It’s been just over 4 years since I began to get involved in the HIV community. I was diagnosed in April 2003 but I had an undetectable viral load and my CD4 was high - around 600. My doctor said I was where they hoped they could have everyone who is HIV-positive.
I was able to just continue on with my life normally. There was no need for me to take medications and my doctor said I could go ten years or more without them if I stayed healthy and my immune system kept fighting the virus on its own. Well, I made it seven and a half years, I’ve been on medications since 2010 but I’m still undetectable and my CD4 varies between 400 and 500.
When I finally made the decision to get involved it was my goal to put my story, my face and my name out there and try to help end the stigma we all live with. Being someone’s son, brother, father and now a grandfather, I could show that HIV can happen to anyone.
I remember the first time I Googled my name it took me several pages to find anything. There is an evangelist in the U.S. with the same name who dominated most of the first few pages. Today he’s the one who name is buried as mine is mentioned a lot more due to my work with PositiveLite.com.
In the summer of 2014 an incredible opportunity was offered to me. I was invited to show some of my photography in an art showing taking place in December in Toronto. There were openings for people living with HIV to show their work. I had a few pieces I could have used but I thought, maybe I could create something to fit the subject matter of the art show.
The show was organized by Chris Campbell, a former support worker with PARN, Your Community AIDS Resource, from Peterborough Ontario, an artist herself whose twelve mixed-media AIDS-themed panels were also showcased. It was held through the month of December in Sunderland Hall, at the First Unitarian Church in Toronto.
Here is how Chris described the show . .
"Art on HIV on Art
Historically there has been a strong connection between HIV and the Arts. In keeping with this tradition, the visual art of six HIV positive artists has been collected to celebrate the significant contribution that people living with HIV bring to the arts community. Each artist uses his/her own individual form of expression to highlight their own personal connection to the arts.
Christine Campbell is a social worker who recently left her job after a long history in the AIDS movement. Christine has a strong connection to social justice issues, an ongoing commitment to the HIV community, and a history of multiple loss. It is the combination of these three truths that began her new journey of exploring various artistic mediums as a way to continue AIDS advocacy work, and to start down the path of personal healing.
Together, Art on HIV on Art celebrates the history of the HIV movement, takes the opportunity to promote HIV awareness, celebrates the lives of people who are living with HIV, and honours those who have died from AIDS."
I really didn’t have any work that was specifically HIV related so I had to create something, something that was personal and an extension of putting my name and story out there. After several attempts I came up with this photo which I call Self Portrait or Selfie for short.
Across the top are words that tell you who I am to the people in my life. On the left side are many of the names or labels we get tagged with while being stigmatized and on the right side are words I use to define myself.
I’m thankful that this opportunity came along, I’m always looking for places to show my photos but this was one that meant a lot more than the others. I wish there were more shows of this type for HIV positive artists. There are so many talented people out here.
If anyone wants to share their artwork in a blog on here, I’d love to see it. In the meantime, here are three exhibitors at the show.
HIV-positive (and ex PositiveLite.com blogger) artist Don Short with his work
HIV-positive photographer (and PositiveLite.com editor) Bob Leahy and his work
Wayne Bristow takes a selfie of a selfie