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The Women of Visual AIDS: HIV-Positive Women Making Art

Nora Wallower, Greenport #4, 1996 click for full image
Nora Wallower Nora Wallower, Crow 17/50, 1996

Nora Wallower, Three Cows, 1998

Nora Wallower, Grasses -- Horse, 2000
Nora Wallower, Farmland -- Night Cow #2, 2000

Nora Wallower, Greenport #4, 1996

Nora Wallower, Pelham Egret, 1996
Greenport #4,
watercolor ,
5" x 6"
All images are the property of the artist and may not be copied or reproduced without the express written permission of the artist and Visual AIDS.

Nora Wallower:

Nora Wallower is a long-time New Yorker with a passion for the countryside's beauty. Though she has spent her last 47 years in a city not known for its love affair with nature, the dog and four cats that keep Nora company in her Lower East Side apartment -- not to mention her many paintings of rural landscapes and natural settings -- betray her dueling loyalties.

Nora, 67, was born and raised in the Pennsylvania countryside before becoming a city girl in the 1960s. She has been an artist all her life -- through her time at her alma mater, the Philadelphia College of Art, through her marriage and the raising of her son, Kahlil, through her many years teaching at schools and day-care centers throughout the area, and through her HIV diagnosis 20 years ago.

Though she couldn't commit to sketching and painting full-time, Nora still often found ways to stay heavily involved in her hobby and passion. In the early '90s she often set up shop near many other artists on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- an exhilarating but often brutal way to quickly find out which of your artworks people like and which people don't. Though the experience was frequently exhausting for Nora, it "brought in a nice little chunk of change every week," and, she says, it was a lot of fun.

HIV officially became a part of Nora's life in 1987, though she knows she was infected well before then. Nora's partner, who she spent 13 years with after separating from her husband in the 1970s, was diagnosed with HIV 16 years ago. Though she knew she was likely infected as well, Nora avoided testing at first, she said, because at that time there was little available in the way of treatment.

Two years later, though, with the first wave of anti-HIV medications becoming available, Nora got herself tested -- and wasn't shocked to learn that she was HIV positive as well. Her partner passed away from AIDS-related complications in 1989, four years after his original diagnosis.

Shocked or not, though, Nora's diagnosis inevitably changed her perspective on life. "I guess it's the same as what everyone says," she muses. "You start paying attention to doing what you want to do, that you're spending your time the way you want to spend it."

"Things are very good right now," Nora says of her health -- though it seems she's also speaking of her life as a whole. Over the past 20 years, she has occasionally battled HIV, but her drug regimen is keeping her healthy. Her CD4 count is high, and last year her viral load fell to undetectable for the first time. Osteonecrosis, a bone disorder associated with HIV, makes it difficult for her to walk, but most of the time her health problems are just "general old ages things."

Thanks to early retirement, Nora says, "picture-making is now an everyday activity." Her latest series of painting -- pictures of ponds in New York City gardens -- merges her love of the urban and natural worlds. Virtually all of her sketches, etchings and paintings are for sale, she says -- her artwork is frequently on exhibit. Last year her pictures were featured in a two-person show at the Hudson Guild Gallery called "Nature: Human and Other."

After close to half a century of city life, Nora is planning to finally satisfy the part of her that craves nature by moving to Alaska. There she will join her son and his newborn baby, Ajax. She knows she will miss New York's museums and the "general busyness of life," but looks forward to being surrounded by inspiration for her art. "I'll be intensifying my relationship with the country," Nora says. "There'll be more birds, maybe even a moose in the backyard."

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