featured gallery for September 2022

The Passion

The prominence of Christian motifs and iconography in western art reveals a strong connection between religious, cultural, and societal values. For many artists within the Artists+ Registry, biblical references provide a vocabulary by which they express their experiences navigating life amidst the AIDS epidemic. When viewed together, these pieces create a dialogue that responds to the impact of religion–be it positive or negative–on each artists’ interpersonal life, as well as, the impact of religion on the narratives surrounding AIDS as a whole.

The title, The Passion, references the Passion of Christ⸺the final week of Jesus Christ’s life from when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, through his crucifixion, to when he resurrected on Easter Sunday. In selecting works for this gallery, I sought to retell the story of the Passion of Christ by chronologically organizing artworks based on where their subject matter lands on the timeline of this period. For the gallery, this timeline begins on Holy Thursday since that is when Jesus institutes the Eucharist and exposes Judas’ Betrayal. The gallery concludes with works that reference Jesus Christ’s ascension on Easter Sunday and the bittersweet tones of sacrifice and hope present throughout this story.

When the Passion of Christ is put into the context of the AIDS epidemic, the story of Christ’s final days becomes a motif for these artists to share their own narratives and address larger societal issues. For some, like Maxime Angel Starling and David Wojnarowicz, that looks like secularizing the happenings of the Passion of Christ as a means of blasphemy in order to reject the traditions of a church culture that so adamantly rejected them. In the work of Phil Shaw and Kevin Martin, it looks like sexualizing these events as a means of showcasing LGBTQ+ intimacies to contradict church and state insistence on abstinence and heterosexuality. Many of these artists communicate their narratives by drawing parallels between their lived experiences and the experiences of prominent figures in the Passion.

The politicization and moralization of Jesus Christ’s body and blood by both himself and his society bears semblance to dialogues people living with AIDS have had about their own relationships with their bodies and society. Christ’s ostracization and crucifixion relates to the betrayal of government inaction and misinformation that has hypervisibilized people living with HIV/AIDS by creating stigma around the virus. Depictions of the Lamentation of Christ in this gallery, like in the work of Guy Burch, Richard Hoffman, and others speak to the importance, love, and grief of community during the AIDS epidemic. The artistic interpretations of Pietá, most notably in Michael Berube’s searing painting, transcribe the emotions and intimacy between Mary and Jesus–mother and son–onto caretakers, friends, lovers, and family whose embrace undermines fear and mourns the fatal consequence of intolerance.

References to the Ascension of Christ in the works at the end of the gallery connect the immortalization of Jesus Christ after his resurrection to the ever-present impact of the AIDS pandemic. Translations of The Ascension in this gallery venerate those who have passed from AIDS by keeping their visual narratives alive within collective consciousness. These works showcase the resiliency of spirit amongst public adversity and remind of the emotional complexities present in an ongoing AIDS Epidemic.