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.
On March 6th, I conducted Bodyscapes workshop #1-which was the writing activity for Honoring Our Experience (HOE) group. We began working on poems describing their illness and state of mind.
The poems revealed a lot about living with the No. 1 epidemic of modern time. What these men and women have to say is profound: many have lived with a death sentence hanging over their heads for decades. Living positive (Poz) has given these patients, now turned artists, deep insight about their illness, their bodies and their approaches to healing. Their reflections, told through some of the poems, reveal a social history about a time that is remembered by those of us old enough; however, the young gay community does not remember this era, and never lived through the AIDS years. They have come of age in a time when the diagnosis is no longer fatal and medications can keep you looking young and healthy for a long time.
But, I am of the age where I remember the AIDS crisis hitting– it was absolutely terrifying. It seemed like it was all the artists who were dying. All the voices who kept our crazy world in check and balance.
My workshops with Honoring Our Experience (HOE) long term survivors of AIDS have been beyond satisfying. I am not constrained in the confines of working within the professional protocol of a hospital environment. At Project Open hand I am with people in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, talking candidly about their suffering — not only their illness, but their sexuality and watching their dear friends die, plus their concerns about potential homelessness. I can talk and cry with them as well as rhapsodize about the sensation of the smoothness of our French pastels smearing across each piece of Italian artisan paper.
Gregg’s group receives my genuine, fully open passion, born out of my gratitude to be healthy and conduct BodyScapes workshops.
On March 20th, I ate another delicious Meals Heals! lunch followed by a nutrition lecture about probiotics. We watched a demonstration of how to make sauerkraut. At 2 PM, we cleared the tables and started to engage in Bodyscapes workshop #2- which was a drawing activity. We focused on creating contour line drawings of the part of their bodies most affected by living with HIV and/or its subsequent other medical complications.
Jesus Guillen, featured in the film, Last Men Standing, reflected on the process of creating his drawing:
“ Bodyscapes is motivational drawing because it is not only the you that you are, but the you that you can be and who you were–so it is all life put into that drawing that is telling you somehow all the different parts of yourself.”
I am now working with a photographer and catalog designer, Zanne DeJanvier, to rev up for the exhibit likely to be in January 2018 at PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support) Gallery in the Mission. Stay tuned for details.
What makes this project so special to me is that these men and women live expressive lives – they were the marginalized, artsy kids, who willingly came to San Francisco to seek freedom; freedom in how they dressed, how they lived and who they loved. Working with souls who show emotion and feel clearly and openly is an art teacher’s dream.
I am very honored that all the participants loved the workshop. They’ve been in San Francisco long enough to attend a host of various creative therapies directed toward living and coping with AIDS (as well as being bullied, being gay, etc). What they told me is that Bodyscapes WAS significantly different than other workshops. It gave them a process of how to create a poem and a drawing that addresses the illness ITSELF, giving voice to the VIRUS ITSELF.
Pleased to Announce–The Red & Orange House was awarded 3rd year funding from The Lloyd Symington Foundation. We will be back at the Women’s Cancer Resource Center in Oakland. Bodyscapes workshops will be conducted in July. In October, look for an invitation for the 3rd Bodyscapes: Drawing What Ails Us art exhibition to be held at WCRC’s new building!
Artist Amielle and her son light up when they see her artwork reproduced in the art catalog
The realization of the shift from patient identity to artist identity is complete when Bodyscapes artist, Amielle, reads the exhibition catalog for the first time.
Toby Symington, Executive Director of The Lloyd Symington Foundation, excited to read this year’s art catalog.
Click here to view all the great poems and drawings featured in the exhibition.