Artists Draw on Experiences to Make the Breadth of AIDS Visible
by Chael Needle
Reflecting on President Reagan’s silence around AIDS in the 1980s, Tony Kushner stated in the June 2012 issue of A&U: “And in a way we are back there again where nobody wants to hear about [AIDS] and talk about it anymore. It is hard for the human race to countenance what this virus has done to our world. So it’s become invisible again in a frightening way.”
According to the World Health Organization, more than 25 million individuals have died from complications related to HIV/AIDS in the past thirty years. Currently around 34 million people are estimated to be living with the virus, with over sixty percent of those in sub-Saharan Africa. When it comes to treatment access in low- and middle-income countries, 6.6 million were receiving anti-HIV meds in 2010, representing a sixteen-fold increase since 2003. However, seven million in these same regions were waiting for treatment, according to the same 2011 report.
Art has the ability to go beyond numbers and faceless statistics. It works from a different calculus than science and has the ability to connect us to people with whom we’ve never communicated before.
How do we create art that tries to “countenance what this virus has done to our world”? Is it even possible for work to have global resonance or is it more realistic to create locally and reach out to a smaller audience?
A&U asked members of the visual arts community to search their catalogues for works that respond to these questions about making art in an age when the pandemic has reached (almost) every country in the world. The following works were selected for their unique take on the subject but also for what arguably binds them together—new ways of making AIDS visible. How do you make something seemingly invisible visible? You highlight the very act of seeing. You repeat visual elements like shapes and colors. You repurpose familiar images or genres, creating new contexts to see with fresh eyes. You magnify what is usually microscopic.
Joe De Hoyos
Joe De Hoyos studied art at the University of Houston, London University, and School of Visual Arts. Says De Hoyos: “Collage allows me to collect and curate, break rules, and be poetic.” He has been positive since 1985.
“I work in direct response to the global AIDS pandemic using the inspiration of viruses and other microscopic organisms, as viewed through a microscope. My compositions look random but there is an invisible order to them,” De Hoyos says about work such as Birth, part of his VIRUS series.
“The VIRUS series is made up entirely of images of objects grouped by color. Being a lover of industrial design I am drawn to the whimsy of an object that also has a practical use: things that are accessible with a hint of intellectuality,” he continues. “In the same way I aim for my work to be both poetic and poignant, sweet and scary, childlike yet dark.”
Joe De Hoyos may be contacted at [email protected].
Even though he was extremely sick at the time, Dan Gray seized an opportunity to get out of the house and interact with other people when, in the mid-nineties, Spark Gallery in Denver offered a painting class for people living with AIDS. Painting allowed him to lose track of time and allowed HIV to recede from his consciousness.
Says Gray about Spiral: “The piece I submitted is the last in a series of spiral-themed paintings. This is the largest at five-by-six feet, two five-by-three canvases bolted together. I was thinking of the idea of positive and negative spaces melding, a starting point on the canvas spiraling out beyond the confines of the painting.” The global/local theme immediately brought this painting to mind “because the spiral starts at a specific place or person (local) and continues expanding—spreading—out until it affects everything or everyone (global).”
Gray also paints pets for fun. They may be viewed at www.DenverArtists.com/andyadams.
Iye received a 2012 Visual AIDS grant, and this is one of the images that is part of that overture. As a visual artist she is exhibiting this year at Open Studio. Iye is represented by ARS, Artist Rights Society.
Iye offers: “I am interested in exploring topics that relate to philosophical textures, surfacing as mediums. Within this scope, a variation of panels that explore the interior body and the death and life of T cells of stomach lines that run through colors, which give shape to its possible meaning about the patterns of the earth body.
“In this variation of High School & Kickin it, Pony Tail is self-other portraiture. It raises the specter: Where might we be as a species in the future with HIV and AIDS? Not gloom but boom, cells. As I continue living with HIV/AIDS, I seek to understand what living and dying cells even mean. I present a shadow-self, reflections of all of us, thirty year and with pony tail. We are all connected.
“Where will we be in life after death? What does it mean to have ‘dead cells’? This body and the human aspect of the bond between others is intimate. Biology and science connects all of us to the larger issues within the human and planetary existence, another subject in the field of HIV and AIDS and art is here. This is Global!”
Graduating with a BFA in art education from the Hartford Art School, University of Hartford, Laurence Young went on to earn an MFA in printmaking at Rhode Island School of Design. He has shown in numerous galleries and shows over the years, including a 2012 solo exhibition at Rue du Ponte Gallerie, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.
His award-winning work is part of the permanent collections of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Provincetown, Massachusetts; New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, New Jersey; Wadsworth Atheneum and Museum, Hartford, Connecticut; The Boston Living Center and Fenway Community Health Center, both in Boston, Massachusetts; Educational Testing Service, Princeton, New Jersey; GMHC, New York, New York; The United States Diplomatic Posts, U.S. Embassies; Mayo Clinic, Rochester, New York; and Summit Trust Corp., Newark, New Jersey, among many others.
His painting process is a meeting space of introspective thoughts and figurative renderings, he says.
Young notes about his work: “AIDS is not only a war of survival but a fight against stigma, prejudice, and ignorance.
“Both these pieces are of older works that were torn apart in a fit of rage. They were then pasted together as shapes and colored pieces. The final images were painted over with mixed medias.”
For more information, visit www.laurenceyoung.com.
David Spiher (aka David Six)
David Spiher is an artist who lives in the East Bay and makes art—currently producing prints and paintings—at the Compound Studios in Oakland. He seroconverted in January 1987 and was diagnosed with AIDS in 1998.
“I have been an assistant for a number of artists, designers and crafts people so I am really used to helping others make work. However, very often I have found it really hard to make my own, to justify my own choices, sometimes even to myself,” Spiher says. As a way to free himself from these self-imposed restrictions, he has shifted personae depending on subject matter and interest in various media. From 2004 to 2009, he produced hand-painted pornographic ceramic plates as Virginia Trembles. As David Six, he has been producing figurative work for about eighteen months.
About the works shown here, he says: “On a lot of levels I equate my experience of HIV—for myself, my lovers, my friends and generation—with the flooding of New Orleans and the tsunamis in Indonesia and Japan. It sounds crazy because it was crazy, is crazy.
“Tout Arrive (Anything Can Happen) is the first of four large etchings on this theme.” The title of YouWhatI plays off those clever word games; in this instance, “What” comes between “You” and “I.” “In YouWhatI there is no room for the dance, the image squeezed by the grid of its making. Edison Comes to the Island [touches on] reflections and memories, how to move forward.”
To contact the artist, please e-mail: [email protected].
Curtis B. Carman
A native of Massachusetts, Curtis B. Carman received an MFA in sculpture from Hunter College in 2006. Working in performance and sculpture, his work explores the social construction of identity and dislocation, often interlacing subjects with wit, frivolity, and travesty to subvert norms. In addition to his own performance work, he has also appeared with Karen Finley and Michael Mahalchick. Carman’s work has been exhibited locally and internationally, including LMCC Swing Space, La Mama Gallery, The Jersey City Museum/Victory Hall, General Public in Berlin, and Documenta in Kassel, Germany. He is the recipient of an LMCC artist grant, a Visual AIDS grant, and a Tom Woods Award.
During grad school, he became attuned to the politics of being openly positive and being a drag queen. “I recognize now that being poz is a continual negotiation, but one which has led to a spiritual awakening. I enjoy this aspect immensely and share this path with fellow poz peers,” he shares.
Says Carman about Golden Boy: “This work is from a series of collages that represent my interest in transforming public domains such as fashion, location, and gathering into realms for feedback and meditation. The work offers a focal point for centering and acceptance of self in a maelstrom of consumerism and desire.”
Carmine Santaniello is a native New York artist. Born in 1955, he has been creating art all his life. His formal education includes the High School of Art and Design and The School of Visual Arts, and he holds a BFA from Parsons School of Design. His work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, and currently on exhibition in Olympic Challenge at Adonis Art Gallery, London; and The Flesh Show at ChimMaya Art, Los Angeles, California.
The artist’s work appears in private and corporate collections including: GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals, American International Group and The Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, to name a few.
Portraiture has been part of global art through the ages, says Santaniello about Untitled (c6)’s connection to HIV. “The virus’s resonance is all over his persona, shown here as a melting environment that encases him. The figure unabashedly is present and a beautiful portrait is done. Which I feel, lends itself both globally and locally as a work of art,” he notes.
Visit http://carminesantaniellofineart.blogspot.com for more info.
Héctor Toscano has been exhibiting in solo and group shows since 1996 in his country of Argentina and also in Barcelona, Valencia, Nevada, and Colombia.
Toscano says: “Being a person living with HIV, all my works are from the emotional, from my feelings, from my fears; I try to create awareness on the other, whether or not [he or she is] HIV.” The work featured, my blood HIV+, is a self-portrait collage that uses the artist’s own blood.
“In the world there is still much ignorance and discrimination on the subject of AIDS, so it is important to be visible without being afraid to confront discrimination and if it happens to educate.” Toscano hopes that his art reaches many people and that he keeps producing.
Toscano blogs at www.separadosporunoceano.blogspot.com.
Brooklyn-based Joyce McDonald is not only an artist but also the AIDS coordinator at the Church of the Open Door for the past ten years, where she was ordained as a reverend by her pastor, Rev. Dr. Mark V.C. Taylor in 2009. This past March, she became a chaplain with the New York Chaplain Task Force under Rev. Marco Miranda Commandar.
Says McDonald: “I praise the Lord for all he has done throughout my life. My art not only explores the pain and hopelessness felt in the tragedies of my former life. My art bears witness to the trials and tribulations, and celebrates the victories of my present life.”
McDonald has two daughters, both married, and eight, plus three adopted, grandchildren. She also takes care of her mother, eighty-five, as well as her brother, who is also living with HIV. Not one to slow down, she conducts street ministry and also provides a clothes ministry for women at a local shelter and in her neighborhood. As an advocate, she travels everywhere providing her testimony about drugs and HIV.
Says McDonald about Out of the Fire: “I survived the most embarrassing, humiliating, stressful time in 2009 that I’ve ever experienced since my HIV diagnosis. My low immune system was very low and the stress attacked my body really bad. I developed shingles and nerve damage. I experienced thirty-nine bouts of a shocking fireball that without a moment’s notice would shoot through my legs; I would scream out my lungs for Jesus to help me as my then-eighty-three year-old mother, a cancer survivor, would run and throw ice all over my legs. I was living a physically tortured life for three months; this ordeal left burn marks that scarred my legs. When I finally came out I knew I had survived the fire by praising God. Between the screams I did art. I have a whole collection.” Out of the Fire was produced in March of 2009.
She equates the pandemic with a “silent scream”: “One of the most unpopular subjects in the world is AIDS. People with HIV/AIDS are still living through stigma, discrimination, fear…all over the world. Many are living in a secret mindset of shame and fear. No healthcare, or just in an overwhelming ‘health scare.’ It’s a silent volcano that has erupted and hot lava is everywhere, but it’s ignored. We must continue to stand in the fire.”
People living with HIV/AIDS “have their own fire experiences,” she says. “We can survive the fire of life, we can make it if we surrender our cares, hurts, disappointments to GOD hold on to GOD’s unchanging hands, and don’t give up on hope. HIV IS NOT THE END; HAVING NO HOPE IS. A hope for a better future. For me JESUS is my hope.”
McDonald has collected her poetry and testimony songs on CD. two documentaries have been produced about her life. Once completed, her book is due to be released in 2013.
She recently returned from the Dominican Republic, where she shared her story on a missionary trip.
Find the artist on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/
Joyce-McDonald-From-the-Shooting-Gallery-to-the-Art-Gallery. She can also be found on YouTube.
Thanks to Visual AIDS for helping to develop this feature.
Chael Needle interviewed painter Miguel Tío for the October 2011 Gallery.