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HIV in the Arts

4 HIV-Positive Canadian Artists Paint a Picture of the Epidemic

Peter Carlyle-Gordge Takes a Look at HIV Art and HIV-Positive Artists in Canada

    Stephen Andrews
    Stephen Andrews, Facsimile
    "Facsimile" series, 1990-1993 (detail).
    At the core of this series are images taken from the obituaries of young men and women who had died of AIDS. Before being rendered on wax tablets, the images were faxed and photocopied, slowly erasing the identity of each person, similar to the way that AIDS was erasing large swaths of the community. "Those directly affected by the pandemic used the work as a memorial," says artist Stephen Andrews. "Some people came to an art gallery for the first time just to see the portrait of their loved ones."
    Tiko Kerr
    Tiko Kerr, Meditations on Compassion
    "Meditations on Compassion," 2006.
    The painting depicts a vacant room that artist Tiko Kerr became familiar with at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver during a period of illness. The only movement in the room, he recalls, was the blue glow of the flickering television. Kerr began the piece at a time when his anger and frustration were peaking, after 10 months of struggling with Health Canada for access to two experimental drugs. "The working title was 'My Government is Trying to Kill Me,' because if I was to succumb to AIDS, I wanted to leave a record of this injustice," he says. "In January 2006, I received news that the drugs would be available, and with a cooler head, I renamed the painting."
    Jean-Pierre Perusse
    Jean-Pierre Perusse, Betty Crocker
    "Betty Crocker," 2008.
    In this campy piece, Quebec dancer Cynthia Milaire is a classic '50s housewife doing a most ordinary thing -- feeding her baby. But the sanitized kitchen and rubber dishwashing gloves belie a fear of infection. "Our intent was to show the stigmatization of even the youngest living with HIV and the paranoia of catching it," explains artist Jean-Pierre Pérusse.
    Jessica Whitbread
    Jessica Whitbread, Fuck Positive Women
    "Fuck Positive Women," 2011 "Sometimes you wake people up by provoking them," says co-creator Jessica Whitbread. "Our aim was to make people realize that a woman may be positive but she is also a mother, a daughter, a lover, a friend, a wife, a human being." Needlework may imply a traditionally feminine and passive pursuit, but the message is defiant and empowering. "Why can't we express an urgent, horny, powerful and open message about positive women and sexuality?" asks Allyson Mitchell, who collaborated with Whitbread on the piece. "Why aren't women allowed to be subjects of their sexuality rather than objects?"
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