featured gallery for September 2008

Sex, Drugs and Religion

My approach as curator was to review the vast number of works that Visual AIDS has compiled and from them select a variety from different artists, which provoked a visual, sensual, and visceral response.

I have been treating HIV in my role as doctor but have experienced its affects first hand through family and friends. Recently, I attended the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City and even after 25 years, themes of isolation, depression and the stigma "that gay men brought this disease upon themselves" still occur so often. That is why the works of Rob Andersen struck me so deeply. His Dali-like figures trapped in their seclusion beckon a time when spirituality and fluidity were depicted in art but of another time.

In the Cathedrals of Mexico City, I wandered, marveling at the murals and paintings, which depicted the passion and the struggle man has with God. In the works of Gregg Cassin, I see his pain, turmoil, and detachment. These are the same emotions many HIV positive men experience with regard to religion. This sense of detachment and dissociation is also realized in the works of Ronaldo Sanduval.

Pop culture has also influenced homoerotic art. The works by Carlos Gutierrez-Solana and Alex Aleixo portray men as sexual beings and play on the influence of their favorite pop cultural icons, contrasting the traditional Cowboys and Indians with television and movie personalities. While other artists utilize comic books for inspiration, particularly because they represent a form of American Mythology. David Dashiell's panels depict these superheroes as dominatrix inspired figures sexualizing the erotic element superheroes had in influencing many of us as young gay boys. Other artists celebrate the sexual bond gay men share with each other. The paintings of Jack Brusca and Dominic Avellino show this wonderfully, and the photograph taken by Luis Carle lends a nostalgic eye to the gay life before AIDS, when gay men were seen as sexually threatening.

The connection with drug culture and the pharmaceutical industry is also influential in the works of Barton Lidice Benes and Max Greenberg, who rely heavily on these themes and contrast the legal, moral and ethical dilemmas gay men face with regard to these subjects. The world AIDS conference ended with appeals for further funding along with increased efforts to put an end to AIDS stigma. AIDS has killed more than 25 million people, and 33 million are infected with the virus. It has been estimated that by 2015, billions of dollars will have been spent in treating men and women infected with AIDS due to costly antiretroviral medication alone. The rising number of cases, especially in younger gay men, leaves me concerned for the future.

As I rode back to the airport, I noticed the hillsides are blanketed by the colorful roofs of the small meager homes of the poverty-stricken regions of Mexico City, much like the favellas in Rio de Janeiro. It struck me as odd that the inhabitants would even bother to paint their homes in bright pretty colors, and then it was suddenly apparent. Leaving this conference after hearing so much information, I am concerned with how these facts get interpreted by our community. In light of the growing number of new cases of HIV especially among younger gay men, I would hope we could remedy this disconnection and not just ignore it by painting over it with bright shiny colors.