000s, a decade marked by both the somber reality of AIDS-related deaths and the emergence of hope through increased awareness and community efforts. The students joined SJSW as interns to perform both the design and fabrication work.

Test assembly in SJSW workshop

Site assembly at the Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers

Concept: Our installation, titled "Embrace of Resilience," is a symbolic representation of the contradictory emotions experienced during the 2000s AIDS epidemic. The central element is a striking cube, inviting visitors to step into the confined space, mirroring the feelingsof limitation, isolation, and helplessness that individuals with AIDS endured. This physical experience aims to foster empathy and understanding among visitors, encouraging reflection on the harsh realities of the time.

Negative Aspect: The interior of the cube is designed to evoke a sense of confinement, with dim lighting and muted colors reflecting the somber atmosphere surrounding AIDS during the 2000s. Through visual elements and ambient sounds, visitors will be immersed in the struggles faced by those affected by the disease. The narrative begins with stark statistics –the harsh truth of the 774,467 reported AIDS cases in the United States by December 31, 2000, and the devastating loss of 448,060 lives. Personal stories and testimonials will be integrated into the design, conveying the discrimination and rejection experienced by individuals with AIDS.

Positive Aspect: As visitors navigate through the cube, they will encounter a timeline that documents the progressive improvements in AIDS awareness, research, and community support during the 2000s. The installation dynamically shifts from darkness to light, symbolizing the emergence of hope and the growing understanding that AIDS is not easily transmissible through casual contact. The timeline showcases milestones such as medical advancements, awareness campaigns, and the founding of influential organizations dedicated to fighting AIDS. Positivemessages, quotes, and uplifting imagery will be integrated, offering a sense of optimism and portraying the resilience of the human spirit.

Conclusion: "Embrace of Resilience" serves as a powerful testament to the duality of the 2000s, encapsulating the harsh realities and the burgeoning hope in the fight against AIDS. By immersing visitors in a sensory experience that balances the negative and positive aspectsofthe era, our installation aims to evoke empathy, understanding, and a renewed commitment to ending the stigma surrounding AIDS. Through the cube's physical and emotional journey, we invite attendees to reflect on the progress made over the past four decades while acknowledging theongoing challenges in the fight against AIDS.

After the event at DIFFA gala, the installation is transported and exhibited in the FIT Musuem.

The DIFFA gala garnered a star-studded crowd including (from left) Dominique and Richard Shemtov, owner of Dune, Cindy Allen, Beth Dickstein, cofounder of Be Original Americas, Eric Laignel, photographer, and John Edelman, president and CEO of Heller.

FIT team including (from left): Winnie Feng, Andrew Robins, Quin Wu, Ashley Patzelt, June Panthong, Valentina Rojascruza. Special thanks to coordinator Eric Daniels.