After conversations with Ivan Bujan about his academic work at the intersections of AIDS and performance studies, Visual AIDS publishes reflections from Bujan’s course at Northwestern University in Spring 2018:

Ivan Bujan: Last Spring, I taught an undergraduate course on the topic of AIDS-related art and activism, hosted by Gender and Sexuality Studies at Northwestern University. Beginning in early April 2018, I invited my students to think about AIDS historically, but also—with a great focus on an intersectional approach—as a disease that represents a systemic problem constituting the ongoing crisis. Through lectures, group discussions, guest talks, and workshops, we unpacked examples in AIDS-related art and activism with the aim to deepen the understanding of historical, social, political, and geographical conditions of race, gender, sexuality and their close relationship to the disease. We talked about a variety of topics, including the politics of AIDS-related representation, mourning and melancholia, HIV criminalization, mass incarceration, grassroots activism, sexism, racism, transphobia, (lack of) access to healthcare and HIV prevention methods. The encounter of a variety of topics gave the students an opportunity to understand why the disease represents a complex and multilayered problem, and ultimately put them in the role of the activists who can think critically about the disease and its politics.

Visual AIDS and its historical and present cultural role in art-driven activism were an instrumental reference that we returned to throughout the course. Along with hosting two generous Chicago-based Visual AIDS Artist Members and activists who visited the class to talk about their artistic and activist endeavors—Charles Ryan Long and Joseph Varisco—we also spent time with other artists in the Visual AIDS’s Artist+ Registry. Namely, I asked the students to write a short analysis of the artworks by artists in the archive they found most interesting, compelling, and thought-provoking. They were prompted to introduce the artist and the medium the artist uses, and then explain what AIDS-related problems the artist is tackling, and how. The idea behind the assignment was to bring the parts of the Artist+ Registry to life, as seen through the perspective of a younger generation of students, passionate about learning about AIDS-related art, activism, and social justice. What follows are the excerpts from papers that I was given permission by students to share. I like to think that the excerpts, in a way, represent a well-rounded curatorial statement that illuminates the complexities, paradoxes, and urgencies of the ongoing AIDS crisis, as seen by the undergraduates and the artists whose work they analyze.

Toni Akunebu, Visual Art: A Closer Look at Andrés Rangl

Andrés Rangl pushes boundaries and preconceived notions of the sexual body through the reimagining of the body via collage. His uses of photography, print media, and art collage provide the viewer the opportunity to delve into his own understanding of how bodies should function through their own marked experience, and not at the pressure placed by individuals in society… The question Rangl reiterates through his art is, “how we might or might not experience our sexuality based on the dichotomy of our virtual selves in relation to our-on-and-off-screens?” This question asks viewers to understand the relationship between the virtual and real self. [I argue] that Rangl’s artwork pushes the boundaries of the definition of sexuality to grant space for individuals to explore. As a result, this pushes away the societal pressure and definitions off of the body so that self-identification occurs… One of Rangl’s pieces, “CollágeNO,” provides insight into understanding how people change to feel more at home in their bodies… The use of collage thus shows how unattainable standards of beauty impact people… “CollágeNO” relates to HIV/AIDs and how HIV positive individuals saw their bodies as undesirable and unwanted. Furthermore, HIV positive people are under scrutiny for how they handled and treated their own bodies. Rangl’s purpose to challenge normative thought proves how society continues to inflict violence on bodies. Society continues to place unattainable standards of beauty and health… Rangl pushes boundaries and preconceived notions of the sexual body through the reimagining of the body via collage. His uses of photography, print media, and art collage provide the viewer the opportunity to delve into his own understanding of how bodies should function through their own marked experience, and not at the pressure placed by individuals in society. Rangl’s purpose created “CollágeNO” and showed how bodies are recreated through societal violence. Systems of violence continue to inflict on marginalized bodies to police “otherness”… As an artist, Rangl continues to push boundaries and create space for marginalized bodies in society.

Kasey Brown, The Dancer, Photographer, Author, and Musician: A Peek into Brontez Purnell

The man that does it all—Brontez Purnell. With roots out California’s Bay Area, Purnell has been shaking things up in all areas of art including dance, film, photography, music, and literary works… Through all of his works, he pulls from his own experience as a Black queer “hoodlum” in The Bay, to show society that people like him, are still people. They may be Black, they may steal, they may be living with HIV, but they are still people. People with feelings, families, dreams, goals, and so on…I argue that through the use of his own narrative and personal experiences [in most recent work – “100 Boyfriends Mixtape”] Purnell is able to allow those that relate a voice in a space that so often silences them, while also forcing society to release their stigmas and see these folks as humans… [F]olks like Purnell still have to navigate all of the other “normal” problems, but with an HIV/AIDS lens. For example, in the monologue scene, all viewers are forced to relate to Deshawn as he rants to his best friend about his day— we’ve all been there. When Deshawn briefly mentions HIV/AIDS is the point when the viewer sees Deshawn vulnerable…Although Deshawn adds humor to his discussion about HIV/AIDS, the viewer can tell that it is not a funny situation at all. It is something that Deshawn is forced to just deal with and get over, and something he does not even feel the need to talk about with his friend. This is Purnell’s way of telling the viewer that HIV/AIDS does not consume those that infects – either through society’s silencing of patients, or the personal choice of people to not let their diagnosis completely stop them, Purnell shows us that there is more to people with HIV/AIDS than just HIV/AIDS… Through the monologue and the short film, “100 Boyfriends Mixtape” forces the viewers to see the whole body. Purnell forces us to relate to Deshawn, to have sympathy for Deshawn, laugh with Deshawn, and even dislike Deshawn. Through it all, we see how Deshawn’s diagnosis impacts his life, but we realize that the diagnosis does not consume him or the way that he navigates the world. Purnell is able to do this through 100 Boyfriends Mixtape, but this narrative can also be seen in most of Purnell’s music, his performance dances, and so on. When a viewer is engaged in Purnell’s work, they are forced to see him. Not only as a Black male with HIV, but as a human. A human that loves, and creates, and feels. And that is why his work leaves the viewer changed.

Matthew Burgess

In running across Benjamin Fredrickson’s work. I found that the ways in which he uses singular bodies to express or evoke all forms of desire to be particularly compelling. In using bodies of all races, Fredrickson also attempts to map desire onto black, Asian, and female bodies - an endeavor that is important to take up when AIDS discourse predominantly surrounds able-bodied white men. While Fredrickson still frequently uses traditionally attractive gay men in his work, I find his use of desire and singular subjects within his photography to be particularly compelling. Through the use of different bodies of color, gender, and desire, Fredrickson introduces AIDS as a complex network of discourses that empower, remove, and amplify desire.

Marcellus Burt

Lenn Keller…utilize[s] photography and other media to deconstruct false narratives and examine the relationship among the epidemic, the self, and the body… One of her works, “Another Image: Black Teens Coming of Age,” focuses on the black teenagers’ lives and the perpetual racism encountered in the education system during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Keller and her daughter noticed the media’s negative portrayal of black people by depicting them as thugs and drug dealers. In effect, the larger culture will develop racist notions of the black community, suggesting the media’s contribution to the already existing “state intimacy, or violent intimacy of the racist state” against black people [, as argued by sociologist Adam Geary]. This creates conditions that inhibit their success. Consequently, Keller sought to counter these false narratives by demonstrating black people as humans who strive to attain an education, achieve their goals, and have legitimate concerns about the epidemic. In addition, some of the teenagers mention their teachers’ refusal to teach them because they did not trust them and/or felt that the students were unintelligent or too lazy. These teachers do not even provide opportunities for black students due to their misconceptions and racial bias. They, also, mention their fear and ignorance of the HIV/AIDS epidemic because they notice their friends’ family members’ deaths. Another student talks about the use of drugs and that many children “feel that it’s the only way out, making money from selling drugs.” These factors explain the reasons for the highest rates of HIV transmission within the black community… Unfortunately, in Keller’s work, blackness and HIV are intertwined due to violent intimacy, stigma, racism, the prison industrial complex, and the war on drugs. As a result, Lenn Keller created a space for black teenagers to voice their experiences and concerns to counter the media’s negative portrayal of black people. She is humanizing these children and recognizing the fact they have lives and aspirations.

Shan Kelley is a Canadian artist who became HIV undetectable and decided to have a baby with his HIV negative wife. Both Kelley and his wife experienced backlash from friends and family, but they understood the risk and wanted to have the baby anyway. When they had the baby, she was born HIV negative. Suddenly, the same unsupportive people congratulated them on their newborn baby. Because of both circumstances, Kelley wrote a letter to his daughter, Seva, and photographed her in her cradle along with the text “What will you teach your children about AIDS?” Through this, Kelley is assessing serophobia, safe-sex, and ignorance…. The photograph, “Growing Concern,” acts as a work of art that eradicates false perceptions of HIV-positive individuals and humanizes their existence. However, Kelley does not negate the fact that his daughter may be stigmatized because of her association with him. He recognizes that she will have to encounter discrimination and hardships, so he asks the question: “What will you teach your children about AIDS?” Like teenagers, babies are susceptible to HIV transmission, so they need to be taught about the disease and its social and cultural implications at a certain age, especially if they are born with it… Shan Kelley humanizes his existence and demonstrates the possibility to be HIV-positive with a family. However, his status will create obstacles for his daughter, so he is preparing himself to educate her on HIV/AIDS.

Henry Chen, Revisiting Melancholia in the Portraiture of Ghee Phua

In capturing the loneliness of gay elders, Ghee Phua attempts to build a community collectivity that resists melancholia by celebrating and paying tribute to AIDS survivors… Through his portraiture, Phua points to the universality of loneliness, depression, and loss—in doing so emphasizing the commonalities shared by Asian Americans and PWA [People living with AIDS]… Phua’s portraiture draws the viewer in with the somber comportment of its subjects. Each man, recruited from a gay elder organization in San Francisco, lived through and survived the AIDS crisis in the 1990s. But importantly, these men also remind that the AIDS epidemic is far from over, especially in San Francisco’s communities of color. Though each subject wears a forlorn expression, there is something beneath the outwardly depressing tone of Phua’s portraiture. To be sure, Phua’s subjects are sad—each has lost friends, lovers, and family to AIDS. But Phua is skilled at capturing more nuanced, complex emotions; behind the eyes of each subject is love, nostalgia, grief, and above all, loneliness. In part, he accomplishes this nuance by tempering the darkness of his subjects’ expressions with a bright, pastel color palate. Moreover, in hanging these portraits together in a collection, Phua attempts to reconcile the loneliness of his subjects by reminding that even in the wake of the 1990s AIDS crisis, San Francisco’s surviving gay elders are not alone.

Daria Lenderman, Individual to Ideology: The Power of Self-Expression

In his paintings reflecting his experience with HIV, Guy Burch does not overtly depict the physical effects of AIDS on the body in his paintings. Instead, Burch utilizes his art to capture his unique post-diagnostic emotional experience. The painting, “Dark Seed, Strange Fruit,” captures Burch’s internal understanding of his diagnosis. Burch’s personal narrative through this painting aims to show the emotional complexities of an HIV positive diagnosis, resonating particularly with others living with HIV/AIDS. The expression of this personal experience in turn reconstitutes broader normative ideas regarding HIV, working to expand narratives about HIV/AIDS as a medical and social condition. This blends personal narratives and activist politics, highlighting the power of self-expression as a tool in building new ideologies of HIV/AIDS… Burch’s representation of HIV decontextualizes AIDS from all forms of the social and political discourse surrounding it, instead taking a naturalist perspective, emphasizing the chaos of nature and human’s place within it. The plants, although they begin to consume his body, are depicted as beautiful. This complicates the notion of HIV as destructive to the body, instead recontextualizing it as a site of personal growth…Burch recounts his unique emotional and psychological processes following his HIV positive diagnosis. In the process of Burch’s self-expression, he reveals his new perspective on HIV as a natural phenomenon, challenging various social and political interpretations of the root causes that continue to perpetuate HIV/AIDS. Therefore, this work of self-expression may also be read as an activist piece, contesting normative interpretations and representations of HIV positive people.

Yamari Lewis

Luna Luis Ortiz…uses photography as a way to document his life and the lives of his friends during of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and onward. For him, it started as a devastating dedication to his dying friends and to preserve his own existence in the memory of his loved ones. Photography as his medium compliments his actions, as he is a Father of the House of Khan. While a teenager and young adult, he immersed himself in the ballroom scene of New York City, surrounding himself with other young people of color, many of whom contracted or would contract HIV. He captured the conflict in many ballrooms: the desire to live while dying… Using his images, he addressed the collective misconception that AIDS was a gay, white condition, but he also fought to shed light on the scene in general. [H]e discussed how “Paris is Burning” inspired him to create more artwork and images of the culture. As with his dying friends, he sought to immortalize and preserve this space that was and continues to be integral to HIV prevention… He also found the documentary to show too little of the ballroom scene. He expressed an early desire to show that there were more to these performers than sleeping all day and later performing. There were business professionals, lovers, different genders, and more interpretations to art than what was encompassed in “Paris is Burning”… From interviews to videos, the lively joy exerted by Ortiz is refreshing, entertaining and, often, his photos radiate this form of energy. In regards to his medium, his critics noticed the vulnerability and exuberance his subjects possessed. I have noticed in a handful of his pieces, he will use mirrors and reflective surfaces. And while I may be attaching more meaning than intended, I believe that these literal reflections seek to evoke a strong sense of self and the subject’s ability to insert themselves into the narrative. Overall, I think that Luna Luis Ortiz’s photography has great influence over how we theorize HIV/AIDS then and now in regards to marginalized populations… These communities have proven their importance, and yet these narratives are infrequently visited by public health initiatives. People like Ortiz are changing that through medicine and activism, and artwork such as this provide a less exploitative glance into the lifestyles of those living with HIV/AIDS within these subcultures. I believe photography serves as an extremely powerful and relevant medium for these artists as there is a vulnerability that may not exist outside of this context, and can provide an actual face to the crisis, embedding the look in their eyes into a paradigm shifting assertion.

Julia Lowenthal

Toni Kitti’s artwork consists of photographs and video of his body, sometimes involving the use of plastic in some form, covered with lesions. His artwork strives to destroy shame surrounding HIV/AIDS and promotes the acceptance of HIV positive bodies, both for the individual and for society as a whole… His art attempts to prevent others from seeing those who are HIV positive in this way, or from those who are HIV positive seeing it in themselves. His photographs show someone living with AIDS actively and fully enjoying life, similar to the photograph by Mark I. Chester of Robert Chesley in 1989. In a time when some with HIV/AIDS does not see themselves as capable of happiness or even worthy of it, seeing photographs of a man covered in lesions who is expressing himself freely promotes hope for themselves and the future… His posture and facial expressions in his photos show defiance, happiness, and hope…Seeing a happy man who lives life with AIDS is transformative both for those who are positive, and those who are not… In the photo, “The Face 2015,” his face is bound in chains, and yet his smile shows through them. His smile contrasts the pain and sadness HIV positive people are thought to embody. The question of how to represent the body without re-exhibiting the violence of AIDS is raised often. Kitti’s smile, and the fact that he photographs his own body, does just this. He exhibits a similar message to that of Joe Varisco’s “Queer, Ill & Okay”. Though he has AIDS, though he is ill, his photos show that he is okay. He is happy, he is beautiful, and he is full of life.

Jeremiah Magier

[M]uch of Donal Mosher’s work on VisualAIDS Artist+ Registry [stresses] the importance of condoms and the fact that despite what people say, AIDS and HIV can still be devastating diseases with the potential to ruin people’s lives. The first work of Donal Mosher’s that is seen on VisualAIDS.org is a picture of an empty condom wrapper next to a crushed rose. Although he leaves this work untitled, not offering any clues as to its meaning, I believe that it is a representation of the oversexualized culture of sex in the gay community, and the constant need to be safe in order to protect oneself from HIV and AIDS. I believe it is showing how the homosexual community is still oversexualized, but not free the way many felt we were during the 1970s era of free loving… [Another picture] is a dual photo of a woman with her face painted to look like a skull next to a picture of a flower with lines added onto them. This, to me, seems to be a representation of the deaths related to AIDS. While this in itself is depressing, the grinning face and the vibrant colors of the photos also serve as a reminder that, instead of allowing ourselves to be devastated by the lives that have been lost because of AIDS, we should instead celebrate the lives of those who were lost… This is very different from the feeling of the twelfth photograph, which simply shows a neon sign that reads “the world takes.” This photograph does an amazing job of showing the inner despair of someone who has been diagnosed as having AIDS or being HIV positive. The dark background shows the feeling of emptiness and despair that one might feel, while the red neon sign shows the anger as well as the singular thought that can often become the obsessive thought of a person that has been diagnosed as positive.

Britanny Owens, Language through Art to Create Meaning

Shan Kelley is a Canadian born artist who bases his artwork in exploring the connection between art and activism… “Tangles” is an art piece a mixed media piece that consists of the statement, “We exist beyond the confines of our boiling blood and bodies in a tangle of dreams,” drawn with colored pencil and acrylic on a piece of birch panel. Kelley refers to the audience, who are individuals with HIV/AIDS, when he states, “we exist beyond the confines of our boiling blood and bodies”, of which blood and bodies are two elements that have been inextricably linked to AIDS as well as the stigmatization and otherization of bodies who have AIDS or are HIV+. The word “confines” refers to a type of prison as well as the notion of the outside, physical “body” and the inner part of the body, the “blood.” The idea of existing beyond the confines or boundaries of something is important in the AIDS context because it calls out AIDS, a disease that has been attached to the social worth of bodies, deviant sexual practices, etc., to be more than an epidemic that is attached to physical bodies and conflates social worth of individuals with the disease. The idea that bodies are not countable, risk perverse entities refers to science linking bodies to categories of risk, structuring specific bodies as a representation of a disease (Paula A. Treichler, “AIDS, Homophobia, and Biomedical Discourse”) instead of framing disease in its socio-cultural context (Wende Elizabeth Marshall, “Aids, Race, and the Limits of Science”). The second piece of analysis is a collection of aphoristic paintings collectively titled “Micro Scope.” These paintings are photo transfers painted on wood with semen and pubic hair. The artwork in the collection each have a phrase on them, printed on a slab of wood… This series depicts the intimate and emotional relationship that ensues from detection of HIV/AIDS to political/social addressment of narrow framing of HIV/AIDS…

Another piece I want to highlight is titled “Decease Free” and has the statement “Clean, fit, and decease free” and is significant because it addresses the relationship between disease and death. In the context of HIV/AIDS, the relationship between disease and death were inextricably linked in the early years of the epidemic. Using “decease” instead of the similar sounding word, ‘disease’, disassociates death with disease and creates a new form of understanding by utilizing two contrasting dichotomies of dirty-clean and living despite a disease that is associated with death. The use of semen and pubic hair in this piece as well as the other art pieces in this series is critical, specifically in this piece because Kelley utilizes the word ‘clean’ yet uses materials that would be viewed as ‘unclean’ or dirty especially during the years of HIV/AIDS art where art took on a more explicit role.

Another Kelly piece is titled “With Curators like these, who needs a Cure” and has the text “My AIDS won’t fit in your museum”, which speaks volumes in terms of iterating that the nuanced history of AIDS cannot be summed up in an exhibit. It cannot solely exist through artwork because that implies that the reality of AIDS is not a present reality; this piece calls upon those who are not ‘directly’ impacted by AIDS to not view AIDS as a containable entity and to understand that a cure has not been found and several individuals still die from the disease… This piece makes clear that HIV/AIDS is not a problem that affects a few; it affects everyone, as argued by curator Danny Orendoff, 2017. In sum, Kelley’s artwork combines language and text with art to make art vocal and create a form of political art that uses differing forms of media. Through the explicit use of text, Kelley constructs new meanings and shares new experiences of HIV/AIDS.

Emma Raimi, The Controversies of Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe was a photographer who was active primarily during the 1970’s and 80’s in New York City, and worked up until he died from AIDS in 1989. His art was almost always in black and white, and usually featured erotic imagery. Within this genre, however, his work depicted a large range of topics which included the BDSM subculture of New York, black male nudes, and self portraits either alone or engaging in sexual acts with his models. His work was controversial for many different reasons among different groups of people; conservative America took issue with his graphic depictions of homoerotic images and uncensored sexuality, while many others argued about his depictions of black male bodies. Whether Mapplethorpe’s work was purposely problematic or not, it highlighted social and political problems already present in America; namely, the government’s unwillingness to fund the arts, as well as society’s objectification of black bodies… He posed in his own portraits, often making direct eye contact with the camera. In one of these portraits, “Self Portrait with a Whip,” he inserts a bullwhip into his anus and glares into the camera, commanding the viewer to pay attention and notice him. By making eye contact with Mapplethorpe himself, the viewer is forced to reckon with and accept his sexuality. All of Mapplethorpe’s work follow suit in this vein: regardless of who is gazing upon the image, they are personally singled out and forced to wrestle with their own relationship to sexuality.

Elenna Sindler, Vasilios Papapitsios: Art in the Ongoing Crisis

Vasilios Papapitsios uses viral illumination as a way to describe his art and his intentions, specifically in his project “Going Viral // Viral Illumination.” He defines viral as the intersections of “transmissions through psychic waves, WiFi, and bodies.” He attempts to “spread understanding and love” by illuminating a sex positive and fearless personal AIDS narrative. He explores the stigmas associated with the virus in order to access a form of connection and healing. Through this illumination process, he attempts to depict a narrative that reframes and transmutes preexisting notions about AIDS… In “Going Viral // Viral Illumination,” Papapitsios depicts the virus in order “to bridge the gap between current millennial generations and the origins of HIV/AIDS consciousness.” The first part of this three-part project is a video that “explores the nature of stigma and transmissions within the various networks of our reality: between bodies, over psychic waves and through WiFi.” These networks form connections between the past and the present. In the video, he uses an image of a rotating wifi logo with different multicolored graphics that flash in and out of the screen. Papapitsios uses sound along with digital and visual material: sounds of singing bowls and “om” resonating in the back ground. Along with these sounds, there are voice overs repeating certain phrases— for example “junk DNA,” “viral eradication,” and “can I protect myself from a computer virus?” These layers create a visual and sonic world that exists as an intersection between technology and spirituality. By comparing the AIDS virus so explicitly to something that can be universally understood, a computer virus, Papapitsios is attempting to bridge the generational gap between the epidemic in the 80-90s to the new generation growing up in the age of technology. By using sounds that represent eastern spiritual traditions, he illuminates the possibility of psychic connection and healing within these two realms— past and present. Another important aspect in his video is the use of his own body. He uses images of himself in the video, cutting to various scenes, wearing different kinds of underwear. There are different texts embroidered onto each pair of underwear, all variations on the same phrase, also used on prints: “Poz4pleasure.” The use of his own body in the video shows a direct link between the more abstract digital, technological, and psychic world he has created, to the reality of the virus in physical form. The underwear is a direct disclosure of his HIV status, associating his body with disease and “viral underclass,” also wrapping his genital area in caution tape. In doing so, he reclaims the stigmas associated with his identity and situates himself in these technological and spiritual pathways of connection, putting himself at the center of his own healing.

Emily Tross

Through his self-portrait photography and collages, Hector Toscano manages to make statements that intimately express his thoughts and feelings as well as address larger narratives around HIV such as poz body positivity, sexualizing poz bodies, what “sick” looks like, and HIV treatment… Most of the images feature him, including images of his chest, his penis, his face, and him touching himself…Toscano also makes use of bottles and boxes of his HIV medications in his photos. In a photo titled “Domino” (2013), these boxes and bottles are simply laid out in a series of interconnected arms to imitate dominos. Toscano personalizes the piece by including bottles of his own personal medication, “outing” himself as poz to any unaware viewers, as well as making a statement about his personal experience. The life of a chronically ill person mimics a game in many ways – there’s no way of knowing if or when one will win or lose, and one plays with whatever resources they have (in dominos, players are given random and finite tiles). Toscano communicates through this chosen formation that he, through his diagnosis, has become a player in game of chance. At the same time, by replacing the pieces with physical evidence that he treats his HIV, Toscano also shares that he is willing to play the rules and increase his odds; “playing the rules” being read here as complying with the recommendations of medical professionals despite the awareness that the epidemic has reached this level, particularly for gay men of color, due to the homophobic and discriminatory way in which the medical community initially approached the study of HIV and AIDS…For the installation in “árbol,” Toscano places branches in an empty bottle of Reyataz (an HIV treatment medication) in the formation of a tree. From this bottle, Toscano purports, comes growth and life. Tucked into the branches around the tree, as well as at the foot of the bottle, are capsules of Reyataz and a few leaves. The equating of leaves with pills makes the pills an actual growth, an offspring of the life and the legacy of this tree. “Arbol (Tree) is an art installation showing the medications as a source of wisdom and life that, in turn, bears fruit,” Toscano says. For some, “the pills, themselves, could be interpreted as the “forbidden fruit.” Toscano does, however, seem to advocate for treatment for those who can get it, perhaps also as an acknowledgement that HIV/AIDS should be treated, not criminalized. Toscano sweetens the appearance of this deal with “Cupcakes Cóctail” (Cupcakes Cocktail) – in the center of the photo, a mix of pills and a few sprinkles atop a patch of clear red icing adorn a white cupcake with a unique wrapper. The wrapper, lined with text, is from an unknown source except for a few visible words, “Infección por HIV-1”, that give away its subject. The cupcake is colorful from top to bottom, something that would make it wholly appetizing were it not for what’s on top. But what’s on top, Toscano pushes, are the pills that will save your life. “Eat them,” the photo says. “What’s the difference once you swallow it?” Through this image, Toscano re-frames the perception of everyday medicating, toying with ways to make it less of a burden or reminder and more of a willing choice, even an indulgence.