featured gallery for October 2014

Humble Offering for All the Struggling Goddesses Yet to Walk

Sitting down to peruse the Visual AIDS galleries, my hope is to show some of the story of my own experience as a trans* woman living with HIV. I started my exploration of the registry of names of artists I knew – both in person and by virtue of work done in the HIV community – and then started to expand my selections to include artists I wasn’t familiar with. Many of the artists are women; and the poetry of another trans* woman, Chloe Dzubilo, resonated with me as I poured through the magnificent works contained in the registry.

Her poetry paints an image of a harsh, yet honest existence that many of us experience who don’t fit the standard gender mold. The beauty of her candid and colloquial words mirrors the not-as-fucked-up world that we still find ourselves fighting in to create and achieve. Each of her poems I’ve chosen reflects part of my own story that I hope to tell through this gallery; and I’ve used her poetry and the titles of the pieces as a jumping-off point for my writing.

“AIDS Isn’t Over”

A simple enough statement – and one that was no less true in 1998 than it is in 2014.

Nancer LeMoins’ block print work shows the influence that corporate media and hyperbole have had in terms of impacting how we view this virus in the Internet age. The truth LeMoins shows us is a harsh comment on the placidity of the masses to corporate-controlled media, and this ignorance allows many of our most vulnerable to fall away or burn up in the interest of maintaining the status quo.

Dedication speaks to me so much as a trans* woman, as my own makeup routine seems much like an application of the war-paint necessary to make it through another day in this endless battle to survive. The choice of musical staff brings to mind songs from the mid-1990’s, and I half expect Ani DiFranco to strum a haunting melody that demonstrates the insolent anger underlying the piece. The end of the poem sings the truth that I have known as an activist still fighting on the ground against HIV and transphobia.

“Some things change and many things DO NOT”

Hunter Reynold’s photograph speaks to my own internal struggles of gender and conformity to social normality. Everything combines in a fascinating mix that is one part masculine, one part feminine, and one part in the middle.

This photograph encapsulates a lot of the struggles I faced as I sought to understand myself and my own identity as a trans* woman. Seeing this photograph brings me great joy, for in it I can see my own struggles and experiences played out in a way that makes the viewer question the very nature of the binary falsehood we are taught.

Kia Labejia’s Mermaids photo recalls my own journey to love and accept the woman I see in the mirror. The sparkly, flowery mermaid photo exemplifies the fact that our inner vision of ourselves is paramount to anything else others may think, say, or see.

“Ain’t nothing like knowing triumph over all of these adversities.”

Hannecke Gustavo’s Symbiosis may take its inspiration from the red ribbon and Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, yet the combination is not simply an overlaying of the two. It truly embodies the spirit of triumph that mankind will have one day when this virus has been truly beaten. The merging of the ribbon with the body, and the powerful use of red in an otherwise black-and-white image, brings stark connection to the blood pumping through his body – intertwining the two in an intricate dance of activism and arteries.

A Day in the Life succinctly squeezes the experiences of the medications that accompany HIV into 160 cubic inches. The multitude of gigantic pills, the needle, and the condoms – the combination is a self-contained journey into the difficult early years of HAART. To be ignorant of the past is to doom the future, and visualizing the daily routines of my predecessors in this way is a powerful experience. For me, the pierced ribbon symbolizes the promise to eradicate this virus and the eternal hope of a cure.

Fear is the piece that speaks most to my own process of acceptance of my serostatus. This piece encapsulates the central experience of being diagnosed with HIV – the overarching feeling that your own body has been marked, from the tiniest corpuscle to crown of your head, and an overwhelming fear that is omnipresent.

“The ultra-femme within”

Chloe’s sage words echo the fears that many trans* women face every day. Tapping into that power and sense of urgency to survive is an essential skill many members of my community have acquired – an add-on to the virus many of us bare. It allows us to survive in a world seemingly hell-bent on destroying our existence and erasing our identities.

Andrew Spencer’s untitled work with its venous, forested look is dark and introspective, yet outlined with hope and brilliance throughout; and for me, a manifestation of my own process to find my inner ultra-femme.

“Ahead of the Times”

The last piece from Chloe I’ve chosen to highlight shows her vision of the future – a world where transgender people are more commonplace, but she never answers the question about whether we will be accepted in this utopia. That is the enduring question, and to ensure that people of every serostatus, gender expression and identity are able to achieve that level of success and health requires something from all of us.

To forget those who’ve come before us, who’ve fought, struggled, and died for our cause of freedom and equality is tantamount to erasing them completely. Their memory should be enshrined in our hearts and our cause as we work towards a more just, HIV-free world.

Remember: beach is a reminder to never let these golden moments life serves up to us slip away from our memory. The hidden-in-plain-sight message elucidates the eloquent simplicity of the scene itself – it is in life’s simple joys and purest moments that our struggles reap their sweetest fruits.

Jessica Whitbread’s spunky, 1970’s-inspired Fuck Positive Women is a farcical comment on the need for open discussion of women’s sexuality. It’s vibrant and suggests that the very idea of women’s sexuality, especially that of women living with HIV, being a taboo is so antiquated that it belongs in the last millennium. It also underscores that despite all our progress, AIDS still isn’t over.