The Art of AIDS
BY HIV Plus Editors
November 16 2010 1:00 AM ET
Ahead of World AIDS Day and the corresponding Day With(out) Art, HIV Plus takes a look at the art, in its variety of forms, that has been created in the name of this virus. From emotional and physical therapeutic efforts to the outright documentation of the AIDS crisis, we had no idea when we started this project of just how immense the body of works had grown. And while we were barely able to scratch the surface here in these pages, we are grateful'and awed'that there is not only a universe of creativity that speaks of the past three decades of struggle, of success, and yes, of loss, but also an army that is growing to preserve this history.
When visual artist Joe Average was sitting with a doctor in Vancouver, Canada, at the age of 27 in 1985, he says when he asked what the diagnosis meant he was told, 'You could last six months. You could last a year, five years, 10 years, or forever. We just don't know.' His response: 'I'll choose forever.' And 25 years after that conversation, he is still going.
A few years later, after being let go from 'a crappy job,' he says, he decided to make an effort to make a living as an artist. Since art had been part of his life since childhood, it made sense. 'I started making art and having little shows in my apartment,' he told The Positive Side in 2005. 'I priced things according to my rent so that if I sold a piece, I could pay a month's rent. HIV saved my life in that I decided to make art my life.'
The work that Average went on to produce'much of it infused with HIV-related themes'garnered critical acclaim and has even been sought out by celebs and royalty. In fact, he's been credited with having given a face to AIDS in Canada when in 1991 he created the first national HIV awareness poster. He created British Columbia's annual AIDS walk poster each year for more than a decade, and one of his existing pieces was requested for use as the symbolic artwork for the XI International AIDS Conference when the biennial meeting was held in Vancouver'although he did decide it was important to rework the piece specially for the IAC. The image also became Canada's first AIDS-themed postage stamp.