When Visual AIDS chose Mark S. King, the HIV-positive blogger behind My Fabulous Disease, to celebrate LGBT Pride month by curating a web gallery of images related to the topic, he says he was flattered, but immediately asked himself one question: If living with HIV is nothing to be ashamed of, is it something to be proud of?
He says it was an interesting exercise to explore that question in his online exhibit Proud to Be Positive and how "including these artists in my exhibit meant that I was assigning meaning to their work in a way they may never have intended. That’s okay. Art is gloriously subjective."
King writes in his curator statement, "No one should be marked or shamed for living with HIV. But, should someone claim to be proud of being positive, there is a lingering, implicit threat to the statement, as if their pride is untrustworthy, or worse, that having the audacity to feel proud of living with the virus must mean they want to infect everyone else. We must reject the stigma that labels people with HIV as predatory, irresponsible, and lacking in self-respect. Being proud of all that we are is hardly the same as wishing it on others."
Here are several of the pieces from the Proud to Be Positive gallery. For more amazing galleries of work by and about HIV, visit Visual AIDS.
Self-Enforced Disclosure, 2007, rev. 2013, Greg Mitchell
The subject of Greg Mitchell’s Self-Enforced Disclosure has branded himself with his POZ status. It feels unlikely he did so to degrade himself. His in-your-face disclosure might be simple provocation… or it might be pride. Can we not only come to terms with our status but embody it fully, seeing our lives as worthy of admiration, deserving of dignity?
You're only as sick as your secrets, 2015, Alex Sparrowhawk
Can we, as Alex Sparrowhawk’s You’re only as sick as your secrets suggests, unmask ourselves and find esteem in who we really are?
untitled, c. 1993-96, Nelson Rodriguez
silver gelatin print, 8x10,
Courtesy of the Estate of Nelson Edwin Rodriguez
The subject of Nelson Rodriguez’ Untitled is searching for an answer to that question. Must he only see himself as others do, or might he indulge in something better, greater even?
The Face of an HIV diagnosis, 2007, Veritee Reed Hall
Mono printing on calico with Acrylic
Veritee Reed Hall’s The Face of an HIV diagnosis presents multiple images of a woman’s face, each one soaked in defiantly cheerful hues. Her measured gaze is without disgrace.
Support Among Equals, 2014, Lina Yaroslavska
Digital Photography ,
Viktorya, Ukraine. Aware of her HIV status since 2002. "I would like to say to all women, who have suffered through drug addiction, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I think it is very important to learn from past mistakes."
Tammy wheel chair bound, 2014, Kim Davis
Ma "Dam Kim, GloballyAware, English Family Foundation, Australian Council for the Arts, Living Positive Vic.
AbPoz (Homage to JG), 2002, Jonathan Leiter
watercolor, 10" x 8"
There is joy to be found in our lives with HIV, as several artists have documented, and the whimsical nature of Jonathan Leiter’s AbPoz (Homage to JG) goes even further, reducing the weighty “+” symbol to a harmless watercolor design suitable for papering a child’s nursery.
Poz Women & Proud, Veritee Reed Hall
May ACT UP ALBANY ACTION, 1988, Jon Nalley
Peter Staley - 5 Color Print, 2007, George Towne
5 Color Lithograph, 20x28
ACT UP NY with Pride, 1989/2013, Robert Getso
35mm/Appropriation/Colorized, Dimensions variable,
Unattributed Photographer, Colorized by Robert Getso
MasterEmbrace, Charles Hopkinson
Vinnie, 2002, Peter Wyman
acrylic on paper, 30x22"
Masculine Kiss, 2011, Shungaboy
Acrylic on paper, 19"x24"
Holy Water, 1992, Barton Lidice Beneš
Mixed media with blood, 15x16x3.5,
Courtesy the estate of Barton Lidice Benes
But feeling pride, not in our response to HIV but in our very being with HIV, crosses into threatening territory. The reason is in the blood, of course, as Barton Lidice Benes’ quaint and horrific Holy Water makes clear.
Biohazard, Thomas Somerville
acrylic collage , 40x30
How can people with HIV, Biohazards that we are, be trusted to keep it to ourselves?
Boxed, Thomas Somerville
Thomas Somerville’s Boxed captures this emotional tension between the desire for unencumbered pride and the tug of deep shame and personal guilt.
Do You ?, 1984, Joe Lewis
gouache on paper , 30" x 24"