Understanding HIV through art

Katherine MurrayCommunity Engagement in Research, HIV Endgame Conference, People Living with HIV

The HIV Endgame conference logo stands beside a drawing of several people linking arms

Understanding HIV through art – Andrew Zealley

Andrew Zealley, a doctoral student at York University, is an artist living with HIV who has been making art about AIDS since 1988. He talked about two of his bodies of work: Disco Hospital and This is Not Art Therapy. This is Not Art Therapy is also the name of an artist’s residency program at the People with AIDS Foundation in Toronto.

Zealley began his presentation with a review of two very significant pieces in the history of art and HIV:

  • The General Ideas AIDS logo (1986), which referenced Robert Indiana’s piece LOVE (1970). This was the first work to make the connection between AIDS and love.
  • Silence = Death (1987), which was an activist image that appeared with the arrival of ACT UP in New York and other cities. The artistic section of ACT UP was called Gran Fury, which referred to the model of cars driven by the NYC police and was a way of challenging straight male authority figures. The Silence = Death image also initiated another artistic work, the 1989 film Tongues Untied by Marlon Riggs, which presented the silences endured by black gay men.

Disco Hospital

Disco Hospital addresses themes of sound and healing within a framework of queer theory. While the word “hospital” references clinical and healing issues, “disco” embraces the sexy, celebratory and political aspects of a musical approach that offered a vital social refuge for gays, Blacks, and Latinos.

Images shown:

  • High risk smudge – smudge bundle within a condom
  • 10 Hz Negative – tuning fork in condom
  • 10 Hz Positive – tuning fork in condom
  • Lone son – image of the sun wrapped in a condom (the artist is his family’s only son)
  • Images of OCAD clinic and pop-up clinics associated with other artist events.

This is Not Art Therapy

This is Not Art Therapy is an artist’s residency program first piloted at PWA Toronto through Zealley’s own residency (July 2015-March 2016); it is now open to other artists. Zealley showed a number of images of the PWA artist’s studio. He presented images of one performance that was part of his residency where he poured ink over three dozen long-stemmed red roses and accompanied this visual with audio produced by a sounding bowl as part of PWA Toronto’s World AIDS Day 2015 activities.

Understanding HIV through art – Syrus Marcus Ware

Mr. Ware is an artist in the PhD program at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. His work concerns the intersection of disability, race, and contemporary art spaces, exploring what happens when people on the margins engage with institutional spaces. He presented two examples of art about HIV that address disability, justice, and interlocking experiences of marginalization that affect our understanding of HIV and how we organize and support people in our communities.

AIDS Action Now PosterVirus

This artistic initiative was launched by the long-time activist organization, AIDS Action Now!, and pairs art with activism to address issues that are deep, complex, and contribute to our understanding of HIV/AIDS in this moment. This program has run for several years with multiple artists creating new work. Mr. Ware described his own contribution, created in collaboration with Zoey Dodd and Tim McCaskill, focused on poverty and HIV. The poster highlighted the relationship between money, access, and longevity with the image of an infinity symbol, and the text “poverty + AIDS = death.” Mr. Ware also described the way the PosterVirus program used the language of contagion to talk about disseminating these posters and their associated ideas.

Andrew McPhail

Mr. Ware described a recent show by textile artist Andrew McPhail and how his work challenges ideas about HIV and disability. In particularly he discussed three images from the show:

  • A piece from his “This is not an AIDS quilt” series, which was white on white and labelled “ghost.”
  • A black wall with a spray foam slogan reading, “I feel fine,” the often expected response for people with disabilities.
  • A fine lace work cloth draped over a mannequin and the surrounding area which on closer inspection is made up of an elaborate lacing of band aids. He describes this as a beautiful healing intervention.

Key Message: Art is an important tool to share messages about social justice and to engage people living with HIV in these movements.