featured gallery for June 2018

Until We Are Free...

“Until you are free, none of us are free. As you are impacted, we are all impacted. We see ourselves in you. Your story is connected to us all and is evidence that Black gay men need each other. Through all of the suffering, pain, and trauma, we need each other to heal and survive. We also need each other to share our joy, our laughter, and our beauty. Even as important, our community can only heal if you heal and survive too.” In 2015, when those words were written, Michael Johnson was only two years into his 30.5 year sentence for non-disclosure under Missouri’s HIV Criminal Statute. Moved by this miscarriage of justice, an open letter was written, signed by over 80 Black gay men (over 100 ultimately signed on to the letter), and delivered to Michael as a commitment to stand with him in solidarity.

A commitment to freedom and righting wrongs done by the criminal justice system fuels the work of the Georgia HIV Justice Coalition. Georgia remains one of 34 US states and 2 territories that use HIV status to single out people living with HIV for unique and discriminatory treatment by the criminal legal system. A January 2018 study by the Williams Institute on HIV criminalization in Georgia revealed that Black men are disproportionately arrested under the state’s HIV criminal statute. In fact, Black men make up the lion’s share of arrest under the statute at 46%, compared to White men at 26%, Black women at 16%, and white women at 12%.

In 1975 Toni Morrison, on the campus of Portland State University presented “A Humanist View.” There, she presents an observation, “that to continue to see race of people, any race of people as one single personality is an ignorance of gothic proportions, an ignorance so vast, so public, and perception so blind and so blunted, imagination so bleak that no nuance, no subtlety, no difference among them can be ascertained.” Audre Lorde stated it more simply. “There is no such thing as a single issue struggle, because we do not live single issue lives.”

Racism, homophobia, lack of access to healthcare, patriarchy and economic inequality are just some of the issues that converge that have a disproportionately negative impact on Black gay men. And yet, with common issues that affect us all, our beauty and our diversity emerges.

This gallery includes the works of Black men from the South, and celebrates the diversity of their storytelling approaches. Each piece gives insight into each artist’s personality, and demonstrates the important influence of their Southern roots. Michael C. Morgan’s work invokes loneliness, intimacy and longing. Ronald Lockett’s work uses materials from his surroundings to speak to life, lived experience and our universal truths. Frederick Weston’s work forces us to confront both our collective past and our present often using himself as the subject of our gaze. Viewers are invited to get lost in Jesse Murry’s world—a world simultaneously within us, and around us. These artists show that there isn’t one way to be a Black man living with HIV. As such, there also cannot be a one size fits all approach to “getting to zero.”

What’s true is that there’s no scientific evidence supporting HIV-specific criminal laws, and without modernization some of the most fragile communities face an additional barrier in addressing HIV.

We need more soul searching, more soulful connections and more soul-filled action and dialogue to end the HIV epidemic. Like the title of Jesse Murry’s piece, the soul is, indeed, a region without definite boundaries.