November 30, 2010

In the Blood: AIDS and the Arts, Part 2

by G.L. Morrison

Yesterday, we explored expressions of artistic imagery touched firsthand or via inspiration by HIV/AIDS. Today, a poet and songstress felled by this deadly killer, whose voices have become anthem to a landscape of both hope and loss.

Songs & Secrets

Ofra Haza (1957–2000)

Israeli singer and actress, Ofra Haza, popularized “world beat” music, a fusion of modern Pop music with traditional melodies and instruments.

A true Cinderella story: Haza was born the youngest of nine children. Following her death, Prime Minister Ehud Barak commented, “Ofra emerged from the Hatikvah slums to reach the peak of Israeli culture. She has left a mark on us all.”

Dubbed “the Madonna of the East,” Haza earned platinum and gold records, Grammy nomination and topped musical charts (and MTV video rotations) in Asia, Europe and the USA during the ’80 and ’90s. She performed with musical stars such as Paula Abdul, Michael Jackson, Iggy Pop, Whitney Houston, and Sinéad O’Connor, and also sang on the soundtracks of Colors (1988), Dick Tracy (1990), Wild Orchid (1990), Queen Margot (1994), The Prince of Egypt (1998), The Governess (1998) and American Psycho (2000). Haza’s songs continue to be re-released, re-mixed and sampled after her death, and were featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto (2005).

Ofra Haza and Iggy Pop perform: "Daw Da Hiya," a song of forbidden love.

The singing career Haza began at the age of 12, ended at with her passing at age 42 of AIDS-related multiple organ failure. Investigation into her death showed that she avoided treatment out of fear that her AIDS would become public knowledge.

“It brings us back to the beginning of the epidemic with the near-demonization and stigmatization of a disease that actually we are dealing with much better,” said Dr. Zvi Bentwich, head of the AIDS Center at Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot. “And in this unfortunate case, it appears that Ofra Haza almost died of the embarrassment, from the terrible fear to reveal her illness.”

Public outcry pointed an accusatory finger at the husband of the star with a reputation for clean living. Doron Ashkenazi married the superstar in 1997. The couple had no children together. Several complaints were filed with the police, accusing Ashkenazi of not informing Haza that he was HIV positive, but he was never arrested. In April 2000, Ashkenazi died of a cocaine overdose and the investigation was closed.

A newspaper report of Haza’s death sparked international debate over whether the paper had breached journalistic ethics and violated the privacy of the singer, or whether it had “done a public service by refusing to treat AIDS as an illness whose name cannot be spoken.”