I am embarking on a workshop unlike any other I have ever done, using the funding many generous people contributed to Generosity.com. Previously I’ve worked with female cancer patients and teens receiving dialysis. Now I am working with a very different community: people who are living with HIV/AIDS. Many are men who never expected to live this long, after being diagnosed in the 1980’s, as all around them they saw friends die.
Most are men (some women) who were diagnosed in the 1980‘s who never expected to live this long. Now in their sixties, they come together to celebrate still being alive and meeting others who share their history and reference points. Their personal journeys, being positive (Poz), have made them very aware of how it feels to live with suffering in body and spirit. They engaged in the Bodyscapes process eagerly, so willing to use it as tool to explore where their bodies have been- housing the virus for so long- and where their bodies are going- now that the virus and aging are colliding.
Since my Generosity campaign was completed, I have been looking for just the right population to work with. It was kismet when my friend Laura Davis, an arts writer/publicist, recommended that I see the film Last Men Standing. This 2016 documentary, made by the San Francisco Chronicle, follows the stories of several of these men who survived the AIDS epidemic. Based on a series of interviews, they tell us what it is like to live for thirty years being HIV/AIDS positive and waiting to die like all your friends.
Back in February, Laura and I attended a dance event called Revival: Honoring Our Experience hosted by and for long term survivors and funded by the Shanti Project a SF non-profit which exists to enhance the health, quality of life, and well-being of people with terminal, life-threatening or disabling illnesses or conditions. At this dance, I connected with the visionary and a man born with the graces of empathy and compassion, Gregg Cassin, founder of the Honoring Our Experience group. Gregg has been on the forefront of bringing the HIV community together, post-epidemic and 30 years later. I offered my project to Gregg, and upon seeing my latest Bodyscapes: Drawing What Ails Us art exhibition catalog, he was immediately enthusiastic and made me promise “to do your project with my group. They will LOVE it and you will love them”them!”
Over the years, I discovered that Bodyscapes workshops are more transformative and theraputic when participants get the chance to know and trust me. Art-making can be scary-especially art-making featuring your illness as the subject ! I met up with Gregg’s group at their bi-monthly Meals Heals! event, a community luncheon for long term survivors held at Project Open Hand on Polk Street. Made possible by a grant from Gilead, the luncheon creates connection and friendships, breaking isolation and loneliness. Gregg hosts the lunch creating it to be a special time to gather, pause, reflect and share delicious hot food. Afterward, we learn nutritional wisdom offered by Kristi Friesen, Project Open Hand nutritionist.