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Visual AIDS - A Gallery of Art by HIV-Positive African Americans

Joyce McDonald


click for full image
McDonald - Moma's PrayersMcDonald - Somewhere Over the SkyMcDonald - Divine VineMcDonald - Praise thru Grief
  McDonald - Lady with Blue Bandana
Moma's Prayers;
2000;
terra cotta, cloth & paint,
7x6x6"
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.

Joyce McDonald
Home: New York, N.Y.
Age: 57
Diagnosed: January 1995

Joyce McDonald's very life is a work of art. A complex interweaving of self-destruction, abuse, addiction and redemption, McDonald describes the tapestry of her life as depicting a trip "from the shooting gallery to the art gallery." A rape survivor, former sex worker and recovering heroin addict, McDonald took a 25-year detour before rediscovering religion, entering recovery for her drug addiction and setting in motion her vocation as an artist.

In a powerful way, McDonald's art helped her recover her life, she says. Making sculptures, her fingers caressing the clay over and over again, "helped to heal the old wounds that once oppressed my mind," she says. In the process, she also sculpted a gateway to a new community of friends and supporters: It wasn't long after McDonald began sculpting in the late 1990s before her pastor at Brooklyn's Church of the Open Door asked her to display her work. "After Sunday service," McDonald recalls, "he had me come up with five of my sculptures to talk about them. Unplanned, I told the whole church I was HIV positive. They cried, praised God for my life, and hugged and kissed me --everyone in the whole church, from the youngest to the oldest."

That unexpected public announcement -- and the compassion and consciousness about HIV that still pervades her church -- motivated McDonald to speak out to the surrounding community, drawing from her own life story. "I go out and share about the stigma and discrimination, the rape, the abuse, the drug addiction and overcoming the odds," she says. McDonald, who has been diagnosed with AIDS, has so far decided not to take any HIV medications.

Today, McDonald coordinates her church's AIDS support program. She exhibits her artworks, which she says tell "stories of real-life issues surrounding my diagnosis and survival of my past and my victory in the present," in churches, schools, nursing homes and shelters. She loves to watch people meditating on a sculpture or painting she made "through the spirit."

She works whenever she can, although she can't always afford the clay for her sculptures. But even when materials are missing, the woman who remade her own shattered life into one of radiant wholeness finds a way to create art out of anything before her. McDonald "collects rocks, watches water, writes poetry, composes and sings -- I love to remake things," she explains. "It is not only a release for me, but at the time when I'm creating I can feel the presence of God."

Creating art has also led McDonald to a more loving sense of self. "God showed me visually how beautiful I am -- and we are as black people," she says.

Click here to e-mail Joyce McDonald.


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