featured gallery for July 2019

Process

“Process” explores art as a tool to heal through and shares the work of several artists who make a choice to share in collective. The journey of each individual artist featured differs from their transmission to their disciplines but to all, art is powerful. It is therapeutic and empowering. From canvases to clay, runways to bus campaigns, “Process” explores ways that artists and collectives create hubs that function as systems impacting social change focused around HIV/AIDS. Through installations, public campaigns, therapeutic workshops and with the advent of digital communities in the 21st century, collectives can now gather virtually anywhere. This web gallery places specific emphasis on representing the voices of those historically marginalized within the HIV/AIDS epidemic— particularly of youth, people of color, LGBTQ+, and those no longer amongst us and highlights the need for more youth arts programming focused around HIV/AIDS.

The creation of art is a deeply intimate practice. Sharing work is brave and vulnerable. Art is powerful when artists typically excluded from spaces of power combine efforts to create, gather and share. Curator Sam Gordon shares the admiration he felt when collaborating with Joyce McDonald on “Persons of Interest”. “As a teenager growing up during the AIDS crisis, I felt an incredible amount of fear, shame, and confusion—I think many of us did. In organizing the show, I felt I was able to unpack some of my own trauma around the subject,” Gordon states. The process of curation becomes its own therapeutic journey.

A Black woman, artist, community member and advocate, Joyce McDonald is a pioneer with and survivor. She founded “Keep Your Pearls Girls,” an arts-focused HIV support and awareness group for young women, and runs her church’s AIDS ministry. She is active in providing physical resources and emotional support through the ministries she conducts. Through her own creative process, McDonald portrays moments of intense pain, the triumph of survival, and finding peace through spirituality. Speaking about the work, “From Bondage to Freedom,” a clay sculpture that shows a double-faced woman—one side peaceful, one conflicted—she shares, “That’s why I have it spinning—on a podium that spins. Because, finally, things came around…This woman is completely free of her past personal demons—past hurts, tragedies, drug addiction, all enmeshed together.” (AU Magazine)

Like McDonald, artists Jessica Whitbread, Shirlene Cooper, and Richard Renaldi share their work and create pieces that engage the public. Whitbread, artist and activist, has initiated multiple socially engaged-workshops and installations, such as Tea Time, Love Positive Women, No Pants No Problem and PosterVIRUS. Alongside Kia LaBeija, Whitbread founded GrenAIDS, a youth advocacy group. Shirlene Cooper is the project director of Visual AIDS’ monthly workshop, Women’s Empowerment Art Therapy Workshops. These workshops “use the power of art-making to reduce stigma, build community, and empower women living with HIV.” The workshops are open to self-identified women of all skill levels and offer multi-disciplinary art projects as well as social and health resources in the NYC area.

Richard Renaldi launched a public photography campaign, “Touching Strangers,” that features intimate embraces between strangers to promote dialogue around vulnerability and the use of touch as a tool of healing and social change. The subjects are individuals asked to pose together for a brief portrait. In that fleeting moment, a connection is captured and immortalized. The two know little to nothing about one another but share space and trust. This echoes of a recent past and, for some, present misconception where HIV was thought to be passed through minor touch or even sharing physical space.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, the Catwalk4Power Collective in London has launched a fashion show to create an “evolution” for women living with HIV, an empowering celebration on a highly visible platform—the runway. As Catwalk 4 Power Collective organizer and Visual AIDS Artist Member Mel Rattue shares in her artist statement, “In choosing uplifting and light hearted ways to share the acronym H.I V., we show solidarity and connection, and offer an opportunity to be open and to begin a 'positive' dialogue. We create the possibility for people to rethink what it means to be living with H.I.V. and celebrate all that we are and can be.” She offers anyone living with HIV, as well as advocates and allies, to participate in her growing Wall Project. In this project, participants are asked to send their picture along with three words that start with the letters H, I and V.

The collective efforts of the aforementioned artists and organizations have strengthened community around the world by creating access. Of course, these collectives would not exist had they not been conceived, created and executed by individuals. Furthermore, a collective space need not be a registered non-profit or live in a physical space. The Visual AIDS Artist+ Registry serves as a the first digital collection dedicated to HIV-positive artists. The platform of Visual AIDS has allowed individual artists to be part of a greater community who share their work as it relates to their own process with HIV/AIDS. The hundreds of artists who have since joined the registry underscore the need for empowerment platforms. Artistic expression empowers such individuals Bruce Munroe, Jonathan Ganjian, Orlando Ferrand, Milton Garcia Ninja, Moise Morancy, and Jasmaine Staton to share their process with HIV/AIDS.

Bruce Munroe expresses the complexity of living with HIV through the manual acts in his creative work. He shares, “With each cut I make in my work, I attempt to reconstruct the destruction of the body—seeking the failure point of the material— following with reinforcement to shore up and reconstitute the self. The resulting end is an embodied labyrinth of the myriad paths that anyone with a disease must follow to achieve a form of stasis within their own bodies and in the world.” Munroe creates intentionally shaped cuts that mimic the structure of the HIV virus, the human body, and the way pathology lives within it.

In contrast, Jonathan Ganjian uses abstraction and color as a therapeutic process in the series Gold. He states, “In an effort to overcome and understand this struggle, I began to paint. As I got older, I began to sell pieces here and there to people that connected with their understated intricacy. When diagnosed with HIV, I realized painting was an ideal way to process the complex emotions and reflections wrapped up in the experience.” This narrative is a connective one—the idea that art serves as a tool to process, reflect and accept. Consider COMPULSIVE PRACTICE, a video program commissioned by Visual AIDS in 2016 for Day With(out) Art. This video follows nine artists and activists who live with cameras to document the ways in which they cope, manage, and reflect on their process with accepting and living with HIV/AIDS.

During “Metaphors and Their Distemper,” a 2015 reading at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Orlando Ferrand reflected on this theme. “Art saved me from the rage of an alcoholic father during my childhood years. And it also saved me from dying in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. When the overwhelming feeling of loneliness extended its heavy wings upon me, and nothing made sense anymore, I always found refuge in my journals. In those hundreds of pages that became the life source of many poems and drawings, I came to realize that there was, after all, a bigger dis-ease that I needed to conquer if I were to stay alive. Staying alive for the sake of creativity became my most subversive act, defying the dis-ease of mortality. Art not only became my survival anchor but also my grounds for atonement.” Like Joyce McDonald, Ferrand describes art as a means to seek salvation and peace. Similarly, Milton Garcia Ninja uses his cartoons as a 'pictorial diary’ of what inspires and drives him to better himself plus others around him.

Like all of the artists included in “Process,” art serves as a tool to navigate and connect with other journeyers. It is a means of attaining knowledge, empowerment, peace, network and strength. For all the artists included in this web gallery and on the Visual AIDS registry, there are many voices still unheard. The collective and individual efforts of all these entities have facilitated progression in this arena but there is still a need for more. Comparatively, the amount of artistic work represented by youth of color affected by HIV/AIDS is disproportionate to the amount of youth of color affected by HIV/AIDS itself. Youth empowerment workshops like Groundswell Community Project in Brooklyn provide spaces for therapeutic practice through art. The works of these youth is largely unseen by the digital collective but must be memorialized, especially to honor those hidden whom were not able to reach adulthood due to HIV/AIDS.

Thus, “Process” is honored to share the following poem by Jasmaine Staton, about her own disclosure and coping with maternally-transmitted HIV/AIDS:

“My Earliest Memories On Being Told My Status Came Straight From The Birds Nest. I Remember My Mother Took Me To My Room She Sat On My Twin Sisters BeD And She Grabbed My Hands And She Began To Tell Me Of A Story About A Battle That Rages Within Me... She Knew I Would Get It…

Because She Was A Mother Whom Lives For SYFY And Horror Mystery Thriller ... So She Broke It Down In A War Manner ... My T-cells V.S. HIV ... She Cried Which I Found Weird Cause I Watch Her BeatDown Men...I Remember She Ended Our Convo With Remember Jazz Not To Share This With Anyone

I Remember That I Did The Very Next Day...

I Attended P.S.156 This Is The School I Let The Cat Out Of The Bag... Boy DiD I Learn What Favoritisms Was... How it Affects Friendship... It Wasn’t Because Of My Status My Close Friends Just Notice Our Teach Being Extra Generous

But It Spread Like WildFire...

When It Came To MisConceptions I Got That At The Home Front My Uncle Made Strict Rules Not To Share Utensils Or Cups Nor Drinks Snack Down To Double Dipping...

...I’ve Numerous Close Calls So I’m Just Happy To Have Made It To These Points If Life At A Time When We Now Have Meds That Aren’t Like Consuming Gasoline Like They Used To Be In The Early 2000’S

My Message To The Youth Do What You Gotta Do For You... No Body Has Got You Better Than You And Self…"

Staiton delivers an enigmatic piece that takes the reader through her adolescence to present-day as a young adult. This work was made possible through the mentorship of Patrick Dougher, a Brooklyn-based artist and educator. She met Patrick through Kings County Pediatric AIDS Clinic where he worked as art therapist. Jasmaine recalls a particularly impactful project during her time at Kings County. Arranged by Vibe Magazine, she met Russell and Kimora Lee Simmons, who listened to her story which they then shared as a film vignette during a live concert. They shared the audience was visibly moved by Jasmaine's testimonal, at the time just 14 years old.

The need for increased visibility highlighting works by youth of color is further highlighted by Moise Morancy in his multi-media work. Morancy, a young, multi-faced New York artist, shares his own anecdote relating to HIV/AIDS and his mother in his music video, “Mama’s Secret”. He shares growing up while bearing the weight of his mother’s secret and witness to her perseverance.

“Mama’s secret” video

“Mama's got a secret, you wouldn't believe it

For 16 years she concealed it

Why you gotta shield it?

Hearts need healin'

Mama, it's time to reveal it…

...She got robbed through pregnancies

And it was so cold she had the baby solo

And during, so much pain

So strong 'cause she never complained

No pay but pave the way

Let the world know before she hits the grave

It finally is the day where I have the guts to say

That my mama, my mama has AIDS”.

Morancy and his mother traverse emotional terrain alongside each other. Their experiences with HIV - as mother, living with, and son, living in witness to - diverge to show grief, support, pride and respect. Morancy uses his music as a means to process and share. As a self-taught artist and youth born and raised in Brooklyn, Morancy is telling a story of survival - a collective story. He has created every layer of “Mama’s Secret” from the lyrics to the beat to the filmwork. It is not just individuals diagnosed that impact the collective power, but families, friends and allies as well.

By expanding visibility to individuals like Staiton and Morancy and their work, the digital collective strengthens to battle stigmas and misperceptions of HIV/AIDS. Imagine then the impact with intentional funding for arts therapy and educational programs focused around HIV/AIDS outreach. These Visual AIDS Artist Members, creatives and collectives are transforming the dialogue around HIV/AIDS and increasing space for collaboration and healing through art. Art continues to be a language that has the ability to connect across boundaries.